Colin Kaepernick gave an interview to NFL Media back in 2016 where he explained his position. He told them, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color… To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Please indulge me while I pick that apart, from bottom to top, and offer my opinion.
“There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” This is the core. You either believe the constant stories of lived experiences, the incarceration statistics, the prosecution statistics, the studies on disproportionate policing and use of force, or you don’t. If you believe that there is something inherent to having more melanin in your skin that somehow makes you deserve disproportionate treatment, then you must know that’s textbook racism. However, you likely understand the issue Kaepernick wanted to protest if you acknowledge how disproportionate things are when you watch the news and see White mass murderers, men shooting police with BB guns and even actual cop-killers get taken into custody while, running away from police because you have a knife in your pocket, traffic stops, selling cigarettes, playing with toy guns, or even shopping for a BB gun, and simply watching football in your own apartment result in dead Black bodies. Now, before you go commenting that there’s White people killed at traffic stops and Black murderers being arrested alive, let me point out that the issue is that it’s disproportionate. The numbers shouldn’t even be equal, much less skewed the way they are, because there’s far more White people in the United States and the use of force and “accidental deaths in custody” stats don’t reflect that. There are systemic problems with racial bias in our entire justice system and policing is no exception.
“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.” Colin Kaepernick leveraged the resources he had available to him in order to get his message heard. I understand why people that are unaffected by what he is protesting would prefer not to have their entertainment time interrupted with having to care about other people. After all, football may be the only time they get to shut out the world, their family issues, their financial problems, work, etc… and just watch two teams battle it out trying to move a ball down a field. However, it’s extremely difficult to reach those very same people at “a convenient time”. I’ve heard people complain that it’s not the appropriate venue in which to be protesting or it’s not the right time, etc… Well, I challenge those people to clarify when/where is it appropriate? They likely never even would have seen his website without his protest. Kaepernick had to have known kneeling would be controversial but, it’s that very controversy that elevated the message. Putting a sign in his yard or posting on a blog, like me, would reach a much smaller audience than he had the capacity to reach. People’s lives are at stake and he was right to raise awareness of that.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color“. That is why he knelt. Some people interpret that as a lack of respect for the flag. Lack of pride is not synonymous to disrespect but, I won’t argue semantics because I can see that perspective. I will argue that everything we say we stand for ought to count for something. The promise of The United States ought to mean something. The freedom, equality and basic civil rights that our troops have fought and died for around the globe ought to be for something. Our country and our anthem have had a less than equitable past. Our flag, with it’s stars and stripes, represents not only our past, but our present. One might even argue that the colors embody the same ideals of purity, innocence, hardiness, valor, vigilance, perseverance and justice that are embodied in our Great Seal. That’s nice but, respect must be earned. People are dying because our country is not living up to its own ideals, and I understand how hard it is to stand in support of that. I believe a true patriot, with genuine love of country, would do anything to bring the country closer to the founding principles that it, and its flag, are supposed to represent.
Why would anyone want to silence that level of selfless patriotism? I firmly believe that anyone manufacturing outrage over perceived disrespect of the flag/anthem/troops and working to oppress the sentiment being expressed by Kaepernick’s protest isn’t 1/10 the patriot that Kaepernick is. Has anyone ever wondered why Mahatma Gandhi was so disrespectful to food since he went on as many as 17 different fasts? Of course not. That would obviously be founded in deliberate misunderstanding and nobody would take that seriously. Well, if you think Colin Kaepernick should have found a better avenue for his protest, or that his protest is irrelevant, or worse that he should just “shut up and play football“, then I don’t take you, your fake outrage or your fake patriotism, seriously either. What I do take seriously is the racism in your heart. We need to work on that.