Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the national anthem sends a powerful message – to increase the volume and channel dissenting voices in the direction of a deaf (and dumb) nation.
As it happens, the “Star-Spangled Banner” (with third verse lyrics celebrating the death of the British and freed Black Americans), was written by Francis Scott Key, a SLAVE OWNER who championed America’s attempted grab of Canada from the British in the War of 1812. I would argue that this little-known fact is worth noting before taking a position on either side of Kaepernick’s constitutional right to protest. To some (me included), the sitting/kneeling issue is about police brutality and thinly disguised white supremacy authoritarianism. To others, and you know who you are, it’s an affront to American exceptionalism (imperialism), patriotism (nationalism), and ownership (entitlement). Which begs the question, whose America are we talking about, yours or mine?
Now, there’s no denying that continued sit-downs with a threat of a player boycott hanging over the heads of “owners,” and Television conglomerates would ensure and further the discussion of racial and ethnic inequity and injustice in the country. Along with the clarifying objectives of instituting Civilian Police Commissions with the power to subpoena and investigate police misconduct. And the acceptance of a new reality, that of a changing demographic, demands of equal footing and opportunity for jobs, education, land, home, position, influence, and power.
As with all inspired and PEACEFUL revolutionary moments, it begins with an individual act, progresses to others joining in, and morphs into a movement that challenges the privileged, moneyed and powerful interests in society. An outing (cleansing) occurs. People choose sides, battle lines drawn. Naysayers scrutinized, hypocrites are exposed, the collaborators held to account, and as always bank accounts weigh heavy on both the oppressor and the oppressed. And with any luck, maybe, just perhaps, a civil rights past, long abandoned by the co-opted, becomes prologue. If only.
So I ask you, who has the power? A corporate, nationally militarized police force or professional athletes?
On the surface, it seems clear. If the battle were to be played out in the streets, weapons and body armor would beat down helmet, shoulder pads, and protective cups. But this is a clash of human rights, accountability, and justice. And it just so happens that the terms of engagement are on athletic turf by an increasing number of high profile athletes with guaranteed contracts. Advantage: athletes.
It’s undeniable that one force, the police, has State, and Federal sanctioned power to murder with impunity. The other force, the athletes had the nationally sanctioned power to “sit at the front of the bus (bench).” Anthem, notwithstanding. Two forces. One cognizant of its muscled impunity and the benefits derived from it. The other, a sleeping giant, awakening to its weight and sway.
To contextualize this further, consider Pulitzer Prize author Alice Walker righteous assertion, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Let’s not forget that Sport, especially professional football, is but a socially engineered mechanism to mollify and defuse the alienated energy of the disgruntled masses. It’s a ploy to divert peoples’ attention from everyday survival. It’s a contrivance to fragment, vent and deter revolt – and is critical to maintaining ruling authority, power, and control. The Romans, with their gladiator spectacles, knew this. So too, does America’s ruling class.
I’m suggesting that athletes had the power to unleash mass awareness and discontent peacefully; to hold the police and the country to account daily. They have a national PLATFORM from which to demand justice from a captive, willfully ignorant audience day after day, week after week, season after season – and main street television (with billion dollar football revenues at stake), has no other option but to report and cover it. In this extraordinarily unexpected window of opportunity, black athletes could have provided the voice America’s elite didn’t care or dare extend to the disenfranchised among us – at the risk of amplifying the criminal, sanctioned police murder of American Blacks and people-of-color.
But alas, they CHOSE to betray one of their own, and us. When a comrade trumpeted a rallying call, they retreated. They huffed, puffed, held hands, and sang some hymns, but like all co-opted people of color made a beeline to the bank to cash their checks. Never mind brothers and sisters are dying in the street. Oh, sure some felt guilty and campaigned for incremental changes to stop the killings. But what they failed to understand is that you can’t cross a CHASM with unrequited leaps of faith. They should have realized that SIZE matters; the scale of the solution (a leap to strike/boycott) has to match the magnitude of the problem (sanctioned murder). As it turns out, our athletic brothers caved. And it eats at them, wishing Colin would just fade away.
Apparently, Kaepernick had an epiphany. I don’t care why, where and when it hit him. His smoldering act of rebellion unleashed a firestorm. And I had hoped that the fuse he lit crisscrossed the country, to Colosseums big and small, and into the mindset and consciousness of his athletic brethren.
We should take heart in his attempt. As a person-of-color, a veteran, and as an American, I stand, and salute you, Colin.
Rebellion and freedom from oppression – are what the oligarchy fears the most.
I wish you, my brother, all the best. Your legacy is secured. History will be kind to you.