Image by Carolyn Ramos
It's a scary thing to sit out a patriotic ritual in a country rabid with patriotism.
I say this as a private citizen who stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance way back in high school. I refused to pledge my life to a swath of fabric representing stolen land watched over by a god I didn't believe in, and that reserved liberty and justice for the melanin challenged. A rough proposition in Utah, to be sure, land of conservatives with magic underwear. But I did it as a young teen and I've not changed my stance since.
Never was this particular abstention so frightening as when I was elected to my community council more than 10 years ago. That first time I sat through the Pledge as an elected board member alongside 19 white, mostly-elderly community members, my heart nearly stopped. The collective heart of the cane-wielding mob that unleashed their outrage toward me almost stopped, as well. We could have died together, the blue hairs and me, right there in the library beneath the fluorescent lights and a knockoff of Betsy Ross' tapestry.
This was what I thought of when I first read about Colin Kaepernick's lone (at the time) protest against state-sanctioned violence against black people in America. Only he knows the full evolution of his thinking that has set his name alongside other activist athletes in our country's history.
For sure, given his notoriety and national platform, he had to be sweating his balls off when he sat out the National Anthem. The three weeks since that night have been the kind of rough I can only imagine, though he is less alone every day. (Aside from a few like soccer star Megan Rapinoe, however, white peeps are proving Kaepernick's point about inequality and structural racism by not joining him.) He's running the gauntlet, no doubt.
There are the off-with-his-head folks who have taken to burning his jerseys, which is hilarious because they first had to buy those jerseys at what? $80 a pop? Most excellent, guys. Throw some books on there while you're at it.
There are petitioners who think Kaepernick, as an athlete and role model, should be fired for exercising his free speech. Ryan Lochte pissed his free speech all over Rio while wrapped in the flag and draped in medals. Then he lied about being held at gunpoint by Brazilian police. But he's just a kid. Just a 32-year-old kid. We are all looking forward to his Dancing With The Stars redemption.
There are half-brains who think that Kaepernick should find another country in which to live.
There are the I-agree-with-him-but-don't-agree-with-his-method Monday morning quarterbacks. This contingent may want to guide us all on exactly the best way for black people to move through the world to seem less menacing to their, you know, liberty. Should they jog? Stroll? Saunter? Levitate? Or maybe they should just...kneel. The (white) guy who convinced our bicep-kissing protagonist to take a knee—rather than sit—during the National Anthem is among this group. Nate Boyer should get the Pulitzer for vetsplaining and the Nobel for tone policing.
There is at least one nitwit who has said Kaepernick's not black so he can't possibly know the black struggle, and many other nitwits who once championed the ambiguously biracial baller only to suddenly find his blackness unpalatable because it's making them uncomfortable. These folks are flummoxed. After all, their former hero was raised by Good White People, with Good White People Values, and got Good White People Grades. How can he be acting like such a...such a...thug?
A report late last week in USA Today featured Rick and Teresa Kaepernick's home where "Old Glory" was flying high outside, yet the couple remains silent with respect to their son's protest. "It's not in our best interest or Colin's best interest," to weigh in, said his adoptive mom. Meanwhile, National Anthemgate has displeased Heidi Russo, Kaepernick's birth mom who took to Twitter to publicly disagree with her son's protest.
His birth mother's and adoptive parents' responses have unleashed a virulent and uninformed backlash from the many people who have a Disney view of adoption as a "blessing." Heidi Russo and Teresa Kaepernick are both moms to the quarterback—white moms, it should be noted—with white world views and all the white privilege. But their whiteness doesn't go with their son into the world. In other words, the adoption narrative about saviorism is bullshit.
It is impossible that Colin Kaepernick, a light-skinned black man, hasn't been on the receiving end of our country's habit of racism. Black (and brown) people cannot educate their way out of it. They cannot degree their way out of it. They cannot earn their way out, or smart their way out, or play their way out. I'm guessing a lifetime of microaggressions and some identity development, and being witness to what is going on in the streets of small communities around our country are what brought Kaepernick to his knee.
If we can all just get past the bullshit reactions and overt display of white fragility, maybe we can have the necessary and way-past-due conversation Kaepernick is trying to invoke. I'm all for it. I sit with Kaepernick.