By now, you’ve probably heard about Colin Kaepernick’s recent silent protests of the American national anthem. But are his actions justifiable and necessary? Or ignorant and selfish?
Before I get into this, I want to make a disclaimer: on a personal level, I have very little interest in Colin Kaepernick. I’m not a sports fan and have nothing credible to say about his character on or off the field. Hell, I don’t even know if I’m spelling his name right. His actions and what he’s standing (or, rather sitting) for is what’s important.
For those of you that don’t know the situation, Colin Kaepernick is a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers who recently gained national attention for sitting during the national anthem at his games. In a post-game interview, Kaepernick explained his reasoning. “Ultimately, it’s to bring awareness and make people realize what’s going on in this country. There’re a lot of things that are going on that are unjust, people aren’t being held accountable for and that’s something that needs to change,” he told a reporter. “This country stands for freedom, liberty and justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.”
The interview goes on for 18 minutes in which Kaepernick directly answers questions on his relationship with his team and the NFL, his political views, his experience with racism, his long term goals as an activist, and much more from a flurry of reporters. Although he clearly states several times throughout the interview that he is not doing this for himself (and that he knows his actions may jeopardize his career), the response has been mostly negative. People believe that his actions are disrespectful to American values and that he is dishonoring American soldiers that have risked or given their lives for our country.
For me? I back Kaepernick’s actions 100 percent. There are many things to address about this story, but the backlash leads me to talk about the silencing of black voices.
Over the past couple years alone, we have seen a series of Black Lives Matter protests in retaliation to police brutality. Notable protests were for Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and the list has probably extended since I started this sentence. These protests also received backlash for their destructive nature. These protests did result in property damage, looting, and other crimes that resulted in arrests. Of course, there was backlash when these incidents happened, questioning how productive so much destruction can be to making a difference.
But why the backlash towards Kaepernick now? If he did a more peaceful protest, he wouldn’t be doing anything at all. Kaepernick isn’t saying anything, he isn’t touching anyone, he’s simply sitting down during a song. Yet still, in the words of one of my classmates, “he should keep it off the field.”
The most common argument I’ve seen is ‘he is disrespecting America, a country that stands for liberty and justice. He’s lucky to even have the opportunity to sit down.’ But isn’t that hypocritical? How can you be upset at someone for exercising their rights when they are exercising their rights? The funny thing is how minuscule this “issue” is compared to other crimes committed by athletes in the NFL. The NFL is known for its issues with domestic abuse, animal abuse, illegal drug use, and even rape. But what do we start burning jerseys for? Sitting during the anthem.
And I understand the national anthem isn’t just any song, but if you watch the interview and still believe it represents freedom, liberty, and justice for all, that’s ignorance. If you actually look up the original full version of the anthem (which I’m sure every person that respects it more than protecting black lives has done…right?), you can clearly see this song was written to glorify the perceived superiority of white Americans (hint: there’s a line about no refuge for slaves). Now obviously the anthem was slimmed down to a more PC version, but this just serves as a reminder of what our country is built on. Sure, slavery is over and we got through the civil rights movement, but the repercussions of centuries of such vicious racism cannot be erased in a mere 50 years, especially when such a large portion of the population has no interest in that happening and doesn’t even realize that it is happening. Kaepernick is using his name and voice to raise awareness on a problem still faced by minorities, a problem that came out of the same ideas that brought forth “The Star Spangled Banner”: white supremacy. If we’re going to be so respectful to this song to the point where it can almost be considered worship, maybe we should we know what its actual intentions were. Maybe this will help us realize why Kaepernick is doing what he does.
I can’t end this topic without addressing our troops. Aside from Kaepernick blatantly stating he respects our troops, let’s look at this logically. I don’t have any family in the military, but I can tell you one thing about that line of work: if you’re going to put your life on the line every day, you don’t do it for no reason. The people fighting for this country aren’t fighting for a flag, or 3 colors, or a song. They’re fighting for ideals. They’re fighting for rights. They’re fighting for their families. If our country isn’t observing the rights of every American in this country (including veterans, by the way), the rights our soldiers fight for, who’s being more disrespectful to our troops: Colin Kaepernick, or our country?
Let’s be more critical in what we choose to put our faith in. In a world where black people are being shot for being black, can we afford to choose patriotism over universal freedom? That’s a rhetorical question, but the answer is no. I’ll leave you with a quote from my personal favorite star-spangled symbol: Captain America.