The most noteworthy part of a national anthem before a sporting event used to be a great singing performance or a riveting flyover. Colin Kaepernick changed that. All eyes during the anthem are now on the San Francisco 49ers quarterback and other athletes who have joined him in sitting or kneeling during the anthem. When Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem, citing oppression of African-Americans and people of color, critics burned his jersey. Donald Trump said Kaepernick should find another country to live in.
Kaepernick began sitting during the national anthem this preseason. It was a silent protest to show support for people of color who are being oppressed in the United States and to take a stand against police brutality. It’s an effort to use his voice and his position as an NFL player to effect change for the people who are suffering and don’t have the same ability to create significant change.
What began as a gesture to protest police brutality and social injustice had careened into a national debate on everything but that. Kaepernick didn’t invent the call for social change and judicial equality, and his voice has been neither the most indignant nor the most eloquent on the issue. He’s a football player, not an orator, however far and wide the message of his actions has traveled.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said, via NFL.com. “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.”
“This stand wasn’t for me. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.” Kaepernick said.
Politics, Racial Undertones, & History's Lessons
The Republican presidential nominee was supported by white nationalists, including members of the Ku Klux Klan. African-Americans were publicly protesting institutional racism, often enduring a backlash for their activism. Two white people were seeking the presidency and race was a constant and underlying issue, with black people fearing the police and whites feeling threatened by the potential power of African-Americans.
The year was 1964, and the candidates were Republican Barry Goldwater and sitting Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson. More than a half-century later—and after nearly eight years of administration by the nation’s first African-American president—the U.S. is again looking at a presidential campaign with deep and painful racial undertones.
“In the 1960s, you had white people who were really scared of change, and who were attracted to Goldwater’s rhetoric and agenda, including his vote against the Civil Rights Act,” says Christopher S. Parker, a political science professor at the University of Washington and author, with Matt Barreto of Change They Can’t Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America.
Today's Candidates Weigh In
Nowadays, white Americans are feeling not only the threat of social change but the diminished power that comes with the increased percentages of African-American and Latinos citizens in the U.S., adds Daniel Cox, research director of the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute.
To Hillary Clinton, racial division is a generations-old problem best tackled with honest, open-minded conversations that don’t force people to pick sides. “White Americans need to do a better job of listening when African Americans talk about the seen and unseen barriers,” Clinton has said.
“Ending systemic racism requires contributions from all of us, especially those of us who haven’t experienced it ourselves,” Clinton said in a speech in Harlem this year, using herself as a case study. “We need to recognize our privilege and practice humility, rather than assume that our experiences are everyone’s experiences."
To Donald Trump, the division is largely the fault of President Obama and could be solved with more jobs and stronger law enforcement. “We must maintain law and order at the highest level or we will cease to have a country,” Trump has said.
Public Opinions on Race Relations Vary Widely
A recent Pew Research Center study showed that just 45 percent of whites thought race relations were generally bad, compared to 61 percent of African-Americans and 58 percent of Hispanics. Meanwhile, 41 percent of whites believe too much attention is being paid to racial issues, compared to 25 percent of blacks and 22 percent of Hispanics. The same study showed that African-Americans are about twice as likely as whites to say discrimination is holding back success for African Americans.
“I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s a significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand,” Kaepernick said.
Finding a Way Forward
As we sit at the precipice of the presidential election, in the midst of the current social climate which brings to the forefront racism and social injustice for many Americans, racial undertones are wrapped up in the national conscience and reflected within the presidential election more than ever.
We, as Americans, must decide if we want a President who will be a voice for the voiceless people like Colin Kaepernick, who will seek to unify our country rather than divide it, or a President who seeks to use hate and racism as part of their political platform to undermine the very democratic values upon which our country was founded.
Quote of the Month
“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.” ~ Muhammad Ali