Why Do I Care so Much About What Happens to Colin Kaepernick?
For a while, I had trouble putting my finger on exactly why the Colin Kaepernick situation enrages me as much as it does. So much worse has happened and will continue to happen than a quarterback not making an NFL roster. There have been so many outrageous police killings — too many to keep track of, and the names of many of the victims elude me. In the face of video evidence sometimes showing stone cold murders, convenient excuses are proffered. The officers are always “afraid for their lives” (even in broad daylight on quiet streets during routine traffic stops). Charges are almost never brought against the killers, and when they are, the officer’s fear — reasonable or not — becomes a Get Out of Jail Free card.
Kaepernick being out of a million-dollar payday doesn’t seem as important as stopping the state-sponsored killing. But how shabbily he’s been treated reveals so clearly the collusive nature of White supremacy and how impossible it is to buy your way out of being victimized by it. That’s what we’re told, isn’t it? That money is the great equalizer. All you have to do is “work hard and play by the rules” to get your piece of the American pie. But the most important rule is unspoken: never genuinely challenge White supremacy. White supremacy is baked into the American Experiment, and that’s what Kaepernick is really pointing at. And that’s why he can’t be tolerated, why he has to be destroyed.
Colin Kaepernick is pointing at something many Americans don’t want to see. Deep down, underneath all their protestations, they know their country is unjust, and that the injustice is meted out along racial lines. It has been so since America’s founding. Properly redressing these injustices requires a realignment that removes very real, tangible, operable power from White America. The rage against Kaepernick is a fight to maintain that grip on power.
Power of the sort Kaepernick is fighting against is maintained and enforced through violence, and that violence demands deference. The leap to tie Kaepernick’s protest to America’s steroidal, aggressive militarism as a means to silence him wasn’t accidental. America is perpetually engaged in foreign wars, and that makes the country a permanent homefront in need of heroes. The result is a military that has been elevated above every other institution.
The horrors of 9–11 extended much of the esteem reserved for the armed forces to the police force. No one is supposed to question them anymore because they’re protecting the population from “enemies,” who more often than not come in the guise of ordinary citizens minding their own business. A permanent state of war provides ready tools to suppress dissenting political opinions as “disloyal” or “traitorous” and those are the tactics that have been deployed against Colin Kaepernick.
The NFL has swaddled itself in red, white and blue bunting and taken large sums of money from America’s armed forces to turn its games into military recruiting drives featuring fighter jet fly-overs and field-sized American flags. Kaepernick’s protest is diametrically opposed to the only kind of patriotism the NFL embraces: unquestioningly supporting America’s state violence.
Kaepernick understands that symbols matter, and he is one now. History has chosen him. That means he’s already won. And this is the part that legitimately baffles me: how the powers that be can’t put it together that continuing to persecute him only makes him stronger. From a purely strategic point of view, can’t they see that this is the wrong play? But that’s the problem with supremacist ideology — it presupposes certain victory.
The way to have defanged Kaepernick was to say: “He has every right to protest, and he’s not being disruptive. Nothing to see here.” He’d still be playing, and non-NFL fans would have no idea who he was. Instead a campaign of disinformation bordering on slander was launched against him.
People in NFL front offices compared Kaepernick to Rae Carruth — a man who orchestrated the murder of his pregnant girlfriend. This is important, because the NFL executives drawing these comparisons aren’t misspeaking. They think what Kaepernick did is just as bad or worse than murder-for-hire and warrants obliterating his livelihood. So many people who should have known better and done better used their platforms to jump on the dog-pile and do the heavy lifting to justify the destruction of his career.
That’s what I meant when I said White supremacy is collusive. People align themselves with its power for their own personal gain and preserve that power with no thought for justice. It’s why some of the most vicious enforcers of White supremacy are not White.
Kaepernick’s very public battle with the NFL is shining an unwavering light on the workings of this machine. All that immense power has been set to the purpose of beating up on a single human being. And that’s what’s enraging me. It’s nasty bullying of the highest order, and everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.
Kaepernick is much smarter than they are, though. Even some of Kaepernick’s staunch supporters have been calling for him to speak out, and “explain himself.” But he’s already done that. And his ringing silence in the interim has been revealing. It has created space for the truth to wriggle out from under the weight of all the lies. Without his words to parse, we’re all forced to look at his peers and see clearly those he outshines.
Every argument for why Colin Kaepernick shouldn’t be signed has fallen by the wayside. The only reasonable explanation is that his protest is why he’s jobless. It’s also what the sourced reporting revealed during 2017 free agency. Anyone who was arguing otherwise was being willfully ignorant of the facts at hand.
The same urge to mete out harsh punishment that underlies police brutality is on display here. Making an example of Kaepernick is the priority, and it outstrips the mandate to win and rake in the money that comes with it.
Kaepernick’s treatment has also revealed the lie of capitalism’s meritocracy. If America’s political and civil life is undergirded by White supremacy, its economy is a fundamentalist capitalist one. Capitalism and White supremacy have always walked hand in hand, and together they conquered the continent and shaped America. White supremacy is the master, though, because it determines who receives the spoils, and, in the end, that’s what really matters.
The wealth capitalism can provide is the carrot that gets people who know better to go along with White supremacy. Kaepernick was willing to sacrifice access to the carrot for his beliefs, so now he’s being given the stick. Us all watching him take the beating is the point. Shut up, take the money, and be grateful is the message. What is being demanded is a posture that turns away from justice and preserves oppression.
Kaepernick is committed to his cause and is unwilling to give much ground. The NFL owners and management seem to have chosen this hill to die on. They don’t understand that because Kaepernick has already won, they’ve lost. They mishandled this egregiously and have turned Kaepernick into a martyr. Now, when they demand his pride, they’re asking for a large measure of Black America’s. That’s how powerful a symbol he has become.
The NFL boycott to support Kaepernick will likely gain steam as the racial unrest in the country grows. And the situation will become even more fraught as the Trump regime continues to pour gasoline all over everything and fling lit matches about. Everyone, not just NFL players and executives, will be asked to take sides. Before all is said and done, this mess is going to get a whole lot uglier…
In all the shouting back and forth about what Colin Kaepernick should or shouldn’t have done and should or shouldn’t have said, what he’s protesting against is often lost. There has been an orchestrated campaign to dishonestly frame his silent protest as disrespectful. Even some of his most ardent supporters repeat the toxic framing because, unsurprisingly, that sensational take is the one the mainstream news media leapt to endorse.
Incredibly inhumane brutality is part and parcel of policing in America. The level and frequency of the violence is unbelievable to people looking on from the outside. How systemic and deliberate it is is often obscured, though. This is what Colin Kaepernick wants us to see.
(This article was originally published under my pen name Harrison Kitteridge on September 4, 2017. It has been edited for length and clarity.)