I’d Love to Slap Kate Upton Upside The Head!

Note: This story originally appeared on my blog on September 12, 2016.

The title of this post speaks for itself. Or, maybe it doesn’t. For everyone who hadn’t heard, model Kate Upton took to Twitter yesterday to excoriate NFL players who took a knee during the playing of the national anthem.

She wrote, in part:

In my opinion, the national anthem is a symbolic song about our country. It represents honoring the many brave men and women who sacrifice and have sacrificed their lives each and every single day to protect our freedom. Sitting or kneeling down during the national anthem is a disgrace to those people who have served and currently serve our country. Sitting down during the national anthem on September 11th is even more horrific. Protest all you want and use social media all you want. However, during the nearly two minutes when that song is playing, I believe everyone should put their hands on their heart and be proud of our country for we are all truly blessed. Recent history has shown that it is a place where anyone no matter what race or gender has the potential to become President of the United States. We live in the most special place in the world and should be thankful…

Really???

There are so many things wrong with Upton’s position, I barely know where to begin but I guess I’ll start with her decision to conflate the anti-police brutality stance of those NFL players with supposed anti-military sentiment. Despite the fact that many police departments around the country are militarizing at an alarming rate, cops are not military personnel.

Colin Kaepernick and his fellow NFL protesters know this and have made it clear that they are protesting ubiquitous police brutality and misconduct. The men and women who are serving in the military know this as well; there’s a reason for #VeteransForKaepernick.

Even if those NFL players were protesting the military, they would be well within their rights. The First Amendment right to protest is one of the many American freedoms that members of the United States military fight, and sometimes die, for.

Second, African-Americans have fought — and died — in every American war since the Revolution. Black Revolutionary war vets dealt with the bitter reality that they’d risked life and limb to uphold a slave-holding white supremacist society where their enslaved brethren were counted as three-fifth of a person. Black Civil War vets, who were paid less than white soldiers, either returned to life in the Jim Crow South or to the North and Midwest where de facto segregation was de rigueur. Several Black World War I veterans were lynched after they returned; some of them were still wearing their uniforms. Black World War II vets came home from fighting in Europe to discover that they could not take full advantage of the GI Bill, legislation that made college education and home ownership a reality for their white comrades in arms. Blacks served and died in disproportionately high numbers during the Vietnam War. Even today, blacks make up a little more than thirteen percent of the US armed forces, a figure which correlates to their share of the population. While black Americans have fought for freedom, all too often it wasn’t their own. If any group of people have earned the right to criticize the military, it is African-Americans.

Third, exactly what are the NFL players who are taking knees during the national anthem supposed to be grateful for? Their multi-million dollar football careers, careers that make even more money for the owners of NFL sports teams, were the result of innate talent, much training, and even more work. No one handed those careers to those players. And they don’t have to be grateful to live in the United States, either. Those NFL protesters are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans, the only people in the Americas who did not voluntarily emigrate to this continent, people who contributed billions of dollars in unpaid labor to the United States. Those Africans earned the right for those football players to be here.

Fourth, the national anthem isn’t the sacred screed that so many anti-protesters say it is. Originally a poem written by pro-slavery lawyer Francis Scott Key, it was set to the tune of an old English song that celebrated drinking and sex. Why anyone would tear up and swell with pride upon hearing the opening bars is beyond me.

Fifth, one of the reasons that the United States is now a place where “anyone no matter what race or gender has the potential to become President of the United States” is because people who weren’t white men protested discrimination and (sometime aggressively) demanded fair and equal treatment, often at inconvenient times and often in front of people who were overtly hostile to their aims. Blacks — and other minority groups — didn’t make progress by not upsetting members of the prevailing white power structure. No, progress often came at the expense of white comfort with the status quo.

Sixth, while 9/11 is — and should be — a day of national mourning, racism, white privilege, racial discrimination, and police brutality didn’t take a day off yesterday. They never do. Because those are everyday realities, they need to be protested every day.

Seventh, unlike Kate Upton and her equally clueless fiancé, Justin Verlander, Colin Kaepernick and his fellow NFL protesters are not white. Consequently, they don’t have the luxury of treating racism and racialized police brutality as abstractions. Those men stay black when they don those football uniforms. They stay black when they take those uniforms off at the end of the game. They were black before they ever touched a football and if they all retired tomorrow, they would stay black forever. Being black in this country, especially a black male who is big enough to play pro football, makes you exceedingly vulnerable to mistreatment at the hands of the police. And if those men ever cross paths with a racist trigger-happy cop who doesn’t follow sports, they can get humiliated, beaten, and even killed just as quick as the average black man.

Somehow, I think Upton and her fiancé know this. I think they know full well what those NFL players are talking about. But, like many white people in America, they are intentionally misunderstanding the message of the protest because they simply don’t want to think about the implications of being white in a racist white supremacist country, or, more accurately, how much their whiteness privileges them in the current milieu.

And that, my friends, is why I want to slap Kate Upton upside the head.