Un-American? Try Politically-Incorrect

San Francisco 49ers quartback Colin Kaepernick (Image by Brook Ward is licensed by CC 2.0)

Colin Kaepernick took a seat, and was vaulted into the national political discussion.

Ever since the San Francisco 49ers quarterback was recorded sitting out the Star Spangled Banner before his team’s preseason game, Kaepernick has seen basically everything about him called into question.

Any and all topics have been fair game: Kaepernick’s being half-white, his being raised by two white foster parents, his multi-million dollar salary, his lack of action until this, the first season where he is not slated to be the team’s star QB. After all, where does a pro-athlete-millionaire-who-was-raised-white get off not standing along with everyone else in respect to the flag and country that we call ours?

When confronted by the media, Kaepernick gave a detailed and powerfully-worded explanation:

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.

The first portion of the quote has been isolated and spread through headlines across the country and internet, pushing the great-American-patriots to the edge as to how a country that has elected a black president can possibly oppress black people. His last thought has been used to set them over the edge. After all, soldiers die in Middle Eastern streets to protect our country, and he’s crying about what’s occurring in the same streets that the survivors come home to?

The likes of Fox News and Tomi Lahren have offered their furious retorts: telling him to leave the country; to present evidence to support his claims (it’s called Google and YouTube); that he’s a selfish, millionaire, brat who doesn’t have the ability to see that his refusal to stand for the flag and anthem is so un-American that it spits in the face of everyone who has ever died under it.

Admittedly, when I first heard about Kaepernick’s stand not to stand, I had difficulty getting past my initial disagreement with the action. Plainly, I believe that no matter your political affiliation, you show respect for the flag merely for the reason that so many have died under it fighting for what it represents. But as I have listened to his explanation and repeated defense of what he says will be a protest he will continue (prospectively) throughout the season, I have come to respect what it is he is trying to say and do.

Ultimately, every argument made by the Kaepernick-is-an-un-American-jerk crowd fall short to address the concepts and concerns that he raised during his extended comments.

Yes, Kaepernick is half-white and he was raised by two white foster parents. But, this does not discount the experience of people of color, which includes people of color who have a white parent(s). It also does not do anything to address the fact that while Kaepernick was “raised white,” that as a man of color he has been and will continue to be subject to different treatment by the institutions of his society.

Yes, Kaepernick does make millions of dollars every year to play a game. The quarterback even acknowledged that when he said these issues are “bigger than football” and that it would be “selfish on [his] part to look the other way.” But, his salary and occupation do not erase the multitude of studies, statistics, videos, accounts, and shared experiences among communities of color, that back up his contentions.

The same things were said about Muhammad Ali when he refused to be drafted into service during the Vietnam War, citing the United Sates’ treatment of people of color domestically and aboard. Baseball icon Jackie Robinson even admitted in his autobiography that he does not stand for the national anthem for much of the same reasons.

Yes, the QB has never indicated an interest in any type of protest action before this, his first season not in the spotlight as a franchise centerpiece. But, this attempt to paint him as disingenuous does nothing to play out that same line of logic. If Kaepernick is merely trying to draw attention to himself, is it logical to think that this is the type of attention he would want? After all, many see his roster spot with the 49ers in jeopardy, and subsequently his pro-career as a starting quarterback. Does the media and public backlash that this has and will continue to level against him help him in a possible future as a free agent? I wouldn’t think so.

No, the reality is that Colin Kaepernick has simply decided to use whatever platform he has to call attention to significant issues that do exist in our country. He is no different then Robinson, Ali, or Tommie Smith and John Carlos: athletes of color who took a risk in their attempts to draw attention to inequality.

It is a reality that brave men and women have and will continue to die for this country and what it stands for. But, that doesn’t mean that men, women, and children have not been and are continuing to be killed in our streets. And yes, far too often, they are killed by the people sworn to protect them.

It is telling, that at the heart of all this backlash is a display of our national lack of empathy.

The Outraged cannot come to comprehend how the flag that they stand to respect can mean anything other than the triumphs of freedom and American exceptionalism. Those Nodding Their Heads, in agreement with Kaepernick’s message, grow evermore frustrated as to how The Outraged cannot recognize that that flag once flew over fields of slaves, or over schools segregated by race, or over police stations who have been investigated and ruled in violation of civil rights laws. They also cannot respect a national anthem whose other verses acknowledge the oppression of their enslaved ancestors.

One thing about that flag is for sure, either past or present. It flies over a country whose founding creed and ideals declare the inalienable rights of every person and the imperative need for liberty and justice for all. Those ideals have never been fully realized, but the rights afforded under that flag have allowed for generations past and present to draw attention to the gap between our ideals and our reality. Kaepernick is merely another utilizing the rights we love to flaunt to everyone around the world in order to address that gap.

Donald Trump has been quoted as saying that “maybe [Kaepernick] should find a country that works better for him.” This, more than anything is baffling to me. Trump — who has rallied his forces to a campaign declaring that America is not great and has mounting issues and must be made “great again” — has repudiated political correctness as the most looming problem holding this country back from facing its problems.

The sad irony is that Colin Kaepernick — in one harmless action — has proven and is now living that reality.