Colin Kaepernick And The Hypocrisy Of Frederick Douglass Republicans

He is effectively exercising a right that I fought for.
Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick

“The lesson taught at this point by human experience is simply this, that the man who will get up will be helped up; and the man who will not get up will be allowed to stay down.” ― Frederick Douglass, Self-Made Men

Recently, famed San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick came under fire when he followed the lead of several African American athletes of the past who have used their platform to peacefully protest the unfair treatment of people of color in America. The backlash that he has received has been overwhelming, especially by so-called Black Republicans who consider themselves intellectual descendants of notable Republicans like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Frederick Douglass. Interestingly enough, they ignore the fact that these men also espoused classic liberal ideas and practiced the same type of civil disobedience as Kaepernick.

Conservatism has birthed a very vocal sect of African-Americans who have labeled themselves, “Frederick Douglass Republicans.” They have ripped select pages from American history and have formed strange alliances with the extreme conservatism that created the Tea Party movement and is responsible for the current Republican presidential front runner, Donald Trump

Men like King and Douglass dedicated their lives to secure the inalienable rights for ALL mankind... Equally. These men weren’t colorblind and they didn’t cover their eyes to the fallacious notion that racism was merely a result of a victim mentality. These men used their time, treasure, talents and influence to bring about the social changes that would allow conservative principles to thrive if equally applied. Both of them fought to eradicate social injustices so that men and women who were truly free could equally contribute to the Constitutional principles that would allow our country to rise to the glory dreamed of by our founding fathers.

It hurts me to my core that an abolitionist and champion of civil rights like Frederick Douglass has been diluted to serve as a backdrop for a party whose rhetoric lacks compassion or empathy for the plight of all Americans. Frederick Douglass wasn’t a freed slave; Frederick Douglass was a runaway slave who attained freedom and aggressively lobbied for the freedom of all slaves. He risked life and limb to expose the folly of slavery and the spurious notion that African-Americans suffered from inferiority. He pulled himself up by his proverbial bootstraps and insisted others do the same but in doing so he recognized the link between personal responsibility and social climate. He didn’t just say, “What is possible for me is possible for you,” he married action to those words and paved a way for those who would follow. Even in doing so, his writing reflected that he was cognizant of the negative impact that social injustice played on the mental fortitude that was necessary for achieving excellence.

It hurts me to my core that an abolitionist and champion of civil rights like Frederick Douglass has been diluted to serve as a backdrop for a party whose rhetoric lacks compassion or empathy for the plight of all Americans.

The quote I opened with supports the notion that although Frederick Douglass believed in the importance of self-reliance and self-motivation, he does not negate the necessity of help. He only asserts that assistance is freely given to those who lead with effort. Laziness is an act of lazy people and not disenfranchised people.

“Our best and most valued acquisitions have been obtained either from our contemporaries or from those who have preceded us in the field of thought and discovery. We have all either begged, borrowed, or stolen. We have reaped where others have sown, and that which others have strown, we have gathered.” --  Frederick Douglass, Self-Made Men

Douglass opened his speech on self-reliance with an admittance that no man is an island and that nothing is gained or gleaned without assistance. The current theme of the Republican party appears to be an individual exclusion and not a collective inclusion. The notion that government has no place in providing infrastructure or support is contrary to the life work of Frederick Douglass. He displayed unwavering support of the Constitution and insisted that the document was perfect if its application was equally extended to all men. Recognizing that black men and women (and women in general) were omitted from the freedoms afforded by the Constitution, he propositioned the government for equal consideration without interference.

“We would not for one moment check the outgrowth of any benevolent concern for the future welfare of the colored race in America or elsewhere; but in the name of reason and religion, we earnestly plead for justice before all else. Benevolence with justice is harmonious and beautiful; but benevolence without justice is mockery.” -- Frederick Douglass, What Shall Be Done with the Slaves if Emancipated?, 1862

Colin Kaepernick, like many frustrated men and women of color, has reached a boiling point that forces him to use his influence to bring light to the fact that we are still being denied justice. Justice will right the wrongs of the past because, as we have been led to believe, Justice is blind. If this is true, then the law will prevail in punishing the guilty and liberating the free. 

