Black movements have a history of opposition. That is not a controversial statement or an argument but a fact that is illustrated through the arrest of peaceful protesters during the 1960s civil rights movement. What people view as an argument rather than fact, however, is that it is still necessary for us to fight for equality.
In this “post-race” society, as many see it, civil rights movements are condemned as complaining — an ungratefulness for the perceived equality that we have. Civil rights movements are also often perceived as a desire on the part of the black community to receive advantages over white people.
Oftentimes, even when people recognize racial inequality, they criticize contemporary black movements as disrespectful or even harmful.
An activist who has unfortunately fallen victim to that same pattern of white ignorance to black issues has also continued the historical tradition of persistence in the face of opposition, making waves in the news since mid-2016: Colin Kaepernick.
The name itself sparks controversy and associations of Black Lives Matter, the murder of unarmed black men and women by white police officers and sometimes even words like “unpatriotic.”
A class discussion I had last year about patriotism quickly devolved into a debate about the appropriateness of Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem. That debate was one-sided, as nearly every student but me (and possibly the other two students who did not speak) saw him as blatantly disrespecting the flag and veterans. The students who did not see the action as disrespectful still saw it as unnecessary or unhelpful.
“It sucks to see the flag disrespected,” one student ended his commentary.
“Well it sucks to be oppressed,” I rebutted, breaking my silence.
I sat in that silence as I listened to things like “my father fought in the war” or “it’s like burning the flag” or “there’s a right place and a right time, and a football game is not it.” I sat in silence because I didn’t want to make waves in a nearly all-white class.
I imagine that this is how players feel who want to join Kaepernick in his movement but are afraid for their careers. They witnessed Kaepernick being blackballed from the NFL with no other apparent explanation than his outspokenness on race issues.
I didn’t think that six months after that class conversation that the nation would still be talking about Kaepernick — or that Donald Trump would so tastelessly refer to anyone from the NFL who protests as “that son of a bitch.”
Just this month, one of Fox News’ co-hosts of The Five, Jesse Watters, used the Las Vegas tragedy as a platform to condemn Kaepernick and others.
“So all those kneelers in the NFL,” Watters said, “they need to recognize when they’re kneeling during the anthem […] we’re supposed to be honoring law enforcement […] that’s trying to save lives, not take lives.”
It’s comments like these that led owners to discourage players from taking a knee during the anthem. The logical explanation for that discouragement is that kneeling is bad for business. Because the NFL is a business and because it is able to make its own rules, Trump has plainly called for them to ban kneeling from the national anthem ceremony.
These protests have the potential to lose the NFL viewers and thus the potential to lose the owners money. How would the viewership decrease so significantly? The answer: 83 percent of viewers are white.
Critics of Kaepernick’s repeated action that has spread throughout the NFL ignore his intent entirely and instead latch onto the false equation of the anthem/flag and veterans.
The act itself is symbolic of a humble recognition of the struggle of others. In youth football, players take a knee when another player has been injured; Kaepernick and his followers take a knee because the black community is in pain.
Kaepernick has said in his own words during an interview with SFGate.com that he has no intention to disrespect veterans: “I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country … they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening … this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody.”
Both the American flag and national anthem are at times used to honor veterans, but the two are not inherently synonymous. Veterans themselves have supported Kaepernick’s movement and have taken a knee or spoken out on social media.
It’s also worth mentioning that under title 4 of the U.S. Code, it is unlawful for the flag to be printed onto clothing. While that is clearly not a serious legal offense today, it illustrates that those who purport themselves as experts on what patriotism is are ignorant to its nuances.
In response to the argument that Kaepernick is disrespecting not veterans but America itself in not showing pride in his country: why should he stand? Why should he stand for a country that has yet to provide the equality its constitution promises? Why should he stand for a country that has elected Trump? Why should he stand for a country that completely ignores the purpose of his actions?
In many ways, Kaepernick is showing the highest form of respect for America: believing that it can improve. Critics of Kaepernick are those who have allowed America to stay stagnant in its racial issues.
What the 83 percent of football viewers forget is that NFL players are 70 percent black. These black players are accepted and even worshipped when they act as literal pawns, taking hits and performing for their audience’s entertainment. When they assert their humanity as black men in white America, the nation tells them to be quiet.
As Jackie Robinson said, “As long as the Negro is humble and submissive he is approved by the majority group, but when he demands his rights he is regarded by many as arrogant and a troublemaker.”
The nation tells these black players that it’s “not the right place or the right time.”
So what is the right place or the right time? It didn’t seem to be in Ferguson after Mike Brown was murdered or in New York City after Eric Garner was murdered. That much is clear with the emergence of All Lives Matter and accusations that the Black Lives Matter movement was unjustly and solely anti-police.
Opposition to Black Lives Matter condemns violent protests (as they should), but these violent protests come from a place of anger and unrest when peaceful protests are also silenced and scrutinized.
With the millions of viewers NFL games garner, the anthem before kickoff is the right place and right time for activists to peacefully bring issues of race to the forefront. Opposition comes from a discomfort of having to recognize these football players as black men and thus being confronted with the idea that inequality in America exists.
Those who feel uncomfortable when they see these men kneeling are the exact people the message is for. Protest is not meant to make you feel comfortable and this discomfort does not mitigate the oppression of the black community.
As long as the racial injustices continue, NFL players will continue to take a knee, hoping that maybe the nation will really see them.
Contact CU Independent Opinion Columnist Lauren Arnold at firstname.lastname@example.org.