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San Francisco quarterback (and Milwaukee native) Colin Kaepernick took a stand on a pre-season game this past Friday by staying seated during the National Anthem.
He told Steve Wyche of NFL.com, "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 told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game, "To me, this is 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. "
Kaepernick was not making this about him because it is not about him. It’s about the continued death and oppression of black and brown Americans. Many seemed outraged by the fact he sat down during the anthem, a song written by a slave owner who fully believed in the idea of white supremacy.
A flag that flew as slave owners wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." A flag that flew as 4,000 people were lynched, as millions of black Americans incarcerated in a drug war that targeted us, a flag that flies in a country that doesn’t feel their deaths at the hands of state agents are worthy of half mast.
There seems to be no shortage of people telling Kaep to be grateful, to respect the flag because … because he has millions of dollars. These same people likely would be telling him to do something about living in poverty if he was. Or to be thankful to his white parents, as that makes the challenges he faces and the challenges all black Americans face disappear.
People are talking like Kaep is there because of something they did, something this country did for him. He’s just lucky that he had the combination of genetics, talent and opportunity to be where he is and who knows what he would be without football; it’s ignorant and racist to assume he wouldn’t be successful in other endeavors.
Kaep’s stand is taking place in the same year that the greatest, Muhammad Ali, died. As many are demonizing Kaepernick’s protest of the American flag, these very same sports writers and fans previously canonized Ali and celebrated his political actions. But this is the time we live in: the celebration of disruptive protests of the past, but criticism of those that follow in their footsteps.
So why should black Americans respect the American flag? When we live in a nation as segregated as it’s ever been and as we have a white nationalist running for president? When you can take a look at Kaepernick’s Twitter mentions and see people proving his point for him, calling him "n****r" over and over again?
Or what about the wars that were fought for "us?" I’ve yet to learn about these wars fought for black America, as it’s always been clear to us that America isn’t for us.
Are they talking about the Civil War? The war was fought to preserve the Union by the North and fought by the South to create an explicit white supremacist state (instead of implicit, which we live in now). That’s a great myth of the Civil War; the ending of slavery was a byproduct of the war, not the cause of or reason for the war itself.
Or was it WWI? Or even WWII? The wars that this nation fought, that black soldiers returning home were lynched in their uniforms. Where black Americans came back to Jim Crow, segregation, ghettoization, violence by police, and they also did not receive the full benefits like the GI Bill that white GIs' received. So, obviously the answers weren’t those wars.
How about Korea? Or the very same Vietnam that Ali was a conscientious objector to? Or the un-official wars, the Cold War proxy wars in South America to install dictators? Was it the first Iraq War that we fought because we no longer controlled Saddam Hussein? The ongoing War on Terror that’s killing black and brown people across the globe? An endless war that’s better labeled a war of terror.
So again, what war that was for black America are we talking about? Because as overwhelming evidence of all kinds show, black Americans are still second-class citizens that live in a nation that doesn’t fully realize their humanity. Living in a nation that we have at minimum a semi-domestic colonial relationship with.
He is right not to stand during the National Anthem. Myself and many others have not been standing or respecting the hypocrisy of the American flag for some time now. As previously stated, the writer of the anthem was a slave owner and an individual who fought to keep such a society. The third stanza of the poem, which isn’t sung in our anthem, showed it to be a pro-slavery poem. Like one of the many traditions and institutions in our nation, it’s rooted in white supremacy.
Like him, you shouldn’t stand for the anthem; in fact, let’s take it a step further. I don’t celebrate July 4, either. Why should I celebrate independence from colonial rule for only a fraction of this nation, where "land of the free" enslaved my ancestors? A nation where my great grandfather watched as his own father was lynched.
But this doesn’t make me a bad American; in fact, I fully refute that. As James Baldwin once said, "I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually."
But more importantly, I refuse to live and celebrate the hypocrisy of this nation, where our founding document is a lie that permeates to this day. Every time we celebrate the flag without confronting the sins of our past, present and future, we are celebrating the blood and hypocrisy it is bathed in. Instead, we must attempt to live up to the high-minded ideals the founding fathers fell far short of living up to.
It is morally irresponsible for any of us to stand to an anthem or to pledge allegiance to a flag that is a living hypocrisy of violent oppression. It is morally irresponsible to be telling ourselves we are the land of the free, yet hold the largest prison population in the world and as we continue to break treaties with our indigenous populations we so thoroughly massacred through generational genocide.
This is still a nation where we still violently oppress our black and brown populations, where we are seeing a growing wealth gap and access to basic human rights is not had or guaranteed for all, where freedom means doom to all those who oppose a wealthy white patriarchal American order, and patriotism means worship at this altar of lies or else.
So instead we fight and must continue to fight to live up to those ideals, to reshape those ideals, to fight for our human rights to live and prosper, where these self-evident truths are accessible and lived by all. Where all can stand, as they are no longer being crushed by the flag many of you hold so dear.
If you want to be angry, be angry at the reason Kaep, and many others, feel the need to sit down during the National Anthem, not the act itself. And then take that anger into action and help change the deplorable human rights conditions in a violently oppressive nation.
- Matthew Braunginn is a Madison native and civil rights activist