Colin Kaepernick has sent nationalists and patriots reeling after he sat in protest during the Star-Spangled Banner at the San Francisco 49er’s pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers. In an interview with NFL Media he provided the following explanation:
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.
This statement prompted outrage among conservatives including Trump, who called for the NFL player to perhaps “find another country.”
However, Kaepernick isn’t alone in his feelings. In fact, another very famous black athlete shared similar feelings decades ago. In 1972, Jackie Robinson released his autobiography “I Never Had It Made” where he shared his experiences as the first black athlete in the major-league. Robinson wrote:
There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.
Funnily enough, Robinson also saw an election year similar to that which we are currently wading through. After Barry Goldwater accepted the Republican nomination in the 1964 presidential election, Robinson, a Republican, wrote something that sounds eerily familiar and applicable to present day:
A new breed of Republicans has taken over the GOP. It is a new breed which is seeking to sell to Americans a doctrine which is as old as mankind—the doctrine of racial division, the doctrine of racial prejudice, the doctrine of white supremacy. If I could couch in one single sentence the way I felt, watching this controlled steam-roller operation roll into high gear, I would put it this way, I would say that I now believe I know how it felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.
For decades, the right-wing has dismissed claims of racism in America. They rally behind corrupt police officers who kill unarmed black men in the street. They have raised money for people like George Zimmerman. They have excused officers like Darren Wilson. They have demonized civil rights activists like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, who walked side by side with Martin Luther King, Jr. They parade their racism in the form of “southern heritage” while waving a flag that is broadly recognized as a symbol of hate. They embrace bigots and racists alike while maintaining a farcical idea that racism in America is dead.
And now, they will demonize those who practice their constitutional right to sit silently in protest, just as they always have. Because, ‘Murica.
Featured image via Getty Images/Hulton Archive/Staff