Ruminations on Colin Kaepernick and our Star Spangled racism

I’ve never been a huge fan of the national anthem either, albeit for different reasons.

I’ve always felt truly great countries shouldn’t have to constantly remind themselves and others, through compulsory, often gaudy, taxpayer-funded rituals in the playhouses of billionaires, how great they truly are. One would imagine “great” countries — as obnoxious as that self-styled appellation is— would lead by example, not rhetoric. Unfortunately we’re a bit bereft of objective evidence to support our claim to the former so naturally we’ve been doubling down on the latter.

The requisite performance of loyalty oaths at all U.S. sporting events is a creepy, uniquely American tradition, the genesis — and continued existence — of which is undeniably tethered to wars and our country’s need to constantly engender domestic support for them.

Since their introduction during World War I, these displays of military pageantry and patriotic fervor have served as a surreptitiously efficient vehicle by which to ensure the American underclass is perpetually intoxicated by that sweet nationalist nectar of American nobility and, as a consequence, continue to uncritically sacrifice their sons and daughters to maintain the “freedom” of the elite business class to enrich themselves through the pursuit and exploitation of markets and resources.

We euphemistically refer to this as “spreading democracy.”

“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”
-Albert Einstein

Al’ knows, but I digress…

Colin Kaepernick, by all accounts, is an extremely intelligent individual who, especially considering his tenuous job security, recently made an extremely courageous, calculated, and selfless decision to speak out on behalf of millions of disenfranchised minorities that don’t have a voice by refusing to participate in what he felt was an inappropriate exercise, venerating a country that since its inception, and continues to this day, to devalue black life. An altogether different but no less significant context for protest. For that, I commend him.

Unfortunately, the public reaction was as repugnant as it was predictable.

He took a stand by sitting; a measured, non-violent act of civil disobedience in hopes of merely fostering a discussion that we have heretofore chosen to abstain from for obvious reasons and we went manifestly batshit - largely because, as Bomani Jones recently noted, unlike many of his peers admirably yet ineffectually calling for peace, Kaepernick was actually demanding justice.

This blind rage is mostly rooted in ignorance and whiteness, but I don’t have the time, nor inclination, to swim into those sewers. Fortunately, University of Detroit law professor Khaled Beydoun eloquently and effortlessly discredited a few of the more popular tropes that circle that drain on his Facebook page:

Sports radio may be the greatest bastion of white male supremacy. After listening to coverage of Colin Kaepernick on a range of local and national stations, I observed 4 overarching themes:
1) White men telling a Black man how to go about protesting the mistreatment of Black people;
2) Millionaire athletes should ‘keep politics out of sports,’ e.g., remain docile, dumb and “shut up and play;”
3) Playing a professional sport is a ‘privilege’ made possible by our wars abroad — not a supremely competitive job earned through world-class talent, hard work, and sacrifice; and
4) That Black Lives (mostly) Matter when entertaining fans through sport — not when victims, or political beings with ‘critical politics.’
Instead of assessing the merits of his free speech rights, these ‘sports experts’ infused their own political worldview to condemn Kaepernick’s. In short, they freely exercised the very right they unwaveringly denied him.

No, I just wanted to quickly highlight what I felt was a mind-numbingly obvious contradiction and then offer up a nugget of history that seems to have been effaced from the pages of most U.S. history books.

First, even if you subscribe to the belief that the military protects our “freedom” (which they don’t but we’ll put in a pin in that for now), isn’t it ostensibly the very freedom to do what Kaepernick did — without fear of persecution — that they were protecting?

It’d be humorous if it wasn’t so repulsive that upon his mere suggestion that black people are mistreated in this country, White America ruthlessly attacked him, relentlessly calling him an anti-American n**ger, wishing injury and death upon him, and slandering him and his family as ‘terrorists’, all clearly in a sober and non-ironic attempt to remind him that black people, are in fact, treated fairly.

His Twitter mentions literally read like a KKK chat room.

