Nike’s recent bold marketing decision to use Colin Kaepernick as the face of its 30th anniversary “Just Do It” ad campaign predictably reignited the controversy over the former NFL quarterback’s decision to protest racial injustice and police brutality in America by taking a knee during the national anthem. In light of this, I believe it is an appropriate time to revisit what exactly it is about those protests by Kaepernick and others that still have the ability to incense so many of my fellow white people in this country.
I maintain, and have always maintained from the beginning of the protests, that a good number of white people, especially those among the MAGA-Trump crowd who have a problem with Kaepernick and his compatriots, don’t necessarily have a problem with their perceived disrespect of the flag or national anthem per se, but with who these men are—outspoken black men shining a spotlight on the dogged and stubborn racial problems in this country. These are men who can neither be silenced nor controlled by the histrionic faux rage that is swirling all around them and because of this, those who are enraged become more so with each passing protest.
Further, I believe many of my fellow white Americans have trouble understanding that when it comes to matters of race in this country, we don’t get to tell black Americans how they should feel about the racism that they have to live with and experience on a day to day basis. One of the lingering effects of segregation is that we are largely ignorant of how people who don’t look like us have to move throughout their daily lives.
Just as it is a hard truth for some of us to accept that black people in this great nation of ours are not here strictly for our entertainment or servitude, we also need to recognize the brutal truism that we get to choose whether we think about racism on any given day. Black Americans and other people of color living, working, and existing here alongside us don’t have that luxury.
Without defensiveness, there’s a need to acknowledge that historically in these United States of America, whites were, and in many cases still are, the oppressors of anyone with skin tones darker than our own. While this doesn’t mean that all white people are racist, it doesn’t let us off the hook from dealing with and working to correct the destructive and debilitating effects of racism either.
Every white person born in America societally inherits varying degrees of privilege and varying degrees of the sense of entitlement which, if left unchecked, can lead to the insidious belief that we have a right to control our fellow human beings who happen to be non-whites. This sense of entitlement is the nefarious engine of racism that expresses itself in many ways including the routine police brutality committed against people of color in this country that originally led Kaepernick to begin his protests.
To be sure, while none of us can change the past, every single one of us can impact the present and by so doing potentially impact the future. It behooves all of us to prove through our actions and words that we are not like those, including many family members, in this country who have gone before us. What matters is the here and now. Here and now, we as a people, actively engaging in the process of rectifying and repairing as much of the damage and detrimental effects caused by racism as we can. We have an obligation to actively resist both of these socially constructed forces within ourselves.
As American citizens, we are blessed with arguably the greatest document the world has ever seen—our magnificent, living and breathing Constitution. It is a document that in theory, provides for equal protection of the laws for everyone regardless of race, sex, gender, age, or sexual orientation.
Its first ten amendments, commonly referred to “The Bill of Rights,” protect us and our rights from being infringed upon by both governmental institutions and individuals. It is also the First Amendment that protects the rights of not only Kaepernick and his fellow protestors to take a knee, but also the people upset with them and Nike and who are so willing to express their displeasure by cutting the Nike “swoosh” off their socks or burning their shoes they’ve paid for.
So, what’s my point? A vast majority of those who oppose Kaepernick and his fellow protestors and their message patently refuse to acknowledge any of these issues but rather turn what they are doing into an absurd “more patriotic than thou contest.” And that serves no one but themselves by helping avoid discussion of the core issues that Colin Kaepernick and those who have followed after have dragged into the light.
White America—we know the truth, we have the facts, now what?
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