Standing Up By Sitting Down

Colin Kaepernick

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) stands with teammates Derek Carrier (46) and Carlos Hyde (28) during the playing of the national anthem before an NFL football game against the New York Giants Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
― James Baldwin

“America is not static. America is striving. And sometimes, America requires critique. Jingoism is an avoidance of realism. You can simultaneously love and be disappointed in the object of your love, wanting it to be better than it is. In fact, that is a measure of love. Honest critique is a pillar of patriotism.”

― Charles M. Blow

I’m going to do this in two parts because I was torn on which way to approach this. If you want more thoughtful, flowery rhetoric that is respectful in tone, stop reading when you hit the bold heading below.

If you don’t mind curse words and salt, feel free to read the whole way through…

Last weekend, before a game where men accused of sexual assault and domestic violence were cheered without hesitation, Colin Kaepernick sat and drew the ire of many. Contrary to your uncle’s post on Facebook, Kaepernick sitting during the national anthem was not a sign of disrespect for troops. Those brave men and women, many of whom are people of color who come from poorer families, proudly protect our nation. But they do not hold exclusive rights to our collective symbol.

I am as much the American flag as you and Kaepernick are.

After Trayvon Martin. After Mike Brown. After Tamir Rice.

When righteously justified anger sprang loose the tightly sealed lid of oppression, bricks met windows, and roads were blocked. And the white majority said “this is not the way.” The white majority said “we do not listen to your anger unless you speak in our privileged tongue.” So Kaepernick spoke in passive, nondisruptive language.

Using America’s loudest soapbox, professional sports, Kaepernick peacefully protested injustice, just as the white majority told him to, in literally a silent gesture. He would later explain his dissent in no uncertain terms, leaving no grounds by which to assume his intent was disrespect for the military.

“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.”

Kaepernick used the very language of the GOP presidential candidate, who earlier this week suggested this country to be a broken mess that mistreats people of color.

But still they came…

Kaepernick’s white peers, knowing they must simultaneously demonstrate respect for the people of color who disproportionately comprise our best athletes but also recognizing where their “bread is buttered,” began dumping milquetoast comments. From Jim Harbaugh to Drew Brees, football goons walked a coward’s line, stating they agree with the principle behind Kaepernick’s intent but disagree with the method, the peaceful method, the non-riotous method, the non-traffic-disrupting method.

There can be no further proof that the real desire here is to ignore the “bodies in the street.” Why? Because, for the first time I can remember, attention was drawn to the suffering of people of color without requiring one of their dead bodies to gather it. For once, it didn’t take a black child shot to death to make us pause. A football player simply sat.

What Kaepernick did was patriotic. Period. Not bumper sticker patriotism. Not Lee Greenwood patriotism. Real patriotism.

His intent was to set eyes upon an issue that, if fixed, would make this nation greater, would help this nation fulfill the promise it made with fingers crossed behind backs, when color measured three-fifths. A patriot who fails to improve this country is no patriot at all.

It is okay that you are angered with Kaepernick’s actions. Smart, patriotic veterans have resoundingly explained that Kaepernick’s protest is the exact thing they and their brothers and sisters in arms fight, bleed, and die for. It is no wonder men and women asked to face the unimaginable following that flag would feel angry at his actions. Anger is the point.

If you’re angrier about a man sitting for a song than for the bodies of children in the streets, your anger is feckless and stupid. If what Kaepernick did angers you, that’s fine. Direct that anger where it belongs: to the systemic oppression of people of color. Be pissed at the people who made this protest necessary in the first place. You can disagree with his decision. You absolutely cannot fault him for trying in any way possible to draw attention to something this important.

I don’t particularly care for Kaepernick, the football player. And he’s done some profoundly stupid things on social media. But knowing the backlash would come, his jersey burned in effigy and his person subjected to intolerable racism, his decision to sit is unquestionably brave and inspiringly patriotic.

To put it another way: Either you accept that his message is more important than any irritation you feel at his method or you have your priorities terribly, terribly wrong.

Below here be angry swear words

You have to be fucking kidding me.

The NFL grinds its players into brain-dead lunchmeat and then jettisons them for fresher veal. There isn’t a team in the league that doesn’t have a member that beat the shit out of a woman or raped one. And people are pissed that a man sat during a song that glorified the murder of slaves?!

You “agree with his point but disagree with his message?” Dude, his method was fucking spot-on: He protested against black bodies littering the streets by sitting during a song that mentions black bodies being murdered.

What you are really saying if you’re overwhelmingly outraged by this action is that there is literally no way for a person of color to express fury on this issue. What you are really saying is “shut up, I don’t want to think about the bad shit we relentlessly allow and do to people of color, I just want you to chuck the football. Go Redskins!”

You know what we as a nation have done in the wake of the countless tragedies, from Sandra Bland to Eric Garner? Here’s a complete list:

Not a goddamn thing. Not one tiny baby step. If a player sitting down during a song pisses you off more than that, you’re literally the problem. YOU are the reason this shit keeps happening. Not Donald Trump. Not bad cops. YOU. This is YOUR fault. Because if you got half as angry about dead children as you do when a QB sits while everybody else stands, he wouldn’t have to fucking sit in the first place. Because we would have fucking fixed this shit ages ago. Don’t you dare clutch your pearls, suggest that the flag is “sacred” (Brees literally said that), and go right on not giving a shit about horrifying injustice happening beneath old glory.

You want Kaepernick to stand for the national anthem? Give people of color a goddamn reason to salute that flag.



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