Nothing More American Than Civil Disobedience

In many other countries around the world, Colin Kaepernick would be in prison, or exiled to another country, or dead. His very public demonstrations against the authorities would have earned him at least jail in the Russian Federation. In the United States, the worst thing that has happened to him is that he is out of a job (for now). Sure, plenty of really confused people have been calling him all sorts of names (like “son of a bitch“), but my guess is that he’s a big boy. He can probably take it.

His actions have stirred up a controversy that many people, including myself, think that it is a distraction from the bigger issues in this country. However, I can understand why people think that kneeling during the national anthem at NFL games is a big deal. Those people have, for a while now, been indoctrinating into associating sports events with hyper-patriotism bordering on nationalism. You can’t go to a sports event, even high school sports, without a whole display of love of country, love of flag, and love of military strength. So the people used to that interpret anyone not wanting to do that as being “un-American.”

The interesting thing about all this is that Kaepernick was never kneeling as an insult to any of the American institutions presented at pre-game events. All he was doing was drawing attention to the evidence-based fact that police are shooting and killing Black men at a much higher rate than people of other ethnicities, even when accounting for differences in population. All he was saying was that maybe something should be done to try and fix this sad fact about being Black in the United States of America in the 21st century. But, again, people who have been indoctrinated into loving Americana above equality and justice saw it as a slap to their face.

What amazes me about this debate is that the same people who are all about “America!” fail to see that Kaepernick and other athletes who refuse to stand for the anthem are actually engaging in one of the most American of traditions. The whole country was started because a group of people (mostly men) refused to acquiesce to the injustices of the government that governed them. They faced punishment for their “unpatriotic” actions of demanding things like taxation with representation, trials by jury, and rights to life, liberty and property. You know, “American” things.

Are there important issues that need to be addressed besides whether or not an athlete (or athletes) kneels during the introduction to a sporting event? Heck, yeah. But the issue of a disproportionate number of Black men being killed by the authorities has got to be if not the most urgent one certainly in the top three. We cannot have a peaceful and democratic society if this keeps happening. There are going to be marches and demonstrations, and many will get violent. It’s how it goes when there is this level of injustice.

Of course, we have a clown in the Oval Office, and he has decided that things like North Korea threatening to spread nuclear fallout the world over is not as important as NFL players kneeling for the anthem. There’s a new outbreak of measles in Venezuela because of the incredible level of instability there, but that’s not as important as NFL players kneeling for the anthem. The war in Syria/Iraq continues, but that’s not as important as NFL players kneeling for the anthem. Two hurricanes ravaged Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States filled with 3.5 million Americans. Another hurricane went through Texas, and one of the hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico went up Florida.

For Clown-In-Chief to focus so much attention on players doing the most American of thing — civil disobedience, and a very mild form of it at that — must mean that all those other things happening around the world are not a priority to the “Leader of the Free World.” (God help us.) But, of course, his supporters say that we should look at the actions and not the words… But where are the actions? Are they talking about the trips golfing?

Of course not. Blind followers want us to think that the good things to come out of the last 8-12 years of policy are all of a sudden the result of the Clown-In-Chief’s ascent to power. Or they want us to think that somehow CEOs and real leaders of businesses and organizations — none of whom has had as many bankruptcies as the Orange Clown — are actually listening to him. They’re not. Sure, they react to his temper tantrums, but they don’t listen to him. God help us if they do.

We all have our opinions and issues that light a fire under us and get us going. For some people, it’s the “respect” or lack thereof for a symbol of the country they live in. For others, it’s whether or not they’re going to get shot and killed the next time their taillight fails on their car and a police officer pulls them over. Somehow, we’ve allowed these things to divide us very sharply and give the reality TV star in the White House something to distract us from the real reason why Colin Kaepernick took a knee… And why Freddie Gray took a knee to the neck.

I'm a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen