The quarterback ignited a storm by kneeling during the national anthem. He wanted to communicate a message but, sadly, many still refuse to hear it.
Colin Kaepernick is everywhere. Like an icon, he is freeze-framed stoically kneeling for everyone to see. We see his image on stickers, T-shirts, graffiti and posters. It’s on magazine covers, television shows and social media sites. Oddly, the more we see Kaepernick’s likeness, the less we hear his message.
Colin Kaepernick first kneeled during a pre-game national anthem in 2016. His reasoning was simple: “[I’m] not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
To Kaepernick his protest was: “bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
He was referring to the fact that many police officers involved in high-profile killings of black people do so with apparent impunity. The killers of Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Terrence Crutcher, Philando Castile and Freddie Gray (to sadly name a few) have all gone unpunished. They either were acquitted or, even worse, were never charged with a crime at all.
His message is being slowly erased
That is what Kaepernick wants to talk about. Instead, his message is being slowly erased. Some want to make Kaepernick’s protest all about Trump. Others want to ignore what he is saying completely and shift the conversation to patriotism, the military and respect for the flag.
The NFL – the same league that now treats Kaepernick like a castaway – is in on the game, too. After Trump’s admonishment of the sports league, some higher-ups tried to turn the kneel into a symbol of unity among players, coachers and owners. It became a protest against, not the politics of the president, but the fact that he criticized the NFL.
That isn’t what this is about.
I’ve known Kaepernick as a friend for some time now, and I can see how his intentions surrounding the protest are being ignored.
Kaepernick used lucid language to articulate his mission when he said: “This [protest] is not something that I am going to run by anybody. I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
This reminds me of something Franz Fanon poignantly wrote in The Wretched of The Earth, his groundbreaking text on race and colonialism: “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.” Colin doesn’t just want to fulfill his mission. He has made his mind up to never betray it.
Remember this about Donald Trump. He knows the depths of American bigotry
When Donald Trump was busy threatening to cut the budget for Meals on Wheels, a program that provides meals to older impoverished Americans, Colin Kaepernick was donating $50,000 to their program.
As Trump was signing an executive order to push forward the intensely disputed Dakota Access pipeline, Kaepernick was donating another $50,000 to desperately needed health clinics at Standing Rock.
When Trump was talking about repealing the Deferred Action of Child Arrivals policy, which protected migrants who came to America as children, Kaepernick was donating $25,000 to United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation.
Kaepernick was the architect of this protest
During Trump’s tirade about the un-patriotic nature of Kaepernick’s taking a knee, he forgets that Kaepernick donated $25,000 towards paying rent for US veterans facing eviction, and providing employment training programs for people who served in military uniform.
We need to eliminate the noise. We need to listen to what Colin Kaepernick is saying, pay attention to what he is actually doing, and why.
As he put it himself: “This stand wasn’t for me. This [protest] is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice. People that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard and effect change. I’m in a position where I can do that, and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.”
That’s why, as this protest gathers steam, its important to know what this kneel is about – and what it isn’t about.
Kaepernick was the architect of this protest. He was candid with his convictions, and clear with his vision. He could not take it any more. He wanted to talk about black lives being crushed by law enforcement. He wanted to bring attention to the many tentacles of systemic oppression. Kaepernick has been true to his message.
The question is: have we been true to it too?