Love it or leave it. So has gone the refrain from many in response to San Francisco Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s silent protest of sitting for the National Anthem. Kaepernick has stated that “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Kaepernick isn’t the first, and he won’t be the last high profile athlete of color to speak out against the treatment of people of color in America. While you can choose to agree or disagree with the matter in which he decides to protest, you cannot voice displeasure with his right to protest and simultaneously say you stand for the principles on which this country was built.
“If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”— George Washington, first U.S. president.
The crux of the public outcry over Kaepernick’s protest centers around his patriotism and, as an extension, the patriotism of those who support him, especially those in the African-American community, lost in the uproar of Kaepernick’s decision to sit for the National Anthem is the genuine concerns that triggered his decision in the first place, central among them police brutality. Anyone that has read my blog knows that I have the utmost respect for law enforcement and the job they perform every day. You also understand that I recognize that the police department is an institution like any other and is therefore susceptible to having a few bad apples within its ranks. Regrettably, we have seen that the abuses of those bad apples disproportionately impact communities of color. To remain silent or condemn those who speak out on these issues neither shows bravery nor can be seen as a sign of support to the police departments across the country, as silence only emboldens the few evildoers and devalues the good accomplished by the many. In the case of police brutality, those among us who do speak up do not do so to see police departments across America dismantled, or police officers targeted. Instead, it is because we believe that the institution of policing is one that is better than to allow itself to be sullied by those who do not deserve to wear the uniform and when those who abuse their power are allowed to continue that abuse because of the silence of the masses we become despondent at the system in general.
“The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.”
― H.L. Mencken
Now there are those of you who will say – Ok, I hear you but sitting for the Anthem? Dishonoring the flag? There has to be a better way to get your point across? To me, no matter how you slice it, Kaepernick’s actions and those who support those actions are unpatriotic? Maybe one could see it that way until you recognize that this country’s African-American experience is a unique one, and patriotism is part of that unique experience. We did not leave our homeland seeking a better life for ourselves and our families; instead, we were taken forcibly from our home and brought to this “new world” in chains landing on Jamestown’s shores in 1619 as slaves and remaining as such for 246 years until 1865. During that period, our history, language, culture, and very identity were all stripped. Today we cannot look to a specific country and call it home; instead, we can only look to the African continent as a whole and wonder who and what we once were. With our culture robbed from us, we forged a new culture, a new identity here in America. Everything the African American is today is born of this country. One could say more than any other group, save the American Indian, America is OUR country, and time and time again, we have shown that by putting our lives on the line to defend her. We are the only people to fight for the right to put our lives on the line in defense of this country.
When we were slaves, when our men were beaten, our women raped, and our families ripped apart and sold off as property, we fought for this country’s independence.
When we were freed from the bonds of slavery but still denied basic fundamental rights supposedly guaranteed to all men in this country, such as education and the right to vote, we fought for this country.
When we were held down by the institution of Jim Crow and terrorized by groups like the Ku Klux Klan, we fought for this country.
We fought, and we did so with one simple belief, that despite all we have endured, this country, OUR country, would one day live up to its promise, live up to the words on which it was based – that all men are created equal.
“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” – James Baldwin.
The subjects of racism, discrimination, police brutality, etc., may make some uncomfortable. Some may want to turn a blind eye to them quietly. But there will always be the brave who, rather than standing for the status quo, will use the freedom of speech afforded to them in this country to push America to live up to her promise to treat all men and women as equals. It is, after all, the patriotic thing to do.