When NFL veteran – and my Kappa Alpha Psi brother – Colin Kaepernick challenges the ‘greatness’ of America, he is widely castigated.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump says America is not great and he is resoundingly cheered by many of those same people who have critiqued the San Francisco 49ers quarterback. How exactly does that add up?
The dichotomy begs the question, who actually gets to be an American patriot and why?
The truth, of course, is well-hidden beneath the logical fallacies, conservative media spins, and racist tropes that have emerged since good brother Kaepernick decided that he would no longer stand for the National Anthem. He has, of course, been accused of not respecting the troops, disrespecting the flag, being too well-paid to stand for the oppressed, as well as subject to challenges of his “blackness” because of his biracial blood and upbringing that were posed to President Obama.
There is nothing more American or patriotic than standing up proudly and loudly for what one believes in, and challenging anything that may be in the way of your inalienable rights and pursuit of happiness.
Colin Kaepernick has recognized that intractable impediment is the systemic racial oppression in America that exists via the modern-day Jim Crow system of police violence and mass incarceration. With that understanding, he has decided he no longer can be silent and that’s the most patriotic thing someone in his position can do: challenging America to be better, to live up to her promises.
We can’t ignore the most insidious chorus of brothers (among them: Hines Ward, Jerry Rice, and Rodney Harrison) trying to tear down Kaepernick and others who take a stand against racial oppression or step outside of the limited lane and muzzled tone assigned to the Black athlete in America.
So, no, I’m not going to write another defense of Kaepernick in an attempt to “Black-splain” away the myths that have surrounded him. I’m not going to explain the fundamental freedoms (like dissent and individualism) that this country was built on that are represented by the symbol of our flag, because we should not have to do that.
I’m certainly not going to explain why many in the military have rallied behind Kaepernick because they know they serve for the cause of freedom in its highest form.
Instead, I wish to pose a challenge to my fellow Americans. Can we commit to taking the time to understand just why this dynamic young man feels the need to risk his very livelihood for issues that some say don’t exist and others say we put to bed as a nation long ago?
Last time I checked, a current NFL player doesn’t stand to gain some great economic or celebrity capital from sitting during the National Anthem. The pantheon of giants who spoke out reads like a who’s who of those who have been scorned in their time, and praised in their remembrance. The list includes Jackie Robinson (who also took issue with our flag), Muhammad Ali (who threw his gold medal in the river in disgust at racial injustice), Jim Brown, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Arthur Ashe, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Indeed, history remembers these titans much differently today!
Again, I ask, why can one person question this country’s greatness and be cheered as a true American, while another can be reviled for doing the same? I ask again, who determines who is or is not a patriot and why?
In conclusion, I wrote this piece for you to think for yourself, like every good citizen In a healthy democracy should.
So I invite you to answer the question by drawing on the best of this nation’s ideals, which, in my book, define patriotism as the unwavering belief in freedom and the willingness to fight for it with both the pen and the sword, or even with simple yet powerful gesture of just sitting down.
– Kwame Jackson is an entrepreneur, media personality, professional speaker, and a former contestant on NBC’s hit show “The Apprentice.” You can follow him on Twitter @kwameinc
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