On Double Standards

So, this popped up in my Facebook feed yesterday:

It was about how NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who is biracial, has begun a protest against police brutality by refusing to stand for the US national anthem when it’s played. He gave his reasons, saying,

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” the quarterback told NFL Media. “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."

However, his actions rubbed some fans the wrong way, leading to some calling him unpatriotic, one fan burning his Kaepernick 49ers jersey, and an overall dragging of his character online for this act of refusing to stand for the national anthem.

In stark contrast, US swimming darling Ryan Lochte vandalized a gas station, broke a door, and pissed on the floor in Rio during the Olympics, and then when he and his friends were asked to pay a fine immediately by the armed security at the gas station, they went back and fabricated a story about being robbed at gunpoint, until security camera footage vindicated the story being told by the gas station owner and guards.

But he and his friends — who he promptly left in Rio to face the charges alone — were excused as falling prey to “boys will be boys” behaviour, since they were “just kids” fooling around. (Ryan is 32, by the way. He stopped fitting the definition of a kid approximately twenty years ago.)

Both athletes. One having committed an actual crime vs. one using his platform to make a human rights stance. And yet it’s the latter who got demonized.

It’s impossible for me to say whether, if Kaepernick was fully white and made the same stance, he would have been judged quite as harshly. (I say impossible because I haven’t personally seen any precedent of established white athletes choosing police brutality against predominantly black and POC citizens as the hill they have chosen to die on.)

But I agreed with the idiocy of the double standard evident in the treatment of Lochte vs. Kaepernick, which is why I reposted it.

Shortly after, a Facebook friend made a comment about how he couldn’t support Kaepernick’s actions because his statement “A country that oppresses black people and people of color” was alienating to those who don’t buy into racism and ignorant of the fact that “a substantial number or people in that country are people of colour”.

I responded, “Systemic racism.”

Because obviously Kaepernick wasn’t talking about every citizen turning around and oppressing every other citizen who was black or POC. It’s a very common use of the English language to use “country” or “nation” to stand in place for the governing powers of a country. When they say Country A is at war with Country B, they usually don’t mean that every last citizen has taken up arms. And when he said “a country that oppresses black people and POC”, he meant a country whose executive, legal and judiciary systems (i.e. the “system” in systemic racism) have been shown consistently to fail black and POC citizens, and be conversely lenient towards white-presenting citizens.

But FB friend went on to say that Kaepernick was operating from a stance of exclusion, and that the phrasing of his protest was a form of attack, and that by phrasing his objection in that way, he was obscuring his “legitimate” original message.

My response to him was succinct (“K.”) because it was the middle of the night and I wasn’t ready to get into it. (That would come later today.)

I said to him this afternoon, as I say now, that it is disingenuous to say that Kaepernick — not to mention others who take a stand for the human rights of racialized people — needs to be polite and accommodating in order to not alienate people who don’t “get” racism, and in order to get his message across (which, by the way, is still that police brutality is bad and needs to be checked. Message hasn’t changed.)

When Muhammed Ali exited the planet not too long ago, he was showered with posthumous accolades for his courageous stance against Vietnam, his work within the Civil Rights movement, and several other unpopular causes which have, with time, come to be seen as common sense humanity. In his own time, he almost lost his career for his hard stance. Today he’s revered as a man with unwavering integrity in the face of vocal public opposition.

But Colin Kaepernick is unpatriotic, right?