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Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest is fundamentally American | Ijeoma Oluo

Many are arguing that the football players refusal to stand is inappropriate, but its what US values look like when all are included

I was on family vacation when Colin Kaepernick decided to make me care about football. During Friday nights preseason game against Green Bay, the 49ers quarterback did what many black people have been waiting for more of our black football players to do for a long time he protested. It was a quiet protest, the act of sitting during the national anthem, but it was heard around the world.

When interviewed after the game, Kaepernick explained: I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

In many corners, this didnt go over well, to say the least. Some people burned their Kaepernick jerseys. Many argued that, while Kaepernick may be right to be upset by the thousands of black and brown people killed by police in the US, protesting the flag was not the appropriate way to create change. Others asked why he hates veterans still others, why he hates America. Yet more people asked why he cant just stick to football. But every argument against Kaepernicks protest is wrong. Every single one.

Furthermore, many of them are racist. And the backlash against Kaepernick displays how everyday Americans who would never consider themselves racist can get caught in acts of white supremacy.

For starters, there is nothing more American than protest. Its built into our history and our mythology. I imagine that those who think protesting during the National Anthem is un-American think that the Boston Tea Party was a literal tea party with tiny cakes and monogrammed napkins.

Just about every major change in this country to bring America closer to its ideals has been brought about by protest. The womens suffrage movement, the Montgomery bus boycott, labor protests, the Stonewall riots how much time do you have? If someone can call a group of armed ranchers occupying federal buildings over cattle grazing rules patriots while labeling one man sitting to protest the murder of thousands of American citizens un-American, its time for them to examine their biases and priorities.

To those arguing that Kaepernicks protest insults veterans: soldiers did not fight and die for a song or a flag. They fought for many other reasons American ideals of liberty and equality, access to education, economic opportunities, the draft.

And many of these veterans are people of color, who sacrificed overseas only to come home to a country whose service meant nothing to the police officers who only saw their black skin and deemed them a threat. Veterans like Kenneth Chamberlain Sr, who was shot and killed by police in 2011 when his medic alert necklace was accidentally triggered. Veterans like Anthony Hill, who was shot and killed by police this year while suffering from what relatives described as a nonviolent mental health crisis due to PTSD from serving in Afghanistan. Veterans like Elliott Williams, who was left paralyzed, naked and crying for help, unable to reach food or water, on a jail cell floor for six days in 2011 until he died from his injuries and dehydration. These men signed up to fight for us, and Kaepernick is fighting for them.

And to those who would argue that Kaepernick hates America when he should, as a rich sports star, have no complaints: this is one of the few lines that manages to be condescending, racist and ignorant all at once.

Most black people in America did not choose to be here. Most were brought here against their will and still suffer the socio-economic consequences of being treated for hundreds of years as cattle.

Black men in America are 3.5 times more likely than white men to be killed by police, the average white household has 15 times the average net worth of the average black household, one in three black men can expect to see prison in their lifetimes, and the infant mortality rate for black babies is up to three times higher than that of white babies. Despite all this, because Kaepernick happened to win the lottery of talent and circumstance to become a professional athlete, he is supposed to ignore the realities of life for so many others who look like him?

And as to why Colin Kaepernick cant just stick to football: 68% of professional football players are black, yet only 16% of head coaches are black and 0% of owners. So if we havent been discussing race in football, weve been neglecting to do so to the detriment of black players who find that they have little representation in the positions that affect their careers.

Furthermore, the thought that theres ever a bad time to discuss racial oppression and police brutality is incredibly privileged and harmful. Black Americans do not get to decide when to encounter racism and police brutality in America. People have been killed while cosplaying with a toy sword, while reaching for a cellphone, while walking up the stairs to their own apartment. A brown friend of mine was pushed and kicked a few weeks ago by an elderly white lady for daring to walk in front of her in a crosswalk.

We cannot choose when racism affects us, and it is cruel to insist on choosing when discussions of racism affect you. You can be a professional football player, an accountant, a politician, a teacher if you are black, you cannot escape the harmful and even deadly effects of racism in America. Colin Kaepernick is black every minute of every day of his life, and his money and his fame will not remove that blackness. Nor will they keep him safe when hes out of uniform.

What Kaepernick has done with his simple protest is brave. He has risked his privilege, his fame and his very career to stand with his fellow black and brown people against the systemic oppression that is literally killing us. This is what team spirit looks like when you look beyond jerseys. This is what American values look like when you stand for all Americans.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/29/colin-kaepernick-national-anthem-protest-fundamentally-american

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