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Life lessons to save the next generation

Ruben Navarrette Jr. on

SAN DIEGO -- My kids watch the news with me. And, these days, much of what they see confuses them.

Like the spectacle of self-absorbed millionaire African-American football players who breathe rarefied air and have much for which to be grateful disrespecting the very country that provided such opportunities. Instead of stunts intended to show solidarity, what they need is a therapist to help them work through their "survivor's guilt" over the fact that they can no longer relate to the reality of everyday African-Americans.

By the way, as someone who is paid to speak plainly and express his opinion, I would like to be able to fulfill that obligation in this case and still keep those African-American friends who have so profoundly enriched my life. Some of them may think I'm giving short shrift to their concerns about police who are too quick to use deadly force when encountering African-American suspects. That beef is legitimate; but saying, as some have, that cops "hunt" and "lynch" African-Americans is obscene.

Even so, I'd also like to hold on to my patriotism. The United States isn't perfect, but it's as close to perfect as you'll find around the globe. A big part of that is its built-in capacity to auto-correct and improve itself after every mistake. Not many countries do that.

Besides, I'm not eager to cede the moral high ground over the national anthem to a president who used student and medical deferments to avoid military service during the Vietnam War -- and then said that he lived through his own Vietnam-like crucible by sleeping with scores of models as the AIDS crisis blossomed. Stay classy, Donald.

Now I feel like I have to choose between my friends and my country, and that makes me angry. But I'm not angry at President Trump. He's the arsonist of the culture wars, for sure. But this time, even though he lit the match, the kindling around this issue was already there. And it was soaked in lighter fluid. Someone or something was going to set it off, sooner or later.

All my kids see is that some people are kneeling for the national anthem, and that other people are angry about it.

That was my cue to start coaching. It isn't easy growing up Latino in Trump's America, where the nation's largest minority is constantly told that they're dangerous, defective, or damaged.

So here are three lessons I want my kids to learn from the NFL fiasco.

(1) Don't be a victim. Life is not fair. No one said it was. At some point during your journey, you will likely be victimized by some kind of injustice. Suck it up, and get over it. Whatever you do, don't act like a victim. When you do that, your tormentors win. It empowers them -- and weakens you. It's overcoming adversity that builds character, not gliding through life on a magic carpet without experiencing any setbacks.

2. You don't have to go through life trying to accommodate white people the way that earlier generations did. If you do or say something that makes them uncomfortable, too bad for them. That is something they can get over. But that doesn't mean you should go out of your way to antagonize them and get in their face. We all have to live together in this wonderfully diverse country. So we should all do our part to live peacefully.

3. Some people will have negative expectations of you. Don't fulfill them. For instance, the uninformed may think that people of color are somehow -- despite serving in the military at a higher rate than other groups since World War II -- less patriotic than white Americans. That's idiotic. But people have the right to be idiots. This doesn't mean that you should wave the Mexican flag, or sit out "The Star-Spangled Banner." Those things give aid and comfort to idiots.

Feel free to borrow these lessons, as you go about coaching your own children. We can save the next generation.

It's too late for the NFL players who have protested the national anthem. Through talent, luck and hard work, they are paid handsomely. But, in terms of the valuable life lessons that provide a sense of perspective, they've been shortchanged.

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Ruben Navarrette's email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.

(c) 2017, The Washington Post Writers Group

 

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