Vizzini Academics: Kneeling? Inconceivable!

One of my all-time favorite movies is “The Princess Bride.” There’s not much to NOT love about the movie, especially with its witty lines and characters. One of my favorite characters is Inigo Montoya, played by the talented Mandy Patinkin. His most famous line, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die” has infiltrated the memories of 80s youth everywhere. Similarly, I love the moment when he’s looking at Vizzini who keeps saying “Inconceivable!” and he finally says to him, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Friends, this is how I feel about most things we discuss these days. I keep wanting to say, in my best Montoya voice, “You keep saying that. I do not think it means what you think it means.” I’m not talking about words but context for nearly every issue that comes floating down the river of politicized everything. And most of these issues are like blocks of Styrofoam that you’re trying to save from polluting the waters, but they just keep bobbing up and down incapable of being wrestled to the ground and thrown away properly. The context of the most contentious issues we are discussing today is quickly lost to debates that get turned into memes and everyone takes a side, but the sides are so obtuse the initial context of the problem has become obscured. This is how I feel about the latest kneel or stand debate, the hottest Vizzini topic of the day. Players want to kneel in protest of racial injustice occurring in America. Those who oppose this demonstration cry foul because of the flag. The national anthem. America. Freedom. Veterans. Patriotism. And they construe the act of players kneeling during a time when we honor those symbols, songs, people, events, history, and ideologies disrespectful of the aforementioned. It’s INCONCEIVABLE! And here I go, channeling my inner-Inigo, wanting to say, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Then, the issue gets diverted into other debates that further digress from the original point, which is, to be clear, racial injustice exists in this land of the free and home of the brave. Racial injustice has persisted in this country before and after Francis coined the “Star Spangled Banner” to capture the sentiments of a battle hard-won and a flag that symbolized that victory. Now both, the flag and the song (which is three stanzas longer than our national anthem by the way), represent. They represent an America that continues to fight for freedom. From oppression. From enemies, foreign or domestic. From those who desire to yoke that freedom and turn it into a plow horse led by others.

Yet, 200 years later (after the War of 1812), the battle is still being waged for those who also want to claim the mantle of American freedom whether you are fighting with or against those battles. The flag is representative of a freedom only partially realized for a population of Americans who must daily contend with social and economic inequality fueled by racial injustice. They want to be able to stand for that freedom as well, but American freedom does not exist for all Americans in the way that we imagine it to be: as a stalwart declaration of independence and equality.

Those who protest are not free. Black men and women are not free from being held hostage by racial profiling and police brutality. Native Americans are not free from a four-century long genocide that continues to persist on their reservations. DACA students are not free from the fear that in six months their lives will be upended with no America to call home. Our Vizzini Academics will just not do. We cannot keep crying “inconceivable” when the actual cause is hijacked by words that become the ignorant filibusters of inaction. The cause is just. The cause is right. That kneeling during a game is an inconvenience or affront to our liberty is entirely the point. We are uncomfortable. We should be. We should feel the weight of the injustice that others have felt for centuries if only for 5 minutes of our lives watching an athletic game. We should understand the internal rage that accompanies someone else’s stifling of an ideology we want to hold dear in the form of a bended knee. We should experience the push of a shoulder that reminds us that someone else is controlling our history and the desire to push back because of complicit silence. I get it. It’s inconceivable. Not the battle flag of patriotism that has become the rallying cry of opposition—the racial injustice, the systemic issues of inequality that are so tightly woven into that flag that I wish there was a Betsy Ross to make it right—to stitch up another narrative fabric that truly represents freedom for all Americans.

Indeed, we are stuck in a world where the Vizzini’s want to cry foul and the Inigo’s must become the voice of reason. We should learn a thing or two from these characters as we move on to another challenging topic of the day. Once we drift so far away from the initial point of contention that all we can do is cry, “Inconceivable!”, I will continue to cock my head and say, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

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Joie N. Lê

Joie Norby Lê is an educator, writer, and mother of three. She has a Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction with an emphasis in Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. She is a guest speaker on qualitative research methods, diversity in the classroom, and topics related to Viet Nam's orphans of war. She geeks out on poststructural philosophy and historical fiction.

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