4 Ways to Make Colin Kaepernick Stand

Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise gloved fists in Mexico City during the awards ceremony at the 1968 Olympics while the national anthem is played. Their silent protest of intolerable racist conditions in America shocked the world. Peter Norman, who won silver in the 200 meters, supported the protest. Athletes were banned from such protests thereafter.

Ironically, Colin Kaepernick displayed more courage sitting on the bench last week than is required on the field. Kaepernick’s sitting during the playing of the national anthem at the start of an NFL preseason game disrupted the rote activities that precede pro sporting events, shocked the sensibilities of many players and fans, and catapulted him into the national discourse. When later confronted by a crowd of curious journalists in the locker room, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback offered a lucid rational reason for why he chose to sit. His explanation was inspiring to this military veteran.

The mob should listen to Kaepernick’s silent protest. It is steeped in an unbroken history of complaints and protests by Americans of color that continue to fall upon deaf ears today. Kaepernick’s complaint, like other athletes’ protests throughout history, were drowned out by a national anthem at a sporting event in which Americans of color perform extraordinary feats of athletic skill for an audience that holds no interest in alleviating the struggles and suffering of Americans of color.

I’d like to see Kaepernick stand again someday, but only when the nation responds to his protest with empathy, understanding and the “urgency of now!” as Dr. Martin Luther King admonished, to move stagnant needles of economic disparity that sustain a “shameful” chronic condition that King himself described at the March on Washington in August 1963.

“But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”

Four years following Dr. King’s momentous address on the Washington Mall, retired Browns running-back, Jim Brown, organized a collection of high profile athletes in Cleveland to support Muhammad Ali’s protest against white America’s hostile treatment of people of color, at home and abroad.

The following year, Dr. King stood with the Sanitary Workers in Memphis, who publicly complained about intolerable work conditions and low pay, the very same problems King had highlighted in DC five years earlier. He was assassinated following that protest. That same year, Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood on the awards podium at the Olympics in Mexico City and raised their gloved fists in silent protest.

It’s been 48 years of a steady stream of complaints and protests in every creative form one can imagine. Every year. This year is no different. Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony and others have spoken out. Michael Jordan even broke his silence. Still, the knee-jerk reaction by some white Americans to athletes of color leveraging the coveted spotlight of national media to protest suffering is instant anger. Today, we can see the toxic talk spewed forth on social media in real time.

San Francisco Quarterback Colin Kaepernick (courtesy inquisitr.com)

Sadly, with all this history, not a single reporter followed up with probing questions regarding Kaepernick’s protest during the locker room interview. And apparently, no media have yet addressed the most pertinent issues to which Kaepernick alluded.

History offers us this lesson: with each high profile protest, there’s an instant backlash of myriad reasons why each method of protest was ill-conceived. Obviously, no protest is acceptable to those who believe there is no legitimate reason for complaint. But there are seriously legitimate reasons for complaint.

Below are four complaints for consideration:

Complaint 1: Black America’s 1% Problem

Black entrepreneurs are the second-fastest growing landscape of new business startups, trailing only Hispanic entrepreneurs. Both groups outpace the national average exponentially. Black women entrepreneurs, in particular, have exploded with an astounding 322% growth rate since 1997. Today, black women own 60% of all black businesses. Yet, all 2.6 million black-owned businesses today still produce less than 1% of the national GDP and zero percent job growth. That’s the best business productivity we’ve had since slavery, and we’ve yet to crack even 1% GDP.

What media are covering this critical issue?

No presidential candidate or state leader running for office has a plan to increase black business productivity from 1 to 2 percent of GDP. It’s not even on the radar of national media or economists. Any talk by presidential candidates of job-creation leads to a default assumption that white Americans will produce the overwhelming majority, given that all known approaches are designed to impact established businesses, which were developed under an economic system that continues to sustain Jim Crow inequities and racist barriers built in the 20th century.

No one has asked Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, “who will create tomorrow’s jobs?”

Data source: US Census. Graphic produced by ScaleUp Partners.

When we think of Jim Crow, we tend to leave it in the mid-20th century, as though something magically happened that instantly opened doors of equality and equity for nonwhites after the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act. The symbolism of changing laws seemingly absolved white America of actually changing policies and practices to develop new infrastructure.

Today, nearly all jobs are still produced by white males. How is that any different than 20th century job production? Yet, the demographic shifts and extraordinary rate of entrepreneurial growth among minority groups suggest a new practice and new policies are warranted that result in new infrastructure to scale up the talent and value produced in underserved communities. Such a new effort would yield increases in America’s global competitiveness.

