What Colin Kaepernick Learned From James Blake and Jesse Williams
I was standing there doing nothing — not running, not resisting, in fact smiling… the officer picked me up and body slammed me and put me on the ground and told me to turn over and shut my mouth, and put the cuffs on me.”
When Muhammad Ali died social media was full of sincere thoughts and prayers for his family. Yes, the usual internet trolls called him a coward for his stance on the Vietnam war, but for the most part America pretended like he was a beloved figure. Fast forward a few months and many of those same people are now calling for boycotts and violence against Colin Kaepernick. This duality is a symptom of America’s complex relationship with race, history, and social activism. I know people who hate Kanye West and Cam Newton for the same reasons they love Donald Trump. Being an outspoken Black man is one of the fastest ways to lose friends and influence in America. That’s why I admire what Colin Kaepernick is doing. He saw how Jesse Williams was treated after his passionate speech at the BET awards earlier this summer and wasn’t dissuaded from using his platform to highlight the plight of Black men who aren’t as financially secure as him. Maybe Colin learned the lesson from James Blake’s very public wrongful arrest at the hands of the NYPD almost a year ago: no amount of money or social standing can protect your black body from a society that views Black men as less worthy of life than Harambe the gorilla.
“There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There is no tax they haven’t leveed against us — and we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. “You’re free,” they keep telling us. But she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so… free.”
America has two preferences for Black activism. Activists who don’t disrupt the natural order of things and couch all of their critiques of White supremacy in the context of America being a great nation because we’ve come this far. These activists routinely get invited to sit on panels to explain (or soften) the positions people like Colin Kaepernick and Jesse Williams have taken. It’s too easy to call them Uncle Toms or to say they are cooning. I know some bourgeoisie black folks who sincerely want to make America a more united place, but they put all of the onus on Black people to accept a second class status instead of calling into question an American ideology that continues to place us there. The right-wing doesn’t have a monopoly on these voices; many left leaning and progressive groups are also fond of the kind of non-radical “blacksplanning” they offer. This form of activism can be very profitable. If you are a reliable Black ally doors can open for you. The other preference for a Black activist is dead. If you are dead, we will posthumously resurrect your legacy and make your courage an admirable quality. It doesn’t take a very smart person to see this hypocrisy. Either conduct your protest in a way that is acceptable or become an enemy.
If Colin Kaepernick’s goal was to further expose the hypocrisy of those who criticize movements for equality he couldn’t have done a better job. Many of the same people who have spent the last two years chastising Black Lives Matter for not being more like Dr. King are now condemning Colin Kaepernick for being more like Dr. King. When Blacks were sitting down at lunch counters we were called trouble makers, when we were boycotting businesses that discriminated against us we were called economic terrorists, when we throw bricks through windows were told we should express our anger in a more constructive way, when we write or talk about our plight we are called race hustlers, and when Colin doesn’t pledge his allegiance to a nation that hasn’t pledged its allegiance to him he’s called a nigger and burned in effigy. Any patriotism that calls for blind allegiance isn’t patriotism. If you are more bent out of shape about the way someone salutes (or doesn’t) salute a flag than the systemic inequalities in our society, then you are part of the problem. This story, and our collective response to it, is symptomatic of the rampant nationalism and xenophobia pedaled by hate mongers on the right.
I would advise bourgeois Blacks to pay attention to how quickly America can turn on you. A few years ago people in Cleveland were burning LeBron James jerseys, Kevin Durant suffered that same fate a few weeks back when he decided to leave Oklahoma City, and now Colin Kaepernick is America’s newest villain. America’s love for you is conditional. If your desire is to be loved, you better be acceptable and keep your mouth shut about issues related to the Black community. America has very little patience for anyone who criticizes her.