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Disrespectful Behavior

By October 2, 2017 No Comments

What is the best way to enact change in society?

Do polite requests work? Are we to act like the persistent widow in Jesus’s parable? We have plenty examples of people who work tirelessly through the court system to enact change. Or do radical and violent protests work best? How long should people wait before using more dramatic or violent means of protest? After all, our country has a long history of “disrespectful” behavior.

In the colonial period, many people did not care for the governing policies of England. Many colonials did not agree that Parliament represented the colonies fairly or that Parliament even had the power to do so. England disagreed. What did the colonials do in response? Did they respectfully ask for Parliament to listen better? Some did. Most did not. Was the throwing of tea overboard into the Boston harbor a respectful way to disagree with Parliament and the King of England’s policies toward the colonies? What about the boycotting of English products? What about the armed rebellion? Was that an appropriate response? Our friendly northern neighbor provides a counterexample to the violent American Revolution as the only viable solution to separate from England.

In 1917, suffragettes stood in front of the White House, holding signs asking President Woodrow Wilson how long woman needed to wait for liberty. By today’s standards, this seems tame and respectful. But in the midst of fighting World War I, many Americans excoriated the suffragettes for their bad timing and disrespectful gesture. In fact, many women were forcibly removed and imprisoned for voicing their demands for the ability to cast a vote. Was that disrespectful behavior? How much longer should women have politely waited for men to vote that female American citizens should also be able to vote?

In the 1950s and 1960s, Dr. King asked Americans how long the African American had to wait for their freedom. Many Americans (and American Christians) responded by telling Dr. King and other Civil Rights leadership that they needed to be patient and wait. How long? The peaceful nonviolent protests of King and the countless freedom riders, boycotters, and sit-in participants induced scores of violence. The participants were not violent, but their nonviolence infuriated many who in turn responded with violence. How long do black Americans need to politely ask for integration and fair treatment, guaranteed to them under the law, but not enforced?

What is the best way to draw attention to treatment of African Americans by the police? Has the court system been cracking down on the white police officers who shoot and kill African Americans? Are the peaceful protests enacting change? Do the violent protests enact change? What does it take to get Americans’ attention?

Maybe what it takes is disrespectful behavior.

It seems like it took a presidential tweet and measured responses by a number of professional athletes as well as some team owners and coaching staffs to bring this issue into the national conversation. Was this the best way to discuss this particular issue? I don’t know.

But it has certainly garnered national attention.  Is that what it takes for change to happen?

Rebecca Koerselman

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.

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