For many Black Americans, they are left wondering: Are we only celebrated when we sing, jump, or dance? Because when we stand up for injustices, were are condemned. Furthermore, why must we be told to “get over it” when there are blatant issues of social inequities plaguing our communities? What’s more apparent is that the issues Black Americans face run parallel to the scrutiny Colin Kaepernick is facing.
When Kaepernick would score a touchdown during the 2012 NFL season, he would kiss his bicep in what would eventually be known as the lauded demonstration entitled “Kaepernicking”. During the 2016 NFL season, Kaepernick began protesting the national anthem in a demonstration I have affectionately called “Kaepernicking 2.0”.
No, naming this protest “Kaepernicking 2.0” is not to make light of the plight of the people in which Kaepernick has given a voice to. Rather, it is to say this: To be a socially conscious athlete in the 21st century means that you must learn to stay in your place in regards to social injustices or be vilified by the court of public opinion.
In the span of four years, Colin Kaepernick has gone from one of the most celebrated athletes to one that has been the most vilified. Considering the multiple shooting deaths of unarmed black individuals at the hands of the police, one would surmise that Kaepernick’s protests would not have made him one of the more hated athletes in the NFL. For now, this perception has been wrong.
On one hand, the Kaepernick led protest has caused many other players to join in the movement against social injustice. On the other hand, he has been met with staunch criticism. He has been called disrespectful to the armed forces and he has even received death threat. People have even resorted to boycotts of watching NFL games as a result of the protest. But as he mentioned, receiving death threats and potentially being a martyr would prove his point as to why he protested the national anthem in the first place.
Much like the death threats Kaepernick is facing, Black Americans continuously face the potential of death by the hands of the police sworn to protect them. But instead of supporting Kaepernick and others (i.e., Black Lives Matter) who work to end racial injustices, they are met with vitriol that is demoralizing to any hopes of societal improvements.
As we strive for what some may call the elusive post-racial society, we must consider several factors. First, people must realize that Kaepernick’s protest is actually representative of something that is bigger than him. Throughout his protests, he was accused of thinking only of himself. What people fail to realize is that when Black Americans continuously see issues such as police brutality plague their communities yet no one seems to care about it, then having such a high profile person engage in such a movement is vital to the hopes of positive social change. Therefore, this protest is not a selfish act. Rather, it is giving a voice to oppressed individuals. So saying that he should not protest because he is not oppressed and is a millionaire should fall on deaf ears. Besides, who else is currently putting their livelihood and likeability on the line to stand for racial injustices like Kaepernick?
Second, anyone who chooses to boycott watching NFL games due to Kaepernick’s protest should really check their prejudices. When Black Americans violently protest, detractors explain that violence is not the answer. But even when they peacefully protest, they are still met with admonishment. So the question remains: What exactly are black people supposed to do when it comes to not tolerating issues such as police brutality? You cannot police how and why people protest. Instead, try to understand their unique situations. Stop telling Black Americans what you think they should do and help fight the inequalities that permeate our society.
Third, we must stop saying that these movements led by Kaepernick and the Black Lives Matter organization are racist. There would be no need for a Black Lives Matter movement nor Kaepernick’s protest if, in fact, racism did not exist. Black people know that all lives matter. But if all lives mattered, then why does it seem that black lives are the only lives that do not? If major global corporations such as AT&T and Ben and Jerry’s can recognize the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, then so should the rest of the country. The sooner we can recognize this, the sooner we would be able to create actionable efforts towards change.
Ultimately, the perception is that there will continuously be a level of hate against Black Americans and Kaepernick. If this were not true, then we would not continue to see instances of retracted racist Twitter posts and the regurgitated “Black On Black” crime statements that some consider more harmful than police brutality. Regardless, until our country begins to become real with itself and stop downplaying racial injustices, then instances such as “Kaepernicking 2.0” will continue to pervade and hopefully, ameliorate these issues.