kneeling with kaepernick: celebrating the sacrifice

November 3, 2018
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Illustration by Kendrick Daye for AFROPUNK

Colin Kaepernick spent his life battling unearned personas projected onto him. As a biracial man born to a white mother and Black father, later adopted by a white family, his personal quest to find his identity was constantly met with equally opposing forces that sought to erase his say on who he was.

At Nevada State, he was seen as the successful quarterback and jock who couldn’t possibly be interested in the grueling process of pledging for a Black fraternity like Kappa Alpha Psi, but he did and managed to keep perfect grades. At the beginning of his career, he was the Black, aloof, tattoed, bicep-kissing quarterback who eventually led the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Now, he is the controversial figure “disrespecting the American flag” and the troops that defend it, when all he wants is for this country to account for the gross injustices done to Black Americans.

College was the perfect storm of activity that formed Kaepernick the athlete and Kaepernick the activist. As a star quarterback, his joining of the Kappas seemed out of sorts considering he had it made as far as college goes, but Kaepernick harbored a curiosity about his roots and African American history and culture that was not satisfied by an upbringing in a white family.

After college and well into his football career, Kaepernick audited a Summer class at University of California at Berkley on Black representation in media, taught by Ameer Hasan Loggins. Kaepernick was introduced to Loggins through his girlfriend Nessa Diab, who attended Berkley as an undergraduate. Diab contacted Loggins, asking him to recommend books for Colin to read in his quest to build his knowledge on racial injustice. The athlete’s desire to understand the 400-year-old racial quagmire that is America was now being fed by the words of Fanon, Ellison, Baldwin and hooks. It was these words that prompted Kaepernick to join Loggins’ class.

Kaepernick was on a mission to be able to articulate the oppression he was witnessing, and what he found was a renewed gaze with which he viewed his country. He could not stand what he saw, so he knelt.

Kaepernick didn’t kneel that day because he had set out to change the world. He kneeled because, years prior, he wanted to educate himself and now he had all this knowledge and needed to do something with it. It was important to him. In the same vein, Muhammed Ali didn’t refuse to fight in the Vietnam war because he thought he could stop it; he refused because he did not agree with it. Tommie Smith and John Carlos lifted their fists in defiance on an international stage so people would finally stop turning a blind eye to the injustices they experienced when they were not winning medals for their country. They sacrificed their Olympic careers for that gesture.

These athletes suffered career setbacks because the weight of their Blackness could never really be transcended by their athletic prowess. It was personal for all of them as Black men, just like it should be personal for all of us. We should not distance these men and their sacrifices from ourselves simply because of their fame. They did not set out to lead. They just wanted to fight for their freedom like any one of us, thus emphasizing the capacity within all of us to make the necessary sacrifices to see our collective freedom realized.

Kaepernick wants freedom and equality for his people, just like the rest of us. He had to do his homework, just like the rest of us. Being banned from playing the sport he loves weighs on him, just like it would any of us. In him, we can find an example of the kind of power present in each of us to do the difficult duty of calling out our oppression. What do we do about it, together?

Happy Birthday to Colin Kaepernick, the man. He is a living reminder that an act as simple as kneeling for the truth, instead of standing for a lie, can shake a system.