One not-unhinged-at-all 49'ers fan was so enraged by this victimless act he decided to film himself burning Kaepernick’s jersey in effigy while proudly standing with his hand over his heart as the national anthem plays in the background because #America.

Lost on all of them is the wretched reality that we live in a country where the hollow ritual of honoring veterans is decidedly more significant than the actual veterans themselves considering the fact that 22 veterans committing suicide every day and 60,000 sleeping on the street is regularly met with utter indifference if not altogether ignored by the greater public and media alike.

You wouldn’t know it but contrary to popular belief, the act of pinning a ribbon to our shirt, flag in our yard, or yes, even momentarily pulling our fat asses out of $75 box seats and placing a hand to our chest doesn’t actually put any food in a veteran’s mouth or a roof over their head so I’m sorry if I fail to see the moral pillar upon which many of these self-righteous slacktivists sling shit at Kaepernick from anyway. If anything, their mindless indulgence in compulsory patriotism cements the precondition through which our government can and will, effortlessly, launch more wars, create more disabled veterans, more homeless, and more casualties.

As a corollary, does anyone else see a contradiction in simultaneously maintaining that there’s nothing religious in this uniquely American obsession with these anthems while reflexively and immediately excommunicating anyone who choses not to participate in them?

I do.

And finally, even if one were to permit the master race to define the parameters of patriotism - crudely dismissing out-of-hand what the flag may represent to millions of American minorities and circumscribing the manner, time, and forum in which it’s ‘proper’ to express their grievances - a critical examination of our irreproachable octave-and-a-half sing-along reveals it’s far from it.

First, the melody was ripped note-for-note from an old British drinking song and the lyrics were penned by a passionately pro-slavery, anti-free speech DC aristocrat, who, in one of the verses we now conveniently omit:

“No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave”

… effectively extols the murder of escaped slaves literally fighting for their freedom under the British flag after “the-land-of-the-free-unless-you’re-black” invaded Canada in 1812 in an avaricious land grab we romantically refer to as manifest destiny.

Again, as Jon Schwartz aptly reminds us in his recent Intercept article:

“there were human beings fighting for freedom with incredible bravery during the War of 1812. However, “The Star-Spangled Banner” glorifies America’s “triumph” over them.”

It’s worth noting that after the war from which the song was inspired we demanded the British return our “property”. The Brits, to their credit, told us to go fuck ourselves, invited the free slaves to settle in Canada, and even gifted them land to settle upon.

Losing the war of 1812 led to the largest emancipation of slaves until the Civil war and Key was so dejected by it, like most men mired in insecurity, instead of using it as a moment of introspection, he - like White America today - went full-batshit and composed a militaristic, masturbatory anthem of self-flattery to repair his and the country’s shattered ego.

Had it not been for a sustained lobbying effort by “Confederate sympathizers who prevailed over the objections of pacifists and educators” 170-some years later to emblazon it as the military’s theme song, the Star Spangled Banner and the “self-righteous patriotism” it exudes, likely would’ve been relegated to B-side status in the box set of America’s greatest patriotic pop hits where, in this author’s opinion, it belongs.

Kaepernick may or may not be familiar with the ignominious history of Francis Scott Key or the fact that our cherished hymn was born in an era of chattel slavery and ultimately institutionalized by groups who longed for a return to it but, if not, he could certainly add this to his already voluminous list of valid reasons why not standing for it is a patently reasonable, let alone rebellious decision, regardless of your skin color.

The issue shouldn’t be why Colin Kaepernick chose to sit, it should really be why any of us, in this paragon of “freedom and liberty” we call America feel compelled — through fear of reprisal — to stand.

And at the very least, the fact that we seemingly care orders of magnitude more about a mere act of protest than the very human lives he’s protesting on behalf of should be a serious cause for concern.

And, lest we forget, Tom Brady is a Donald Trump supporter. If any NFL quarterback needs to be excoriated in the court of public opinion it’s #12. If you give Brady a pass for endorsing the embodiment of racism while condemning someone putting it all on the line to fight it, you need to check your whiteness at the door and take a hard look in the mirror.