By Neil Patrick Healy
Protesting the national anthem in response to racial injustice in America has been headline news around the country since 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began sitting or kneeling during the opening ceremonies this past NFL preseason. Now the movement has made its way to Kaepernick’s alma mater, but instead of the protests happening on the sideline, they took place in the stands.
Trisden Shaw, a political science major at Nevada, spearheaded the protest for last Saturday’s home game against Buffalo where around 30 Nevada students sat down during the playing of the national anthem. Shaw was aware of the media attention the movement has been receiving since other NFL players have started to join Kaepernick’s cause and wanted it to continue at the University of Nevada.
“I feel that we need to keep this conversation going,” Shaw said. “I noticed how much national attention it was getting and I understand that we have un-talked about racial tensions on campus and I think it’s important to keep that conversation going.”
Shaw and other students on campus began to notice strained race relations after they marched through campus in support of the protests going on at the University of Missouri last November. After the speeches held on the quad, the marchers found a slew of hateful comments aimed towards them on the social media app Yik Yak.
“It was all over [Yik Yak],” said Cheyenne Vance, a pre-business student at Nevada. “We didn’t even do too much of anything. We weren’t being disruptive, but we were just trying to give attention [to the issue]. We didn’t do anything to provoke anyone.”
When Shaw, Vance and other students helped organize the protest at last Saturday’s home game, they wanted to show the negative reception they were receiving to the public.
“The protest was peaceful,” Vance said. “It wasn’t violent in any way, we didn’t threaten anyone in any way, and the reactions we got are what we want people to see. We were just sitting down and people were screaming at us.”
Shaw and other protesters said that most of the anger aimed at them during the actual protest was more yelling and telling them to stand, but it was on social media where the racially charged and vulgar language was directed towards them after Kaepernick retweeted one of the tweets with photos illustrating the sit-down.
“We have a lot of negative comments on social media,” Shaw said. “I woke up today with about 50 mentions. From the N word, or calling me lazy or pictures of dead soldiers and saying that ‘they died for us’. Just pretty much trying to shame our views.”
Since the inception of the anthem protests, the national conversation has shifted from racial issues to respecting the flag or respecting soldiers. Shaw not only finds the use of soldiers to divert the conversation frustrating, but also misleading from what he and others are actually trying to illustrate.
“That’s what infuriates me the most, that they can take a vital issue and a vital conversation and skew it towards the soldiers,” Shaw said. “The conversation had nothing to do with the soldiers. I think everyone has the same respect for the soldiers nation wide, and if you don’t it’s not due to black lives matter or anything. It’s just your personal opinion. So to take our message and misconstrue it and turn it into ‘they hate America. They hate the soldiers’ that’s not what we’re saying at all.”
Shaw later addressed the mindset of people who claim that the U.S. has made so much progress in race relations up to this point by explaining that more work needs to be done.
“If you think about where [black people] were coming from, we were coming from the bottom, so you only can move up,” Shaw said. “So people are saying that ‘yeah, we’ve made progress’, but we couldn’t be the greatest country in the world if we hadn’t made progress. We can’t still claim that we are the greatest country if we’re not willing to make more progress.”
Shaw is a co-founder of United Nevada, a student diversity council on campus that helps organize other multicultural and progressive clubs and organizations. United Nevada’s members include The Young Democrats and The Reno Justice Coalition, and Shaw and other members hope the movement at Nevada athletic events continues to increase in size and notoriety.
“I would love for it to grow as the games progress,” Shaw said. “That’s the whole point. The first one was just to show that we’re sitting with him and that he has support. We see that the Nevada community, where he grew up [in college] and thrived in, especially our black community, isn’t really supporting him. So we wanted to show that there are people sitting here for him that truly believe in what he believes in and that are willing to push his agenda as well.”
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ NP_Healy.