Kaepernick’s protest is as American as that flag
We have a right and responsibility to fight against our history of oppression
I am just as much an American as I am a Foxworth.
My son and his future sons will be as much Foxworths and Americans as I am. And my father is and his father was and so on. But my bloodline in this nation can be traced back to before America was even a country — when my ancestors were neither American nor Foxworths.
I possess pride and anger in both titles. I, like most black Americans, most likely carry the last name of a family who once owned us as property. A family who attempted to beat, rape, and hang the humanity out of all of us. In some ways they succeeded, but over centuries we survived and adapted, as did this country. Because of that history, my last name and this flag represent different things to me and many black people than it may represent to others.
I stand during the national anthem, for the same reason I haven’t changed my last name, for the same reason the highest compliment I’ve ever received is “you a real a– n—–,” because it’s mine now. Thanks to the will of many people and the willingness of people in power – many of them white – to take unpopular stands and make sacrifices, the words, names and images that symbolized our oppression now belong to me.
When I hear the words of Francis Scott Key’s poem, I think of those people, not a battle at Fort McHenry. I respect and support anyone who is willing to continue to sacrifice for this country, and I count Colin Kaepernick as one of those people.
The most irritating critique of Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem has been that he should stand for it because he is rich and America has been so good to him. I don’t know his life story, so I will not debate whether America has been good to him or not, but he has achieved a level of success that most Americans will never reach. Though the argument that being successful requires that you not speak out against injustice would be laughable if it weren’t so stupid and pervasive.
As if we listen to the people most harmed by America’s history of inequity.
As if we value input from kids in overcrowded and underfunded schools.
As if we respect the opinions of convicts.
As if we give press conferences to single moms.
In an America where many of the most powerful people use their power and influence to gain further advantages, widening the gap between their children and ours, Kaepernick has risked more than most people to speak up for you. Yes, he speaks for you, too, white folks. Whether he intends to or not. Yes, he speaks for soldiers who have died in defense of this country and veterans of war who suffer back at home without the support they have more than earned. He even speaks for the police whose actions prompted his nonviolent demonstration.
Sitting during the national anthem is a statement that gives voice to more than his postgame comments. A demonstration during the national anthem is a call for us to fulfill the promises we pledge. I have never better understood the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. quote, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” than I do now. Though those words seem lofty and poetic, today they seem grounded and practical. The rash of black men killed by police, the epidemic of homicides in Chicago and other urban areas, and the police being killed by civilians are not separate issues to be addressed in isolation, but symptoms of the same illness.
Like a possessed Rube Goldberg machine, those injustices exist because of a dearth of opportunities for many black Americans. And that scarcity is a direct descendant of injustices from slavery, Jim Crow laws, housing discrimination, to the exclusion of blacks from benefits offered to white Americans through the New Deal, the original GI Bill, etc.
And throughout history, rather than making the appropriate sacrifices, the most powerful among us sent police in to cure issues of poverty and the first lack of opportunity with arrests and guns. And today we see the result. Saddest of all is rather than Kaepernick’s stance pushing us to work for a cure to the root of these problems, we will just put on the jersey of our team and root for either side to win a game that can’t be won.