When Colin Kaepernick decided to kneel, instead of stand during the playing of the Nation Anthem, he positioned himself and changed his status from “the Good Negro,” to “a Problem”. Immediately, his critics became historians, patriots and defenders of all things American. Well, at least from the dominant culture’s perspective. When Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner during the War of 1812, people who looked like Colin Kaepernick would have been considered slaves, chattel, property, 3/5 human being or at best, byproducts of infidelity manifested through the rape of enslaved black women. A little more history will reveal that during the war, that thousands of black people actually fought against the United States on the side of the British, as they were promised to be liberated, if they fought for the British crown. Ever heard of Freetown, Sierra Leone? Look it up.
After all, Britain had abolished slavery by 1808, nearly 60 years before the American Civil War (1861-65). So any historian or person of color might naturally be inclined to believe that the Star Spangled Banner was not a song about justice for all, but a song of preserving the rights, freedoms and liberties and the union of a nation that was built on the oppression of black people; so much so, that they fought to preserve the union, as well as slavery. So to any well-versed and well-read person, black, white or any other label, can clearly see, why someone of color, or any American for that matter, might be dissatisfied with the content, context and history of our National Anthem.
Many have argued that Kaepernick is dishonoring, or disrespecting America and especially its veterans. Well, they have the right to believe that, but up until the 1950’s, our military was still racially segregated. And it was not until the Obama administration, that being openly gay in the military was legitimately addressed, protected and recognized by our government. And if you truly understand our history, America has always been a land of protest and freedom of expression. After all, the Bill of Rights, protects the very actions that Kaepernick has decided to exercise. The first amendment gives all United States citizens the freedom of speech, which also includes freedom of religion, press and peaceful assembly. This means that even organizations built on the foundation of using terrorism to intimidate black people from voting in the late 1800’s, known as the Ku Klux Klan, can have parades, demonstrations and marches, while being protected under that same amendment. This means that Neo-Nazi groups can pass out white supremacist literature and rhetoric to the public and they have the right to do so, under the same amendment. Our unique principles of individual freedoms that are protected by the U.S. Constitution, were supposedly built on these same rights.
However, when I see someone who looks like Colin Kaepernick being attacked for exercising his freedoms, I become suspicious. I begin to question whether my contemporaries really believe in justice for all, or are they just as short sighted as our founding fathers were, when it comes down to race and gender equality. Are they upset because of his complexion, or his privilege as an elite athlete, who just happens to be a person of color? If you feel that not standing for the American flag is un-American, then you must have the same sentiment towards the Confederate Flag, which was a direct dis against our United States. Then you should be just as passionate about the Ku Klux Klan being able to continue to operate after going on a reign of terror that lasted 100 years, as they hung innocent black, men women and children and any brave white folks who dared to stand for justice and equality for their black brothers and sisters. You should be outraged at how the 2nd amendment continues to be the same device used to allow almost anyone over 18 years old to purchase an assault rifle, that was only designed to do one thing —-and that is to destroy human flesh.
However, I do see why some people may be upset with Colin. They are upset because Colin Kapernick has gone from the conventional role of the unassuming, quiet in the storm of injustice, Michael Jordan silent, endorsement filled “good negro” to “a problem.” Our history has always been fine with people of color who simply conform to the system, even in times when the flaws of the system have direct negative impacts on them. We can look at the Trail of Tears, under the Indian Removal Act of 1831, under Andrew Jackson’s presidency. As long as the people of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Seminole and other nations did not resist leaving their ancestral land and being forced to march 1000 miles to Oklahoma, then they were fine. But if they resisted or protested in any way, they were eradicated. As long as black folks in the South did not show up to the ballots on election day during the Jim Crow years (1877-1965) they were fine. But as soon as a negro tried to exercise their right to vote, they were eradicated. Do you know who Medgar Evers is? Look him up. As long as immigrants work under the table, doing menial jobs for impoverished wages, it is not a problem. But as soon as they begin to get involved in the political process, send their children to school and demand higher wages, “they need to go back to Mexico, because they are taking all of our jobs, committing crimes and leaching off our healthcare system.”
I’m sure that Harriet Tubman was an excellent slave. They say that she was a strong as any man. She probably worked as hard as any slave during her years of bondage; and her masters benefited greatly from her production- as a slave. But when she ran away, she was no longer helpful to them. And when she began to free others, she became a problem. By no means am I saying that a multimillionaire professional athlete is a slave in today’s society—- at least not from a materialistic stand point. But if our argument is that because Colin Kaepernick is wealthy then he has no worries or place to speak out or protest the unjust treatment of some of his fellow Americans; then what is the point in becoming wealthy; to only remain wealthy and not use your influence or platform to change the things that are flawed with our system? May he should just continue making millions and keep his mouth shut. Paying a few black athletes millions of dollars does not even begin to address our country’s battle with racism, discrimination and inequality. And just because Colin was raised by white parents does not mean that he does not understand what it is, feels like to be black in America or that he is not somehow, immune or protected from the same unfair treatment of those who do not have the implied protection of white privilege.
So does the first amendment apply to everyone or does it only apply to some? If you agree that it applies to everyone, then Colin Kaepernick is just as American and patriotic as anyone who has ever spoken out against injustice. He is just as patriotic as Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, while owning hundreds of slaves on his Virginia plantation at the same damn time; not to mention becoming elected our 3rd president, not to mention fathering at least six bi-racial children with his mistress, Ms. Sally Hemings. These documents were a direct response to the injustice that Americans faced under British tyranny. We were a country born out of a social revolution. But if we are going to have a double-standard about who can fight and speak out for freedom then the flag means absolutely nothing.