“There is much more reason for apprehension from slavery than from freedom. Slavery provokes and justifies incediarism, murder, robbery, assassination, and all manner of violence. ― But why not let them go off by themselves? That is a matter we would leave exclusively to themselves. Besides, when you, the American people, shall once do justice to the enslaved colored people, you will not want to get rid of them.” -- Frederick Douglass, What Shall Be Done with the Slaves if Emancipated?, 1862

Blame for the current state of the black community as a whole can be equally dispersed to those who oppress with prejudice and those who allow themselves to be oppressed. Racism is no longer the visible, vitriolic hate of the ‘60s. It is now the camouflaged shackles of unequal criticism, hyperbole and mocking.

When Colin Kaepernick silently sitting during the National Anthem garners more criticism than the gun-wielding, anti-government protest (standoff) of Cliven Bundy, then it’s time to admit that America still has a race problem.

This hidden and unspoken oppression is very real and contributes to the same feelings of inferiority caused by slavery. Every single instance when it is suggested that slavery and Jim Crow be ignored as past infractions without lasting impact, the permissive platform for bigotry, racism, and prejudice continues to exist, as long as it is carefully veiled.

When Colin Kaepernick silently sitting during the National Anthem garners more criticism than the gun-wielding, anti-government protest (standoff) of Cliven Bundy, then it’s time to admit that America still has a race problem.

How can we, the descendants and heirs of both the atrocities of American policies and the heroism of American resilience not feel disenfranchised when the most coveted office in the land is spat upon because the occupant’s skin starkly contrasts his 43 predecessors? How can we ignore the fact that there is a disproportionate application of the law in the black community? How do we sit idly by while young black men are executed without the benefit of a trial and young white men are being given light sentences due to an unfair concern for their welfare? How would Frederick Douglass handle this dichotomous insistence on patriotism while we are still being systematically denied equal access to the American Dream?

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy ― a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.” -- Frederick Douglass, The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro, 1852

Colin Kaepernick followed the lead of Frederick Douglass by protesting the hypocrisy of forced American patriotism. Why should black men and women in this country drape ourselves in a flag that doesn’t protect us or even acknowledge the generational damage we’ve endured by oppressive government policies?

I find it interesting, actually ironic that black and white Conservatives are so quick to evoke the name of Dr. Martin Luther King in situations like the one Kaepernick faces. So much emphasis is placed on Dr. King’s now infamous, I Have a Dream speech, that many forget he had so many more words of wisdom in his repertoire. Based on these words from a letter Dr. King wrote from a Birmingham jail, I think the civil rights leader would have applauded Kaepernick just as Douglass would have.

“Over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.” … Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” ― Dr. Martin L. King, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963

You see, King recognized that our biggest enemy wasn’t the overt hate, but the moderate silence and apathy. The voice that suggests we have no right to use our voice does more damage than any hate speech ever has. 

Frederick Douglass circa 1879
Frederick Douglass circa 1879

I fought for this country and I’m proud to be an American. However, I refuse to accept the lie that I am no longer subjected to judgment because of my race. Although I very deeply believe in the ideology of individual responsibility, I will not block the waters of benevolence until I’m assured that the fires of social injustice are extinguished. I will lend my voice to the adamant cries for limited government and self-sufficiency only after all people, regardless of race, sex, religion or sexual preference are afforded the opportunity to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Until then, I will govern myself, remain productive and demand that my peers and my children treat others as they want to be treated; all the while I will champion the efforts of the government to right the wrongs of our past. I believe this is what makes me a true follower in the footsteps of Frederick Douglass. I believe, as he did, that empowerment can only come by way of justice and true equality.

As a veteran, I’m proud of Colin Kaepernick because he is effectively exercising a right that I fought for and many before him have successfully used to bring about real change. 

 

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