Take a Knee Against Racism: Framing and Resources

Quick Guide: Take a Knee

Quick issue guides suggest: (1) articles with a progressive frame for you to post and help go viral, (2) quick replies to common to honest questions or derailment efforts, (3) suggestions for going deeper in one-to-one conversations.

Based on the Progressive Guide to Social Media: framing, radical civility and social media skills to effectively counter outrage-politics. Not intended to be shared with people you're arguing with, but to give ideas and articles to share that help detangle arguments.

Produced rather informally by people at Cognitive Politics: a Communications Workbook for Progressives and Social Media Approaches for Respect and Tolerance and we'd love for you to get involved! -more-

Prepare for Outrage Trolling

Someone talks about racism, and Trump jumps in with something outrageous to distract and tribalize. What's your frame?

Plan:: Outrage/Trolling

This story starts like many others: someone (Colin Kaepernick) is trying to get us to talk about racism, and Trump jumps in with something outrageous, designed to distract and tribalize. Isolating trolls means not taking the bait, instead countering them for their misbehavior from a centrist position that isolates them. See Tension: Isolating Trolls and Keeping Your Voice.

PS: Trolling is a technique. Fishing with outrages designed to get the left to react in a way that loses votes. Don't take the bait — learn counter-techinques. But calling Trump a troll to his supporters is not an effective counter-technique.

This leaves us with split goals: cost Trump voter loyalty for trolling, and get the national conversation to engage racism and police brutality/professionalism. -more-

Audience Frame: "Trump vs Unity"

To make this a learning moment on racism, we have to open the door first. If there are two sides here, it's vital that we not frame it as left -vs- right, reinforcing Trump's implied message that white conservatives, veterans and rural working class people don't have to care about racism. Instead, make it Trump vs sports, Trump vs everyone. Set the conversation as Trump trolling the entire nation, and then talk about more serious issues on racism.

Active Listening: Patriotism and Unity

Amidst this fracas, moderates and non-troll conservatives are often describing a desire that we get along better, that we stop being divided as a country. I think this is something we can agree with; it could be a powerful moment for that. Share that you feel the same way to help open conversations.

Remember that their media is trying to hype this up and maximize the conflict, so they’re reading a lot from that perspective. Make this the “Yes, and …” part, and share that Kaepernick chose to kneel rather than sit in order to be respectful. Ask why and when this went from Kaepernick and one other player very quietly expressing themselves and became a national issue. Did Kaepernick curse anyone out, or make a stink? What did he do, when did he do it, that wasn't merely a small disagreement but an issue worth tearing the country apart over? If he believes that racism and police brutality are major issues, how should he give voice to that?

Many moderates and less political voters are upset that our country is dividing. Who they blame for that division might well decide the next elections. Trump is trying to divide Americans, distracting us from real issues of racism and distracting us from everything else: how can we make that backfire?

Dialogue Leverage: we have been desperate for unity. Now conservatives are feeling that too. Start conversations.

We need to carefully avoid making this about leftist protestors -vs- everyone. Make it sports (everyone) -vs- just Trump. Frame the conversation as everyone against Trump, not left against right; as an issue where Trump supporters are abandoning him. How to is easy: help articles of sports stars abanding Trump go viral. Learn more: Steelman Arguments

Goals, Audience and Leverage

Have you seen another issue where conservative-leaning white men who voted for Trump are modeling standing up to him? I can't think of one. I think the electoral leverage of "sports-vs-Trump" is very high, and help might clear out some of the cognitive bias we have been drowning in this year: Facts don't work when we feel like we are on different teams, and this could help us feel like we are one team.

Electoral Leverage: high! This could backfire very badly for Trump, with loyalty to sports leveraged against loyalty to Trump.

2) Police brutality and racism

Kaepernick taking a knee, by itself, isn't an observation of racism. Not surprisingly this makes it hard to stay the topic we wish America would focus on.

Once the argument about patriotism is out of the way (quite a challenge) this may be an opportunity to talk about racism. Or, it may not be a good opening. I haven’t seen much talk about police brutality coming from the current fracas. But we should look for ways to get back to the real issues to the extent we can.

Electoral Leverage: low. Hard to be heard at this time. Kaepernick taking a knee is not a strong example of racism, which is (not suprisingly) a better place to start that conversation. Please share ideas that seem to work. We did find one good example that fits this conversation..

Standard Simplicity Warning: Talk about patriotism or racism in any one conversation; not both! Mixing these conversations is how the trolls win. Post football players and other messengers upset with Trump's bullying ways, and post Kaepernick and allies thoughts on why they started this: but don't expect one conversation to engage both issues, and don't expect people to hear conversations about racism until you open the door by disarming the landmines about patriotism.

Posts to Initiate

Messengers! (definition)

Much of modern politics is about division. Finding the right messengers is an and easy way to short-circuit these divisions. Most of the sports-related messengers are pretty mild: they are standing up for the right to protest, and light on joining the original message. Still, first steps are usually the hard ones. So start here, and then follow up with articles on racism.

The mildest frame — and thus perhaps best for wavering Trump voters — is simply that some of Trump’s past supporters have had enough.

Sports-lovers who voted for Trump are unhappy, feeling their loyalties torn. Many people care about sports much more than politics. For left-leaning activists this doesn’t feel important, but it might be more leverage than we almost ever have. A powerful starting place to lower the boundaries that get in the way of saners conversations and saner votes.

