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Kaepernick, Race and the Hypocrisy of the American Public

No one can deny that the Colin Kaepernick/American flag saga has many people talking. Indeed, it seems that millions of Americans from varied walks of life and across political and economic lines have not been hesitant to weigh in on the most recent high profile drama to rock professional football.

Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, sparked a major firestorm when he refused to stand during the playing of the national anthem. His primary reason for the protest was his unyielding belief that American society has failed to live up to the principles that it espouses in the Constitution. To put it more bluntly, Kaepernick views America as a nation that mistreats and abuses its Black and other non-White citizens.

As one can imagine, reaction was swift. The usual major forces of social media Facebook and twitter nosedived into excessive commentary, much of it highly critical of Kaepernick. Comments ranged from “ungrateful,” “unpatriotic,” “mulatto” (referring to the fact that Kaepernick is biracial), “incompetent” and “worthless” to disgraceful expletives. Not surprisingly, much of the criticism directed toward Kaepernick came from Whites, many who were not above engaging in racial slurs and other forms of racial invective.

It is also important to note that there were some Black folk who jumped on the “Kaepernick is out of line” bandwagon. Jerry Rice, Tiki Barber, Rodney Harrison (who questioned Kaepernick’s Blackness), and Stephen “We Black people must start looking in the mirror” A. Smith took the pro football player to task for various reasons for what they saw as misguided behavior and actions.

Back to Harrison and others who share his misguided view for a moment. It always seems to perplex and, in fact, disturb me when certain fellow Black folk decide to wallow and sit in judgment of another person’s Black bonafides. This was the same “he is not a authentic brother” venom that was directed toward Grey’s Anatomy actor Jessie Williams following his impassioned speech at this year’s the BET Awards.

What these critics of men and women like Kaepernick and Williams fail to realize or tend to forget is the fact that many leaders of the Black community from Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Sojourner Truth, W.E.B. DuBois, Walter White, (hell, our current president for that matter) and many others were/are biracial Black people. While they (to some extent) may have been afforded certain advantages that other Black people of their respective eras were denied, they still were largely viewed and treated as colored people (the term used to refer to Black people of that time period) by the larger society and they saw themselves as such. They had the respect of segments of the White power structure of the day and utilized their influence to make change for the large community. They realized that White racists, systematic and systemic racism and racial oppression did not discriminate when it came to Black folk, including themselves.

The majority of Whites who threw shade on Kaepernick did so from old fashioned racist rhetoric. These were the White men (and some women) who saw him as uppity, ungrateful, unpatriotic and some even referred to him as “ugly” and arrogant. Constant references have been made about Kaepernick’s multi-millionaire status and is supposed “ungratefulness” to all the fans (read, White people) and the nation that have made his financial situation possible. This is a common theme in the many acerbic comments that have permeated social media. The message is that Kaepernick should shut up, keep his mouth shut and play ball.

The not so subtle (in fact blatantly racist ) and profoundly arrogant and ignorant argument being made here is that Black Americans are not legitimate citizens of America and that our very existence is supposed to be periodically reviewed and verified by others. Please! Guess what? The 14th amendment settled this questioned once and for all in 1868. Singed sealed and delivered!

To be sure Kaepernick has garnered the support of many people including fellow athletes, a number of military veterans, and politicians and legendary entertainers such as Georgia congressman John Lewis, Harry Belafonte and others. The late esteemed congresswomen Barbara Jordan observed that the flag is a symbol, an important symbol that has the right to be debated.

It is very troubling and telling that many of these same individuals who would deny Kaepernick the right to utilize his first amendment rights are the very people who have no apprehension engaging and exercising their constitutional rights no matter how vile, unprofessional, racist or disrespectful. Moreover, many of them are the same people who enthusiastically cheer when Donald Trump engages in vicious diatribes in his criticisms of America. It is evident that these people see dissent and free speech as reserved for Whites only. In essence, free speech for me, but not for thee.

The obscene level of hypocrisy is staggering. The fact is that many of these so-called patriotic Americans have been so adamant in their efforts to vilify Colin Kaepernick for taking the position he has that they have failed miserably in their efforts to even listen to or consider his position. This is the classic example of White supremacy and White privilege manifesting itself.

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