WRITTEN BY JIBRIL ALI AND ZANAB J.S.
Colin Kaepernick, now former, starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, garnered an overwhelming amount of criticism for his refusal to stand during the national anthem before a preseason game with the Green Bay Packers. Kaepernick cited the ongoing instances of police violence against black Americans and other minority groups in the United States as his primary motivation for protest. Following the wave of criticism and pressure, it was announced earlier today Kaepernick would be deprived of his starting quarterback position. It is unsurprising that the worst of the criticism was from hyper-patriotic, white Americans. Kaepernick’s actions resulted in anger from the team’s fan-base; from burning Kaepernick jerseys, to calling him the N-word on social media, an overwhelming response to Kaepernick’s stance has been combative. The entirety of Kaepernick’s activism evolved into the use of a hashtag that suggests Kaepernick should "return to Africa". Unsurprisingly, this was lead by conservative pundits and even a certain Republican Presidential nominee.
Donald Trump's comments regarding Kaepernick's protest//NYDAILY
Sporting events have long served as a pulpit for acts of political defiance. The world of athletics, and especially American football, is popular enough that one moment of public dissent can be immortalized forever. Fittingly, there has existed a long-standing record of black athletes performing similar acts of protest. WNBA player and olympian, Tina Charles, has been condemned for wearing Black Lives Matter shirts and silently protesting with her teammates. WNBA player and olympian, Tamika Catchings, has also been acutely vocal on similar issues, criticizing the WNBA for its support of other causes, but its disregard for BLM. If we look further back, Muhammad Ali was once the most hated man in America upon his refusal to honor the draft during the Vietnam War--only one of many examples of Ali's resistance at the height of his career. Baseball legend Jackie Robinson, in a similar manner to Kaepernick, refused to salute and stand for the American flag.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color...To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder...This is not something that I am going to run by anybody,I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. ... If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right"
--Colin Kaepernick's comments to NFL correspondent Steve Wyche
Upon localizing white patriotism within the conversation, the flaws amongst main arguments against and in favour of Kaepernick become easier to understand. The first, and most common response to Kaepernick’s protest revolves around the national adherence to the American military complex; the idea that Kaepernick, by ways of dismissing the national anthem, is somehow disrespecting veterans and their military service in protecting the liberties of Americans. The contradiction lies in the belief that liberties are protected by military service; were this the case, Kaepernick’s liberty to protest the national anthem and its associated symbolism would also be protected and free from scrutiny.
On the other hand, the nuance of Kaepernick’s protest is jeopardized when one in a mainstream, most likely liberal, space hears the same argument crafted in his favor. The most straightforward, pro-Kaepernick response is “America was founded on resistance; he's not wrong for choosing to sit during the national anthem. It's his right to stand up for what he believes in.” The complication in this rhetoric presents itself when his actions are reduced to his right to exercise freedom of speech, and his right to protest, which are important, but merely a foundation for a larger, more complex conversation.
To many Americans, the economic overthrow of the ruling British monarchy in order to achieve a loose definition of “independence” maintains the sanctity of the American flag. Aside from the fact this viewpoint avoids historical clarity, in that the American revolution was an economic one, rather than one based on social liberation, it additionally fails to recognize the demographic of persecuted Americans who did not prosper from so-called American independence. This becomes especially clear when one takes a moment to consider the horrendous crimes committed against Native Americans and African slaves well after the American Revolution.
There is a voiceless demographic in this country comprised of people of colour for whom the revolt that was the precursor to this nation's birth is not inspiring.
This reality flies over the heads of many. With statements from The Young Turks' Cenk Uygur like, “I believe in the ideas and principles of America, I stand for the anthem. You fight within the system, I think America has set up a good system for us to be able to succeed in that way.” This ideal is echoed in the rhetoric of many patriotic Americans. Criticism of TYT aside; it upholds the fantasy of a pluralist society that can accommodate both a black American calling for justice against police brutality, and a system which, on both state and federal levels, can acquit police officers for extrajudicial murder of black Americans. For many of us, Uygur’s ideology does not apply.
Furthermore, many Americans remain unaware of the withheld verse of the Star Spangled Banner which explicitly celebrates and promotes violence against African slaves:
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
This unsung stanza is representative of the views held by the author of the anthem, Francis Scott Key, who himself was a notorious slave owner, and believer in the degeneracy of non-white races.
Scott Key believed that African slaves were of “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.” Certainly, the national anthem was not composed in consideration of the value and importance of African American lives.
when one combines Kaepernick’s reasoning with the original intent of the national anthem, his decision to sit down is increasingly justified.
Parallel to this, the torrential backlash imposed on anyone speaking ill of the American flag becomes additionally unpalatable.
If the threats and unjust repercussions being directed at Kaepernick revolve around his disrespect for the flag’s representation of liberty, Americans should also take into consideration other principles the flag represents:
- The extortion of the black body by way of the many monuments and architectural American landmarks built by slaves.
- The military complex responsible for the destabilization of nations and innocent people around the world.
- The misconception that America allows us to dissent, when there is a history of state-sponsored silencing of those that choose to speak out against their government.
It is undoubtable there are more than enough reasons to displace the sanctity of the American flag. Colin Kaepernick’s actions have initiated a much needed conversation. It has allowed us to assess and critically analyze this obsession with American pride and how the commitment to nationalism keeps us from contributing meaningful, significant criticism. Hyper-patriotism does not serve marginalized Americans, but rather the parties which brutalize them. It is a mechanism to silence valid arguments against state-sponsored violence and abuse. The moment someone speaks against the criminal behaviour of America is the moment they are suddenly unfit to live there. Instead of heeding and understanding the concerns of Americans who have, first-handedly, experienced the violation of their human rights at the hands of the state, they are muted altogether with the intention of safeguarding the reputation of the country. In a sense, hyper-patriotism fails even patriots as it prevents improvement in their own lives and the spaces they occupy. This pattern of immediate backlash followed by silencing criticism against anything innately American contributes to the suppression and violence against the already marginalized domestic population.
What Colin Kaepernick accomplishes in the span of approximately 2 minutes prior to every football game is larger than any criticism that could be applied to him. His resolve in maintaining his activism in the face of American patriotism and the violence it invites is representative of the ongoing struggle between historically persecuted people, and those that profit from their persecution.