Nationwide — I am not going to equivocate my thoughts about these United States of America. Amerykah – as the artist Erykah Badu has called it, is hands down the greatest country in the world. Like most citizens, I love America and so does Colin Kaepernick, the once beloved and now embattled quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, Colin Kaepernick refused to stand while the national anthem was being played during a recent pre-season game. His refusal to stand was his expression of the frustration he felt as a Black man, a citizen living in America, observing the lack of racial equality for people of color. Kaepernick made it perfectly clear that his act was his decision and it was personal. We got to witness an act of protest protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. You know the document that begins with “We the People…’
And then it happened… we the people (Twittersphere, sports fans, a whole lot of folks) lost their figurative minds and let him know (as was their right), how they felt about his act. Some said he was a coward, that it wasn’t the right time or place for a protest although protest, no matter the form is never convenient. It was astounding to me that some said he showed disrespect to the men and women who served in the military and more than a few of our loving citizens strongly suggested that he find another country to live in. It was as if this millionaire athlete could not and should not have a conscience and that he absolutely could not exercise his right to object to the playing of a song that has a known racist history.
Not all Americans agreed. Some applauded his right to protest and wondered if Americans would really hear his heart. Some said it was madness but magnificently so.
I immediately thought of the late Muhammad Ali.
Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer of all times was once called a traitor and draft dodger for refusing to be inducted into the U.S. Army. He was immediately stripped of his heavyweight title and not allowed to box in the US for many years. Ali lost millions but it seemed that his soul remained intact. He showed us by his personal act, that our worth is not determined by green backs and coins but by the tenets of our hearts and those valuable truths that we would willingly sacrifice our lives for.
It was Ali who told the world that he would not put on a military uniform and journey thousands of miles away to drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while Black people were being treated like dogs right here in the streets of America.
Ali unapologetically said that the real enemy was not Vietnam but the good ole’ USA. It was Ali who said he would willingly go to war if he thought it would bring freedom and equality to Black people. For Ali, the real test was whether he would stand up for his beliefs while facing the possibility of jail. In the end, Ali reflected that he really had nothing to lose if he went to jail because we (Black people) had been in jail for 400 years.
Like Ali, Kapernick did not mince his words when explaining why he refused to stand during the playing of the national anthem. Kaepernick said he could not stand up and show pride for a country or a flag that ‘oppresses Black people and people of color.’ He said the oppression that he witnessed was ‘bigger than football.’ He spoke of the bodies lying in the streets. Kaepernick knew he might pay a heavy price for his beliefs but he set down anyway. “If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right,”Kaepernick said. Sound familiar?
Kaepernick, a Black NFL quarterback who was once chastised by a reporter for wearing his cap backwards. “Turn your cap around and act like a professional quarterback,” the reporter wrote. I guess that reporter was blissfully unaware that White NFL quarterbacks also wore their caps backwards. Or what about the reporter who loathed the tattoos on his arms, comparing Kaepernick’s look to that of a prisoner who just got paroled. It didn’t seem to matter to that reporter, that under Kaepernick’s leadership, the 49er’s earned a trip to Super Bowl XLVII. But I digress…
Is it possible that Kaepernick was asking how could the United States of America, home of the brave and land of the free, the great variegated country who promised that all men were created equal impinge upon the unalienable rights of its citizens of color… the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness? He wanted to know when would justice for its citizens of color be congruent with the type of justice experienced by its White citizens. He did not disparage the brave men and women who serve or have served in the military nor the police who bravely seek to make the streets safe for all citizens of this great nation. He did question the system that allows some to escape the consequences of their misguided actions. After all, aren’t all citizen’s innocent until proven guilty in a court of law?
Colin Kaepernick simply spoke of his disappointment in a country that is better than what we at times exhibit. He said what you and I know that we can and must do better. It is a courageous act to speak truth to power. It’s not for the faint at heart and Colin Kaepernick makes me wanna holler and throw up both my hands…
Dr. Valerie Wardlaw is a writer and psychologist from Los Angeles. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her web site at www.drvaleriewardlaw.com