By Walter Fields
Aug 31, 2016
Sometimes it takes an unexpected actor to raise the consciousness of this nation, and historically on many occasions it has been someone from the world of professional sports. While Blacks endured Jim Crow in the south, it was Jackie Robinson, his athletic Black frame a contrast to the crisp white of his Brooklyn Dodgers uniform, who laid waste to the lie of Black inferiority. Years later Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, would take a courageous stand against the Vietnam War but it was a Louisville slugger, Muhammad Ali, who would shame the nation’s involvement in a war in southeast Asia that was sending tens of thousands of American youth home in coffins. It was two Black Olympians on the medal stand in Mexico City that put into context Black despair over the tumult of 1968 and the assassination of Dr. King. Sports has always provided a platform to expose this nation’s hypocrisy on matters of justice and race, and continues to be a stage where the nation’s failures to honor its own principles can be exposed for the world to see.
Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, was certainly within his right, and was right on principle, to sit down during the playing of the national anthem at a recent exhibition game. No other validation of his stand is needed than the asinine reaction of those who seek to paint Kaepernick as a traitor or offender of the nation’s military. These so-called loyalists, patriots are the very reason why the nation’s progress toward true equality has been stunted. Too many Americans, white Americans, choose a comfortable arm-chair patriotism rather than invest in dismantling systems of oppression that have trampled the humanity of Black people since the enslavement of Africans. The flag-waving theatrics is the ultimate insurance policy for white supremacy – making it easy to hide behind the flag and not see the truth of racism in America. Rather than be offended at the betrayal of the very ideals the flag and the anthem are purported to represent, too many whites, and some Blacks, prefer to engage in a hallucinogenic nationalism that conveniently absolves the nation for slavery, Jim Crow and present-day structural racism.
Every day Black Americans must navigate the perilous waters of American racism. We must chart a course that will allow us to survive the encounter with the police, the judgmental store salesperson and security guard, the need to appease white co-workers’ racial insensitivity or paternalism, and put on a happy face when our children recount their own horror stories from their day. We live compromised lives; knowing we get hired less, paid less, and promoted less, and will likely die earlier from illness or violence. We are very much living the 3/5th lives that was intended for us when the framers compromised our humanity away.
For some the thought of a rich professional athlete being offended at the plight of Blacks in America lacks credibility. Yet, it is that very consciousness that speaks power to the shared indignities experienced by Blacks across the economic strata. There is no protection from racism for Blacks; whether it’s Oprah, Kaepernick, a 12-year old child from Cleveland playing in the park or a teenager carrying a bag of skittles. We all have stories to tell of our ‘moments’ and identify when we hear others describe their encounters. The flag provides no cover from racism and neither does our recitation of the national anthem. It is that connective tissue of indignities that defines the Black experience in America. It is why a Black NFL quarterback felt compelled to sit down due to racial exhaustion.
Black soldiers have fought and risked their lives so those in foreign lands can claim freedoms that are withheld from Blacks on American soil. The “rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air” have not torn down the walls of racial hatred behind which this nation clings to its soiled past. Within view from the fort that inspired the poem that became the national anthem is a city, Baltimore, that stands as exhibit A of how our nation’s racist past clings to its racist present. The anthem has little relevance on North Avenue, in my old neighborhood off Whitelock Street or over in East Baltimore. There is no “land of the free” for Blacks in Charm City despite it being visible in the dawn’s early light from Fort McHenry.
What America should realize but may ignore at its own risk, is that Black patience has run out. There are no more excuses to be had and no more appeals for calm that can distract us from the demand for equality. We have arrived at this appointed hour by the sheer indifference this nation has shown Black people since its founding. Dr. King made clear “Why we can’t wait” and at the end of his life expressed his frustration over America’s unwillingness to change. Black Americans are increasingly refusing to be bullied into silence, no longer fearful of confronting racism, and intolerant of those who demand patience over justice.
Colin Kaepernick simply answered the question – O say can you see?