Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Colin Kaepernick and the National Anthem

If you have paid any attention to the news over the past two weeks you've seen that San Francisco Forty-Niners (former starting and now backup) quarterback Colin Kaepernick has attracted both praise and scorn for his act of refusing to stand for the National Anthem. Kaepernick is taking a stand so to speak to express his dismay at the status of black Americans and more specifically at the treatment of black Americans by the police. Kaepernick has mostly been met with outrage although he is starting to get more support (cautious and enthusiastic) from some of his fellow professional athletes outside of football, inside of football, and amateur brethren. And obviously since this is America a great deal of that criticism that Kaepernick has faced has been racialized. This has not just come from the usual conservative racists. People on both sides of the color line have questioned Kaepernick's self-described race, claiming that because he is biracial and relatively light skinned, he's not really black. People have called him ungrateful, ignorant, spoiled, entitled and all of the usual insults that accrue to someone who is going against the perceived grain. Those were the "nice" insults hurled by people who still needed to maintain public plausible deniability of their racism. Many people on twitter and blogs and website comment sections weren't restrained by such considerations and immediately reached for the tried and true racial slurs. Other people, including one pastor(!), just let their inner authoritarian come out to play and suggested shooting those people who didn't stand for the National Anthem. I didn't write on this earlier both because time to write has been at a premium of late thanks to a demanding Day Job and because I thought other people (including some of my blog partners) had pretty much already said everything worthwhile on the issue. Still, driving home a few days earlier listening to the condescending and clueless well known local radio host and writer Mitch Albom opine again on the issue as well as reading some other tweets I realized that maybe I did have something to write about this after all.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that for all intents and purposes Black Americans have legally been full citizens for a very short period of time in America. Until 1865 most Blacks in America were enslaved. Free or not, no blacks had any rights that a white person needed to respect. There was a Supreme Court decision making this crystal clear. Slavery ended in 1865. From 1865-1876 there was a halting and abortive attempt to redress the wrongs of slavery and extend full citizenship to blacks. This process was met with massive white resistance and terrorism. From the 1870s up until the 1960s Black Americans were effective non-citizens by force of law or threat of violence. It was only in the 1950s and 1960s that gradually and haltingly the most important laws that had enshrined black inferiority were removed or overturned. This also provoked massive white backlash in certain quarters, not just the South either. And although the law can make a bright line distinction as to what is no longer allowed the law can't automatically change what's in people's hearts and minds. You probably know all of this already. But I repeat it here to emphasize that for the majority of our country's history black people were non-citizens, either by law or by custom. As comedian Chris Rock said for Black people America is like a uncle who molested you as a child but later paid for your college education. There's a painful history there that can't be ignored or whitewashed. So it seems a little presumptuous to criticize any black person who doesn't ignore that history, particularly when as Kaepernick points out, some of the same ugly stuff that was in history books is still going on today. 

Next, there has never been a protest or movement for black progress that the majority of white people have supported from its inception. Black agitators who are recognized and admired today by some politicians or media talking heads are usually conveniently old or dead. When these agitators were alive, young and raising a fuss they weren't very popular with the mainstream. The criticisms that Kaepernick, and by extension any protester, faces are par for the course any time a black person speaks out about something he or she doesn't like. This is in in sharp contrast to a white person like Donald Trump. Trump has risen to prominence claiming that America is going to hell in a hand basket and is turning into a third world country. Somehow it's ok for Trump and his ilk to point out what they see wrong in this country but if a black person should do the same they're wrong or being divisive? Really? A police department with a history of racist comments and questionable use of force incidents by officers thinks that Kaepernick should apologize to them???? What sort of upside down world do we live in? Kaepernick is standing in a long line of black athletes such as Paul Robeson, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Althea Gibson, Jackie Robinson and many others who have spoken up about the injustice they've seen or faced. After all in 1972, using language which is similar to what Kaepernick used recently, the military veteran and baseball legend Jackie Robinson explained why he felt he could not sing the National Anthem or salute the flag. Was he a spoiled punk, as Sarah Palin claimed of Kaepernick? And contrary to Kaepernick's critics his net worth doesn't and shouldn't prevent him from speaking up. The fact that he and some others are willing to lose money for their stands should at least make some folks realize that there are serious questions here. The people who slam Kaepernick and other athletes as being disrespectful to military veterans do not speak for veterans. There are some veterans who support Kaepernick's right to protest and/or agree with his points.
Pride in being an American is not contingent upon standing for the anthem. As Kate Upton and Mitch Albom show, some people just don't get this. I doubt they ever will because they are self-evidently ignorant of this country's history and apparently indifferent to some current events. They can afford to be so because they don't have to worry about being harassed or brutalized by the police. They don't have to deal with trying to purchase a home and being steered away from the area they prefer. They don't have to accept living in a segregated community where properties either appreciate very slowly or depreciate over time because the larger community rejects people with their skin tone. They don't have to try to beg someone to try to rent lodgings to them or pick them up in a taxi. Their community doesn't have an unemployment rate twice that of the larger group's. If they are unfortunate enough to get caught up in the justice system they won't receive longer sentences for no other reason than their race. These things go on whether it is 9-11 or not. If you're nowhere to be found on these issues 364 days a year then I don't think you have the right to get upset when someone brings them up, even if it is 9-11. Cops are shooting black people dead and walking away clean. I must have missed Upton's or Albom's or Palin's outrage on those incidents. What I find unacceptable, to paraphrase Upton, is that the people who murdered John Crawford and Tamir Rice weren't even indicted. If you are angrier about some players declining to stand for the Star Spangled Banner than you are about a nationwide justice system that routinely produces such results something is wrong with your moral compass. What Upton and Albom and others don't seem to get is that protest by the very definition doesn't require their approval or sign off. All these conservatives who claim to be against "political correctness" sure do seem to have their own pc that that they are eager to enforce on everyone. Rather than write any more on this I think it would be useful to listen to Shannon Sharpe, former NFL star, give his take on the larger issue. No one has all the answers. But I have no use for anyone who tells Kaepernick or anyone else that they either must stand for the National Anthem (written by a slave owner who mocked black people btw) or should leave the country. Black people have been in America longer than most whites, after all. Perhaps the people insulting Kaepernick should go to another country?