After sitting during the national anthem for three weeks, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was asked why.
Trigger warning: A non-white male criticized law enforcement in a racial context. Be advised, conservatives fleeing for safe spaces may lash out irrationally to unknown amounts of provocation.
Kaepernick referenced the deadly shootings of American citizens by police officers, which have been increasing in recent years and have resulted in a higher rate of Black victims. He mentioned “oppressed” people, to which many in white America collectively grimaced in response.
By putting the United States on notice for the indifference and dismissal of issues pertaining to people of color, and thus adding a voice to the growing chorus which demands a sense justice that still eludes the nation, Kaepernick has committed some cardinal sins.
Don’t make white people uncomfortable. Just don’t. White people don’t like to be called “racist”. It offends them. This country is their safe space and nobody has a right to deprive conservatives of that with any hurtful words. Even if there’s a group of them huddled together, acting racist-ish, (you know what I’m talking about), talking loudly with their pants halfway up their asses. Just walk the other direction.
Kaepernick also prompted political discussions throughout the various platforms of media. Somehow, one man’s decision to stand in solidarity with a broader movement of people throughout the Unites States was stolen from that purpose and put in immediate contention with respecting the military.
Political discussion; the longer it goes, the probability of referencing military sacrifice approaches 1. Just today, the Islamic State came to take my guns away, but thanks to a Marine hiding in the bushes and highly trained in the use of freedom, their attempt was thwarted and my rights were protected.
Hyperbole aside, if someone could please direct me to the right(s) being defended by our bloody struggles waged thousands of miles away, I’d be much obliged. I am, however, grateful that gas is hovering between $2.15 and $2.30 here in upstate New York. I shudder to think of the cost of my weekend drives to the Adirondacks had we not installed all those dictatorships in the Middle East over the past 60 years. How did Jimmy Carter put it again? Oh yeah:
Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.
Okay, I’ve had a little fun with this, moving on. Colin Kaepernick had a Constitutionally protected right to do what he did. Those among us who upon the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009 became constitutional scholars should at least know this much.
Black men were once drafted into segregated military service for a segregated country. After the Second World War, many veterans, having seen foreign lands where Jim Crow did not exist, and after meeting foreign allies who, unlike their white countrymen, would accept blood transfusions from them, decided to get involved in the Civil Rights movement. What’s happening in the streets of cities across the United States today; the movements that have been building and budding in recent years; does indeed have roots in the efforts of those who served. They served for a government that denied them justice, and the fought and bled in the streets of America for Colin Kaepernick’s right to speak out. They fought and bled in our streets, against our institutions for Sandra Bland’s right to not end up in a jail cell over a traffic stop. They fought and bled in the streets of America for Eric Garner to not be placed in an illegal chokehold. They fought and bled in the streets of America in the memory of Emmett Till.
There’s a phenomenon in the ways humans think. For many of us, history begins when events of the day start to impact us. In this way, we lose perspective on how history marches on. We have cell phones today. Slavery ended when Alexander Graham Bell was only just beginning to use electricity to convey sound while tinkering in a London workshop. Times are obviously different. People must be different, too. It’s an illusion. Pain lingers. Trauma lingers.
Like clockwork, Republican nominee Donald Trump, a man who panders to white nationalism and is campaigning on a slogan of making America great again (operative word: again), echoed the favorite jingoist bromide that Colin Kaepernick should leave America if he doesn’t like it. Let’s get one thing straight, a lot of people have taken issue with aspects of America that they didn’t like. That’s why we have a Bill of Rights which protects critical speech, thereby promoting critical thinking. That’s why the Constitution can be amended.
While so many people have zeroed in on Kaepernick himself, the broader point, the most important aspect of it all has been ignored. Colin Kaepernick sat during the national anthem. He was doing it for weeks. He was asked. He gave his reasons and he said he’d continue. That’s done. The resulting myopia around the issue is a reason why it occurred in the first place: police are shooting over a thousand Americans per year in the last few. Given the historical and very real bias of the criminal justice system, Black males are dying in these encounters at higher rates than other races which vastly outpopulate them. This is a problem.
The fact that, while the crime rate has sunk to 1960s levels, and while policing has become safer, departments have become more militarized and deadly in their interaction with American citizens is something that needs the limelight.
Colin Kaepernick is not Fred Hampton, or Malcolm X, or Kwame Toure, or Martin Luther King, Jr. He is not a spokesman and things like Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives, among other people’s initiatives, are not beholden to validation based on the merits of one person. He could certainly do more. There are many good points to make about how he can move forward, but this shouldn’t be the expectation. One side saying this knows that activism is a process, and it isn’t for everyone. The other side would prefer that he made a statement in another way, which is to say, no statement at all because whether he marched in the streets or just sat on a bench, that side would have found cause to demean his efforts to lend a voice to the chorus.
And the chorus is the real point. That’s what matters. If Colin Kaepernick only ever prompted broader discussion on a pressing social, economic and political issue, then that’s all he needed to do. The dialogue moves us forward, lumps and all.