Start with mild messengers that wavering voters will find easy to accept. Share without comment so you don't mix your voice over your messengers: (1) Terry Bradshaw, models first step away from Trump. (2) Steve Kerr (NBA) blasts Trump ...

(3) “Trump Can’t Divide This” on Dallas Cowboys has an amazing opening, (4) and this long Sports Illustrated article on Kaepernick as a person helps calms down the controversy, helping create an environment inhospitable to trolling.

(5) A sportcaster telling the truth, connecting it to Charlottesville. Virulently anti-Trump broadside from sports instead of from the left.

(6) Baseball joins in this includes photo of hand on heart while kneeling, that looks like patriotism under duress, instead of being "against" something.


Gregg Popovich: 'We still have no clue of what being born white means.' is a recommended example of strong and on-point messaging modeling how white people can speak up. A great article to share after sharing some milder openings about unity.

This unfortunately says “Occupy Democrats” but is a sportscaster from Trump’s core demographic of somewhat older white men, a veteran, crushing Trump.

Country music takes a knee.

It’s good to be up front: these unity messages are not Kaepernick’s original message, which is getting lost, and if you have an idea that can pull support away from Trump as much as sports teams unifying against him, and at the same time get Kaepernick’s message out, please share it. These messengers may be an opening, a first step, in an environment where usually no progress is made.


Messengers help open doors, and deal with controversy. Another type of post to start with is to simply describe your view or a straightforward observation, without arguing. Very often, messengers are chosen from the demographic you're trying to reach; the best observations spread the voices of those directly impacted. Here's an exmample: To be clear #TakeAKnee is about protesting institutionalized racism...

Share plain, non-editorial observations of the racism that #takeaknee is protesting, or share messengers favored by conservatives, like Air Force Academy deals with horrible racism in the right way.

We talk about fake news, privilege and filter bubbles a lot, but then forget that it is real. Many white people really don't know how bad racism is. Yeah, it's lazy, sloppy, they have no good excuse... but this is politics, so pay attention to the bad excuses.

Reply — Quick Responses

Our frame, our wish, is to talk about racism. When false accusations are floated, calm them.

Trump moved the dialogue to one about the flag and military. We want his tactic to backfire, to cost Trump votes, and then to get back on topic when we can. So these posts mostly aim to muffle distractions rather than debate them. Dialogue follow-up

Re: This is divisive or anti-military.

Leave Veterans and Soldiers Out of the Anthem Debate.From The American Conservative: Leave Veterans and Soldiers Out of the Anthem Debate. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/leave-veterans-and-soldiers-naitonal-anthem-out-of-the-nfl-debate/ Click to copy text ready to paste into a facebook comment. (not yet working)   ...

[Text you can use:] Kaepernick chose to kneel rather than sit to show respect, as a gesture to the military, after talking with Green Beret Nate Boyer: ”Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother's grave, you know, to show respect.” Now, can America finally stop running in fear every time someone wants us to talk about racism? Kaepernick chose to kneel rather than sit to show respect, as a gesture to the military, after talking with Green Beret Nate Boyer: ”Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother's grave, you know, to show respect.” Now, can America finally stop running in fear every time someone wants us to talk about racism? http://www.snopes.com/veteran-kaepernick-take-a-knee-anthem Click to copy text ready to paste into a facebook comment. (not yet working)

Or share these conservative messengers (don't add comments to messengers), good for holding the center and isolating angry attacks. Leave Veterans and Soldiers Out of the Anthem Debate. Or a conservative ranting about nonveterans using wounded veterans as props.

Note: I wouldn't contradict if a veteran or soldier speaks for themselves. But when someone like Trump speaks for others, it's good to counter from a centrist position.

Communication — 1:1 Dialogue

Start with asking, then listen, reflect, answer, and share. -more resources, openings, and questions for dialogue.-

Radical civility, Nonviolent Communication, Powerful NonDefensive Communication and many other approaches can lead to surprising openings and connections. They mostly begin with listening, rather than quick resources appropriate for this list. Take a workshop or class! Join an online community that practices and teaches radical civility.

Emphasize areas of agreement for openings

Most Americans are agreed that we do not want police brutality and racism. We disagree about whether this is a rare bad apple or a systemic problem, what to do about it, and how to solve it.

Listening: Get Conversations back on track.

This started with a frame of engaging racism, thrown off track by mostly by Trump. So, if someone is upset that kneeling is disrespectful, acknowledge that, say you don’t find it so but see why they might — avoid that rabbit hole. Then ask or share something back on track, such as how do they think athletes should protest racism instead.

What questions help open this conversation up?

Here is the BLM policy platform. Experiment with asking specific questions: which of these policies would be helpful? https://policy.m4bl.org/end-war-on-black-people/

Look for open questions: "What would it be like if you thought you had to talk to your kids like black parents have to warn theirs?"

Make specific requests. (NVC technique)

Watch 13th together, a documentary about the prison system that includes conservative voices. Note that changing minds in online conversations is quite rare. Having a calm conversation that ends with a "maybe" about watching a documentary together, even if that never happens, is one thousand times better than the average political online conversation. Go slow but move forward!


For teachers: Teaching Tolerance in classrooms.

Quora is often a good place to look for well thought articles to share on topics like these, that feel written by a person rather than a reporter, opinions on NFL players taking a knee or protesting the anthem. If you want people in another filter bubble to hear a wide variety of voices reinforcing well-thought, calm and balanced views, it's a good place to find them.