San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sent the nation into a media frenzy after he refused to stand for the playing of the national anthem last Sunday. Kaepernick told NFL media, “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.”
Does his method of protest go too far? Is Kaepernick’s protest unpatriotic? It depends on who you ask. If you ask a man in a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, he will unequivocally declare that Kaepernick is a disgrace; however, if you ask someone left of center, she will tell you that she stands by his decision to express himself in this fashion.
The reasons for these differing opinions are the value assumptions lying underneath each premise and the experiences lived by each individual. For Kaepernick and me, a black gay male, when we think about patriotism we simultaneously think about our “place” as citizens. Furthermore, we think about the liberties and protections afforded to us as citizens. Almost immediately once we begin pondering such things, a vigorous disgust, an intense outrage and a candid disdain brews within our core. For a majority of minorities, we begin to think about our country’s dark history and the current climate of police brutality, systematic oppression, and institutional racism. We think about little boys and girls who mirror our hue and because of their melanin live in food deserts. In the same vein, we think about how Jamal will not get calls for interviews but Becky will. We think about how Nicki Minaj gets shamed for twerking, but Miley Cyrus gets away with it by appropriating the dance and making it mainstream for white America. We think about how riding in a group together makes us a target for the police (DWB-driving while black). And of course, we think about the daily shootings of black men and women at the hands of trigger-happy cops.
When thinking about America or saying the pledge, it is impossible for us to separate these facts from the flag. Kaepernick sat down because he feels let down. Kaepernick sat down to stand for equal protection and due process of the law. Kaepernick sat down to stand for social justice and equity. Standing and covering one’s heart as a pledge of allegiance to a country who deliberately refuses to protect you is futile, and for this reason Kaepernick’s decision to sit down during the anthem is justified.
Malik R. Pridgeon is a junior public policy leadership and environmental studies major from Cordova, Tennessee.