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Harry Edwards is a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a founder of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which led to the Black Power salute at the 1968 Summer Games
Harry Edwards is a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a founder of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which led to the Black Power salute at the 1968 Summer Games

Harry Edwards

Kaepernick’s anthem protest is a good start, but we need to do more Add to ...

Harry Edwards is a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a founder of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which led to the Black Power salute at the 1968 Summer Games

Colin Kaepernick has a constitutional right to express his opinion on the politics of diversity in America today. The San Francisco 49ers quarterback drew international attention by refusing to stand for the U.S. national anthem before a preseason game on Friday. Mr. Kaepernick is courageous, well informed and steadfast in his position.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour,” he told NFL Media after the game.

He is, perhaps, understanding for the first time the true depth and scope of the history of anti-black racial hatred and injustice in America.

His need to act appears to have come to him through self-education, suddenly as a stark, jarring awareness and reality, rather than through growing up being socialized in the racial truths in this so-called land of the free. So his sudden awakening seems akin to that of a man startled awake to his house on fire, rather than the result of a long, carefully considered political position.

For those who are critical of Mr. Kaepernick – including former and current NFL players such as Victor Cruz of the New York Giants, Alex Boone of the Minnesota Vikings – that’s their opinion, and they are entitled to it. I respect them.

But I would take their opinion on what Mr. Kaepernick is doing more seriously if I could see their protest statements regarding Eric Garner being choked to death (only a few miles from where Victor Cruz practices and plays football) or on the killing of Philando Castile just outside of St. Paul, Minn., and minutes from where Mr. Boone lines up to play football.

If I could only see the critics express opinions of outrage regarding Michael Brown, or 12-year old Tamir Rice, or Trayvon Martin, and scores of others who have died at the hands of police since 2012.

I’d love to see the critics’ protest statements on the systematic economic under-development of black communities for generations by both government and private mainstream corporate interests. This under-development has devastated the institutional viability of most of these communities, so that crime and violence exist on the scale of pandemic public-health issues.

And to those who have the arrogance and audacity to bring up the old “honouring the flag is honouring our soldiers” trope, black soldiers have fought and died in every war that this nation has ever waged. Those who returned home typically were confronted with the same old institutionalized abysmal levels of racism.

And, at times, the race-based hatred was so virulent that black Americans were lynched or otherwise killed in the very uniforms they had worn risking their lives and fighting for freedom. Today, the numbers of military veterans who are jobless, homeless, and in need of critical social and medical services – a disproportionate number of them African-Americans – constitutes a morally and politically unconscionable outrage.

I would be very interested to see the critics’ records of protest about these circumstances, since they are so dedicated to honouring our soldiers that they would heap caustic criticism upon Mr. Kaepernick for sitting during the national anthem.

If they have no such record of vehement protest, well, perhaps it’s time for them to sit down. Talk is cheap.

Still, while Mr. Kaepernick is right to act, the argument can indeed be levied that what is right is not always appropriate, what is appropriate is not always best, and what is best is not always timely and wise. These subjective concerns must also inform this discourse and frame the questions germane here.

Consequently, the discussion legitimately can not be limited only to the substance and immediate visuals of one protest – as if Mr. Kaepernick’s words and actions are occurring in a vacuum, in isolation. Let us not forget the political climate we live in, with racial tensions defining our presidential election.

Where the anthem is concerned, let me say this: No one has the moral, much less the political, standing to tell black people about any obligation to honour our soldiers by way of adhering to some arbitrary mode of patriotic behaviour. The anthem at sports venues is a tradition started between the First World War and Second World War as a way of sports organizations demonstrating patriotism in the face of widespread criticism of strong, healthy young men at home playing games while other men their age were laying their lives on the line at war.

Today, and all my life, I have abhorred silence relative to racial injustice. Silence is evil’s greatest and most consistently dependable ally.

So I applaud Colin Kaepernick breaking this silence, standing up and now declaring that he will not be silent on racial injustice.

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