This problem of limited capacity among black business owners to compete in growing business markets stems from exclusionary policies and practices rooted in Jim Crow inequities. From poor quality education to inaccessible resources and inadequate capital, to being locked out of critical investment networks and corporate supply chains, the bolstering of business productivity in black America isn’t for lack of trying or lack of talent. The economic environment itself is a 20th century creation based on principles of white supremacy and privilege that are sustained today. Policymakers and influencers control barriers to entry and protect any means by which the system could be disrupted to include others who seek to compete.

Complaint 2: Wealth disparity

Stop. Don’t even think about income inequality. Think net worth.

Let’s quickly sum up the history. From 1868 and the passage of the 14th Amendment, which enabled black people to become black “Americans,” all the way to 1968, when Dr. King was assassinated while in Memphis showing solidarity with the poor sanitation workers, the net worth of the average black family was nothing compared to the average white family. That’s 100 years. So, what is it today?

Source: Brandeis University

In the 48 years since Dr. King’s death, we’ve seen an evolution of the American economy from an industrial manufacturing economy to a knowledge, based, tech-driven, globally competitive innovation economy.

We’ve seen the rise of venture capital and equity investing industries, large-scale management of trillions of dollars through pension funds, global investment banks, hedge funds and the rise of tech-innovation startups to boost the numbers of “gazelles” and “unicorns” that reap tremendous profits for the investor class of America while technological advancements lower business expenses on human resources and squeeze out middle-class jobs.

We also saw an enormous increase in corruption in the financial sectors and the crash of the housing market, which wiped out whatever proposed “wealth assets” black Americans thought they had. Note: homeowners with mortgages should not count the home they live in as an asset, but rather a liability.

Today, the average black family would require 228 years to accrue the wealth of the average white family (if the white family didn’t gain another nickel in net worth). That means the parents, children and grandchildren of today’s average black family have no likelihood of closing the wealth gap, which is rooted in generational racial oppression, and current policies and practices that sustain the status quo.

When Kaepernick sat while his teammates stood for the national anthem, his mind and heart were centered on the inordinate outcomes of generations of economic oppression, which can be seen in the disparate treatment of communities of color by police, disparities in quality of education, high unemployment and lack of community resources, such as access to healthy organic foods, clean water and other physical and environmental health considerations.

Complaint 3: Unemployment

Contrary to popular belief, and notwithstanding Donald Trump’s characterization of black communities, most black Americans are actively seeking employment. Yet again, the system of hiring, firing, promotions and pay levels are almost entirely in the hands of established corporations owned and managed by white Americans, mature small businesses owned and managed by white Americans, and government contractors, almost all of which are owned and operated by white Americans.

Unless and until black entrepreneurs and business owners increase capacity to hire, promote and pay livable wages, we will remain dependent upon a white-controlled business landscape that didn’t magically appear yesterday. It was born and bred within a modern capitalist system built in the 20th century upon a foundation of white supremacy and privilege.

That means for black Americans, regardless of educational status, the unemployment rate across all educational levels remains nearly twice that of white Americans. Do private sector white business leaders, many who absolve themselves of any responsibility for systems change, suggest they have no part to play in the economic empowerment of African Americans? The data suggest otherwise.

Complaint 4: Missing Economic Development Strategies

Ross S. Sterling High School in Houston, Texas.

I graduated from Ross Sterling High School in Houston, Texas. I also attended a summer science and math institute located across town at the wealthy white Kincaid High School. My freshman year in college was at the University of Houston. Today, Kincaid High School is pristine and demonstrably different than when I attended it in the 70s. Even back then, it was like the Taj Mahal in comparison to Sterling. The University of Houston is also demonstrably different today than it was in 1980–81. It is significantly larger an almost unrecognizable from its former footprint. Meanwhile, Texas Southern University, an HBCU within walking distance of U of H, remains almost exactly as it was in the 80s.

This illustration is parallel to a uniform system of economic deprivation and neglect that has occurred nationwide, leaving black communities and institutions destitute, with few funding resources, crumbling infrastructure and suffering residents.

One of the principal influences over economic development decision-making processes is the regional development organization (RDO) located within each metropolitan statistical area (MSA). These organizations, of which there 540 that belong to the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO), produce five-year plans updated annually that coalesce data from around the region to include in a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (CEDS) Plan. This plan projects the economic growth sectors of the region, investment opportunities, job growth, population shifts, housing, transportation, education and the overall economic competitiveness of communities and the region.

All of the CEDS plans in America ignore the economic value hidden in black communities and other communities of color. None apply the same metrics to communities of color that are applied to white communities, nor provide comparable data pertaining to business productivity, job growth, wealth creation and quality of life. None set goals and measurable outcomes for development of communities of color and improving community competitiveness and quality of life.

