Muhammad Ali, the agreed upon ‘Greatest of All-Time’ by sports fans once quipped, “A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” I absolutely love this particular quote for myriad reasons, most notably because it reminds me to continually re-evaluate my political positions and beliefs.
It is this re-evaluation process that has led me to take significant issue with Colin Kaepernick’s recent decision to not stand for the playing of the National Anthem. Put simply, Kaepernick’s decision to publicly protest in this method is little more than a public tantrum that does absolutely nothing to advance the cause that he claims to be representing.
Let me first relate that in another period of my life, I would have wildly celebrated Kaepernick’s antics, I myself routinely refused to stand for the playing of the National Anthem. During those years, I considered it one of the most poignant ways of protesting the historic wrongs and injustices that this nation has perpetrated against my people for the world to see.
A much less wise version of myself would have not only agreed with Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem, but also considered it a significant blow against “the man”. I also imagine that had I been asked about my one-man crusade, my response would have been eerily similar to Colin Kaepernick’s recent response to this matter. The San Francisco quarterback responded in the following manner to a reporters questioning his actions,
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color…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…I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed…”
As much as my twenty-year-old version would have agreed with Kaepernick’s position, I now realize that as a forty-something-year-old African-American male who has wrestled with this thing called Race for several decades that oftentimes an absence of experience leads us to prematurely celebrate before victory has been seized. Let me be absolutely clear, it is not that I disagree with Kaepernick’s decision to not stand for the playing of the National Anthem, it is that he, and a host of other like-minded individuals believe that this rather mundane public protest is significant.
Now endowed with an insight that only life’s lessons can bestow, I consider Kaepernick, and likeminded individuals who have rushed forward to support not “stand(ing) up to show pride in a flag that oppresses Black people” as persons who fail to understand either the issues facing African-Americans or have any semblance of an understanding regarding their eradication.
Make no mistake about it, Kaepernick’s decision to protest the National Anthem reminds the nation, including a segment of Americans’ who devoutly avoid racial issues, of long-standing patterns of racial discrimination executed by ordinary American citizens, as well as long-standing patterns of institutional racism perpetrated via American institutions. The NFL Quarterback was able to protest while neither denying nor dismissing the incredible contributions of African-American activists who have strove to “Let America Be America Again” by spending their entire lives as trailblazers and torchbearers illuminating and paving a path to success for individuals such as Kaepernick.
The euphoria surrounding Kaepernick’s protest has led the vast majority of supporters and opponents to ignore a basic query of ‘How does sitting on your ass during the playing of the National Anthem solve any of the voluminous problems facing Black America?’ The truth of the matter is that such fleeting public protests barely address, let alone reverse racial inequality in any significant manner. Unfortunately for the future of Black America, today’s cadres of attention-seeking contemporary activists appear to consider symbolic public protests as the ‘gold standard’ of activism.
This reliance upon highly symbolic, yet totally intangible, protest has seemingly duped an entire generation of so-called activists into believing that such ‘antics’ are akin to the grassroots activism and institution building of yesteryear. It is this institution-building that holds the key to Black liberation, not symbolic public protests that do little more than invigorate social media sites and users.
If the legions of individuals who support Colin Kaepernick’s courageous decision to not stand during the National Anthem really want to eradicate racial inequality maybe their activism should extend well-beyond celebrating an inconsequential protest and dedicate their resources toward the historic grassroots struggle to address tangible issues within our community such as supporting the independent Black school movement, job creation, political participation, supporting Black entrepreneurs, and volunteering their time tutoring African-American school children.
It is in the aforementioned areas, and a host of others, that the potential for racial uplift and therefore racial equality is found. What is the alternative you ask? Well the only realistic alternative is for our activist community to continue what has been their greatest post-Black Power Era tradition of sitting on their asses as Mr. Kaepernick displayed during his protest, griping about racial issues without doing anything definitive toward the creation of independent Black institutions, and watching as the world go by.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016