I saw a video posted online in which a marine burned Colin Kaepernick’s Jersey while playing the Star Spangled Banner and saluting it as if it were an American flag. He called it the Burn Colin Kaepernick Jersey Challenge and invited others to do the same. He’s within his rights, of course, to do such and to say he thinks Kaepernick is a “piece of trash” for not standing during the national anthem. It is after all, as I’m sure he would readily say, a free country.
I came across the video because people I barely know posted it on Facebook with supportive comments about how they personally agree and how ALL LIVES MATTER—usually in all caps—and how Kaepernick should keep his mouth shut. And in other not unrelated posts, I’ve seen people post pictures of the American flag and say things like, “If you don’t like this flag, leave,” or “If this offends you, I’ll help you pack.”
Now, I will be the first to say you don’t have to agree with Kaepernick or his method, but every such post I’ve seen has been from a white person who has probably never had to think about race and how it could affect their daily lives if their skin were darker. Race is an uncomfortable subject to them. They want people to deal with racism quietly and out of sight because it might disrupt their lives. They can’t just enjoy a football game because now they have to think about serious stuff and confront an experience that is not their own, and all this while most likely seated themselves in front of a TV with a beer in hand rather than hand over heart during the song they say they so love.
Further, it goes without saying that All Lives Matter, but to say that as a response to Black Lives Matter reveals a worrying degree of unthinking and an extreme lack of empathy because to say it—Black Lives Matter—is not to imply that other lives do not. It explicitly means that all lives do matter while trying to call attention to the fact that many lives have been overlooked, passed by, forgotten, not to mention such things as being incarcerated at much higher rates for similar crimes as their non-minority counterparts. To think that Black Lives Matter means that white or blue or green or red or yellow lives don’t matter and to express that because one man took a knee at a football game during the national anthem demonstrates quite clearly both the need for such a slogan and the views on race of those who can’t or refuse to see what it really means. If this is you, how about this? Before type-shouting ALL LIVES MATTER, try to gain a better understanding of the black—and by extension the overall minority experience—by reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It takes effort to understand the experiences of others though, which is why so many people don’t do it. It’s easier to shout and call names. It’s easier to burn things.
As for burning Kaepernick’s jersey, it isn’t unlike burning in effigy or—dare I say—lynching. It’s an attempt to shame and quiet a black man, and it matters not one bit that he’s half white and grew up with white patents. It’s an attempt to quell discussion on race and a refusal to acknowledge that race is an issue because contrary to the idiotic beliefs of Ann Coulter, racism in this country is not dead. It thrives in overt and subtle ways, one of which is the unquestioning, “leave this country if you disagree” patriotism of those who burn Kaepernick’s jersey because it does nothing to challenge the status quo or learn from the history of race relations in this country. It does nothing to understand the motivations of the man or the idea he’s trying to represent. It’s just a reaction, a judgement. It’s a self-congratulatory and self-satisfied pat on the back. It’s a hope that by half time the noise will have died down and we can all get back to what really matters, football.
I would say then that Kaepernick is more patriotic than those who burn his jersey or suggest he should leave the country. He loves this country and the opportunities it has afforded him. He respects the military and even the flag, but he isn’t blind to the injustices that still pervade our system of justice. The difference between him and the shirt burners is that he doesn’t think America is perfect. He loves it, but he wants to make this country a better place. He understands that there is room for improvement. He doesn’t accept it all on face value without thought or question as if it’s some sort of religion. And that’s what real love is. It pushes us to make those we love better and hopes they will do the same for us.
Love it or leave it?
I say, Love it, but be angry when it lets you down, when it lets even one of its citizens down, and strive to make it better. Take a stand when you need to. Or sometimes, kneel.