Thank You, Colin Kaepernick

On Friday, Colin Kaepernick took a stand against racism and systemic oppression – by sitting.

Following in the footsteps of a number of athletes, musicians and other public figures using their stardom to draw attention to the ongoing race-based violence and discrimination in the United States, Kaepernick sat while the national anthem played before Friday night’s game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers.

In defense of this act, he stated, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

With this silent, nonviolent protest against the violence and discrimination against black people in the United States – Kaepernick simultaneously enraged racist America, disappointed progressive America and validated the rest of us fighting against oppression in the United States.

Alex Boone of the Minnesota Vikings was one of the first of Kaepernick’s colleagues to speak out against him. He told USA Today, “It’s hard for me, because my brother was a Marine, and he lost a lot of friends over there. That flag obviously gives (Kaepernick) the right to do whatever he wants. I understand it. At the same time, you should have some (expletive) respect for people who served, especially people that lost their life to protect our freedom.”

In his public denouncement, Boone relied on of the most commonly used arguments against Colin Kaepernick’s silent protest: Staying seated during the national anthem is disrespectful to our veterans.

While this argument is getting a lot of media attention from the conservative right, there are many veterans that also support Kaepernick’s stance. As reported by ESPN, “Of the tweets that we’re getting from military and former military people, definitely the majority are saying he has every right to do what he’s doing, and that’s exactly what we fought for. You may not like it, but he has every right to do that.”

Veterans have also come out on social media to support Kaepernick. As Levi Damien tweets, “Speaking as a veteran, Colin Kaepernick did not disrespect me or those who died for this country. Our service was so he may have that right.”

Kaepernick is protesting systemic racism and oppression in the United States – he is not staging a protest against the military.  In a recent statement, Kaepernick clarified, “I have great respect for men and women that have fought for this country.  I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they fought for and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.”

Still, racist America has repeated this scarecrow of an attack.  And they have done so without acknowledging that they are engaging in their own blatant disrespect of our veterans of color that fight both for their communities and their nations at the same time.

This attempt to silence those in the struggle for civil rights touches on another commonly used argument against Kaepernick’s protest.  This argument is often presented by progressive America – “ I agree with his message, but he could have done it another way.”

In common terms, this argument is code for, “Look, I know you’re right about racism and oppression, but I really don’t want to hear about it.” It’s also just a strategically incorrect position if you support equal rights in practice, not just in rhetoric.

Kaepernick is following in the footsteps of a number of activists, public figures and athletes that have used their access to the public’s attention to draw it to the struggle against violence and for equality.  Ros Parks sat.  Muhammad Ali is touted as a national hero for his Civil Rights work and his use of his platform as an athlete.  Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony have also used their public platform to protest systemic racism.   Beyonce took this message straight to the Super Bowl.  Their voices have all been in support of the advancement of Civil Rights in the United States.  Silencing them  - silencing Kaepernick – is a direct attempt to silence the voices of those struggling for rights in a country that supposedly prides itself on “freedom.” 

Yes, Kaepernick could have done it another way.  And those ways would probably have been far less effective than what he actually did.  Perhaps the criticism is that he could have done it in a less effective way.

This assumption leads us to another common argument against Kaepernick.  That is, Kaepernick never had a right to protest oppression at all. One of the most prevalent reasons given by Racist America for their outrage against Kaepernick is that he makes too much money to comment on oppression.  There are a few points that can be made about this misguided argument.  First, Kaepernick is speaking on racism, not classism.  He can still be black and collect a paycheck.  Second, he is commenting on systemic oppression, not personal oppression.  He can have personal capital and still comment on systemic oppression.  Finally, slavery is over.  Racism is not.  Colin Kaepernick has every right to earn pay for his work and speak his mind.  It is very confusing as to whether or not the people using this argument are more upset that Kaepernick spoke out against racism or that slavery has been abolished. 

A similarly uninformed argument is that Kaepernick shouldn’t have done what he did because he is half white and was raised by a white family.  There are a couple things to be said about that argument as well.  Kaepernick was confronting systemic oppression, not personal oppression.  He can be half white and do that.  You can also be mixed race and experience personal racism. 

In the NFL, Kaepernick is actually qualified to fight both racism and classism.  According to a number of recent reports, black people comprise 68% of the players in the NFL, but only 24% of the general managers, 13% of the head coaches and 0% of the team owners.  Further, black athletes make far less than their white counterparts. Even in systems of economic privilege, racism persists. 

But Kaepernick wasn’t defending himself.  He wasn’t defending his right to make more money or the racism in the NFL – he put his endorsements on the line to take a stand by sitting on behalf of the people and families fighting racism in the streets daily.  He isn’t fighting against the military. He isn’t fighting against the NFL – Colin Kaepernick is taking a stand for the people.  And those of us fighting in this struggle are grateful. 

Like many others in the public light, he could have chosen to do nothing.  Instead, rather than being a disgrace to this country, he taught a generation of sports fans to stand up against injustice instead of pretending that it doesn’t exist.  My kids are better for it.  All of our kids are better for it.  Especially in a nation where people are more upset about how Kaepernick responded to racism than the fact that it actually exists.

When asked if he plans on continuing to nonviolently sit in protest, Kaepernick said, “Yes, I’ll continue to sit. I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

This protest should be applauded, and more athletes, people in the spotlight and people in general should find the bravery to take a stand by sitting.  Thank you, Colin Kaepernick, for being brave enough to take a stand by sitting.