Certainly, some critics will proclaim that such oversight is mere coincidence. And I cannot rule that out. However, given the fact that 540 plans covering every major metro region in the country all ignore the same information and produce the same uniform detrimental results across black communities, it is difficult to fathom how such generational uniformity could occur accidentally. And given the fact that the system was built upon a foundation of white supremacy and privilege, coupled with the systemic outcomes of economic distress among all black communities, I’m eager to hear the argument that defends the indefensible.

The problem presented by such economic deprivation and starvation of black communities is exacerbated by the flow of more than 600,000 released inmates from jails and prisons each year into the most economically distressed communities in America, with no hope of economic opportunity that will sustain them for long. Thus, they are released from one hostile environment into another, with a systemic institutional bias of economic planning working against their successful reentry into society. The result is 84% of males under 25 return to prison within five years.

Solution: Inclusive Competitiveness

The aforementioned are four gigantic economic root cause problems that didn’t materialize overnight and won’t magically disappear because many white Americans are too squeamish to have an open and frank discussion about domestic terrorists in America who have evolved from lynching people of color in the streets to sacrificing them on the altar of willful ignorance and economic neglect.

When the Star Spangled banner was adopted by the military in 1931 as the national anthem for America, black Americans were still being regularly kidnapped, tortured and publicly lynched. Black families lived in stark fear of Sundown Laws, Black Codes, Convict Leasing, and white riots. A mere decade prior to the military’s adoption of a national anthem, a thriving wealthy black community in Tulsa, OK was burned to the ground by thousands of angry whites who bolstered private sector hostilities with public resources and power to bomb and raze dozens of blocks of businesses and residential areas, killing untold numbers and chasing thousands of families from the region.

Today, when black folks complain, there is the same tendency across white America, as there was throughout the 20th century, to isolate the complaint, diminish the damage, dilute the voice and undermine the credibility of the complainants. In many cases, a counter-attack is launched to destroy the impact and influence of major protests and galvanize support among whites to quell the “uprising.” These tactics are well known. But they have not deterred the continuation of complaints and protests that keep alive the effort to move a very stubborn white America toward a future wherein the nation becomes an Inclusive America that embraces a multiracial and multicultural society.

In an Inclusive America, citizens of color will feel equal and empowered to pursue their dreams across a land that truly seeks to ensure systems and institutions of influence and power apply liberty and justice equally for all. Black Americans aren’t seeking to revise the current capitalist system into a socialist model, as many political conservatives fear. We are confident we can compete in the current capitalist construct, if the system were to evolve toward inclusive capitalism.

Johnathan Holifield is the Architect of Inclusive Competitiveness. The Ohio Board of Regents unanimously adopted a policy report he wrote titled, “Inclusive Competitiveness: Empowering Ohioans to Compete in the Innovation Economy.” Governor John Kasich never mentioned the report during his presidential campaign, although it would’ve set him apart from Donald Trump with stark differences toward empowering communities of color.

When Colin Kaepernick was a child, he didn’t ask the NFL to change its standards to accommodate him. He just needed the resources, training and equal access to opportunity to compete. He knows today that kind of access isn’t afforded equally in our society, in particular when it comes to competing in the economic arena.

Johnathan Holifield is a former NFL player who speaks to a vision of Inclusive Competitiveness, a strategic framework that develops community systems to empower underrepresented Americans to compete in today’s innovation economy. Holifield today is pioneering the space of Inclusive Competitiveness. As an attorney, civil rights advocate, founding director of CincyTech and a leading national consultant on tech-based economic development, Holifield is the voice of a new generation of black leaders who have been overlooked by national media and politicians who continue to look to the same voices of 20th century protests: black pastors, educators and activists. Holifield asks new questions and offers new perspectives never before discussed or debated in national discourse.

From where will new enterprises, jobs and wealth for underserved Americans come if underserved Americans don’t create them? asks Holifield.

Black Americans know we can compete when given opportunity. Black Americans and other Americans of color have risen to the highest levels of leadership in America across myriad sectors in the face of extraordinary resistance and systemic institutional biases. How much more success will Americans of color achieve when the walls of biased systems that remain as relics of white supremacy and privilege are torn down?

Kaepernick’s Stand

Colin Kaepernick wants to stand up for the national anthem of an Inclusive America. So do I. But Americans must be committed to transforming this society we inherited from an obsolete white supremacist Utopia. To do so, we must intentionally transition from past exclusionary economic policies and practices toward a future landscape that empowers all Americans to reach their personal potential.

I believe we can create an America that all of our citizens can be proud of. The only question is whether we are ready to hear and respect the silent protests of those who sit, as well as those who speak out, and actively engage in restructuring our economy to ensure a shared prosperity and improved quality of life for all.

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