By Ernie McCray
This is so deja vu, this state of affairs with Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49’ers quarterback who sat when one is “supposed to stand” in honor of The Star Spangled Banner that heralds a time when non-white people in our county were not seen as human beings.
I fully understand and appreciate this man’s stance although I stand whenever the anthem is played out of respect for those who get goose pimples in such moments. However, I bow out at singing about “bombs bursting in air” and “flags still being there” and the empty promises inherent in the braggadocio “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave!” at the end of the song.
That aside, I can’t help but think back to the 68 Olympics, when the quest for “liberty and justice for all,” in a spirit of today’s “Black Lives Matter” movement was pursued like never before. My soul still fills with pride remembering the image of Tommy Smith and John Carlos at the ceremony for handing out the gold and the silver and the bronze medals for the men’s 200, standing on their podiums with their heads bowed and their hands raised in the “Black Power!” salute.
I recall how the country (and, indeed, the world) freaked, screaming all kinds of invectives about how these proud fed up black men used the wrong platform. “The Olympics aren’t political” they cried, which was news to me.
They couldn’t have made such a demonstration at a better place or time. It furthered the conversation about race in America. Where else are they going to get attention doing something like that?
So, here I am now, 48 years later, overwhelmed with feelings of deja vu, looking at another brother, a new hero of mine, big time, being impugned for his actions while our society still is, seemingly in so many ways, no further along in the area of race relations than we were then.
We’re so caught up in our symbols and rituals of “standing” and “taking our hats off” and “putting our hands over our hearts” and “pledging” our allegiances that we can’t or won’t allow ourselves to hear a fellow citizen’s cry.
I mean Colin Kaepernick puts his career and endorsements and life-style, his very future, on the line through his actions and too many folks immediately ignore his reasons why.
He says to us: “I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”
That brought tears to my eyes. I wanted to hug him. Give him the “salute.” But on social media (where being unsocial is rampant), there are people who look down on his actions.
Some are talking about how his actions are an insult to our troops who fight so that we can be free (don’t even start me on this).
Others look at his riches and think “Boy, he’s some kind of ‘oppressed,’ that dude” – as if the rich and famous, in a free society, can’t reach out to those who aren’t as privileged as they are.
A woman who claims to be “fairly liberal” about most things, says she was “offended” and felt that Colin could “express his first amendment rights in a more proactive, effective manner.”
Up to that point I had read people’s concerns relatively unemotionally, in spite of the fact that it was a topic dear to me. But this woman’s attitude really got to me.
I get so tired of people telling us black folks how to act when we’re pissed off about how we’re treated.
What manner of pursuing one’s rights are “proactive and effective” I have to ask. Over a lifetime I’ve tried everything: marched and rallied for my freedom; prayed for my freedom (a long time ago); stood before City and County and State Halls for my freedom; organized, agonized, sometimes while being patronized for my freedom; acted on stage and written op-eds and letters to the editor and TV bits for my freedom; campaigned for politicians who I thought could best help me in my quest for my freedom; played a role in forums that were all about me gaining my freedom……
Everyone of those proactive attempts at winning rights that should be ours, without any thought, have been “offensive” to somebody, people who, apparently want us black folks to shuffle and kowtow and smile and just be quiet and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Anything else, they don’t want to hear it. And that’s the problem.
Instead of focusing on what is perceived as offensive about Colin not standing for the national anthem, why can’t we honor what his protest is all about and work towards making our flag represent a country that represents all its citizens “the way that it’s supposed to.”
And although making a better world is a painfully slow process, there’s hope in how Colin is using his celebrity to role model an approach to bringing about social and political change for the betterment of all people. Some young people, of all colors, many of them his fans, are paying close attention and saying to themselves “Hmm, I never thought of it in that way” and they’re thinking of the role they might want to play in this evergoing struggle for equality and dignity for all Americans.
For that we should praise Colin Kaepernick rather than look at him with disdain.