Colin Kaepernick is my new hero. Not because he threw the touchdown pass that won the Super Bowl for the 49er’s football team but because he did something much more important—he spoke out about something that is wrong. In this case, choosing not to stand up for the national anthem until such time as our nation delivers its long overdue promissory note of Liberty and Justice for all. As long as policemen can continue to murder innocent black men, captured on camera with little or no ambivalence as to the wrong-doing and then excused with no consequences and in fact, a paid leave, we are far from delivering. And so this courageous young man, at great peril to his fan base and perhaps his future career, has chosen a small symbolic act to call attention to something that continues precisely because so few who could and should are speaking up about it.
After I saw his interview—so calm, so clear, so honest, so morally upstanding—I went to Amoeba Records. It is Charlie Parker’s birthday today and I wanted to honor him by getting a newly-released disc of Unheard Bird. While I was there, blues singer Albert King was filling the room through the speakers with a song that said, “Had you told it like it was, it wouldn’t be like it is.” Brilliant! The song was actually about a failed relationship, but hey, that’s exactly what we have here on a collective scale. Such a poetic way to say that the maddening continuance of brutality, hatred and officially sanctioned violence is allowed to continue because enough people are not telling it like it was—and is. They keep skipping around it or hiding the truth in euphemisms or ignoring it in the history books.
What would have happened if the preachers had refused to use the Bible as an excuse for slavery and the brutal treatment of other human beings? If the scientists had refused to cook up the trumped-up theories of racial superiority? If the politicians had refused the 3/5th of a human being proposal? What would happen today if all the athletes and movie stars and musicians went on strike until such time as the police were held accountable and murderers were brought to justice? Our refusal to have the necessary conversations, to hold the Truth and Reconciliation Hearings, to have an official government apology, is precisely what allows it all to continue unchecked. It forces brave folks like Colin Kaepernick to call attention through a radical and peaceful protest.
Naturally, those who enjoy the privilege of whiteness are now outraged at the lack of respect not standing for the anthem shows. They’re not outraged about Trevor Martin or Eric Garner or Michael Brown or Tamir Rice or any of the 102 unarmed—I repeat, unarmed—black youths killed by police in 2015 alone. They’re not enraged by the lack of respect black soldiers got when they returned home from wars fighting for their country. They’re more upset that someone is not standing when a song saluting a piece of cloth is sung.
Albert King again:
“Had you told it like it was, it wouldn’t be like it is.”
He got that right. Thanks, Colin, for the courage to tell it. You put the ball up in the air and now it’s up to us to catch it and run with it. What glory there will be in that touchdown!