Monday, May 1, 2017


By Fahim A. Knight-El

Image result for kaepernick AND BLACK POWER

Thesis Statement: Colin Kaepernick's protest, dissention and refusal to stand for the playing of the United States National Anthem must be viewed outside of the superficial question of patriotism and understood as an act of free speech, which was protected under the United States Constitution.


This research will attempt to frame a current event issue of social justice involving Colin Kaepernick an African American professional football player, in particular by assessing and evaluating in a limited way race, police brutality, patriotism and social justice within a non quantitative scope. This writer must admit from the outcome that this will not be an exhaustive research, it will have some scholarly and journalistic limitations and shortcomings, but this writer will make every attempt to remain objective and empirical throughout the essay. 

Kaepernick's political position created a sizable amount of controversy during the 2016-2017 NFL football season, because he stood in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement by refusing to stand during the playing of the national anthem in protest of the killings of unarmed black men by white law enforcement officers. This writer will seek to distinguish patriotism, Americanism and what is deemed subversive action and place Kaepernick social protest beyond the question of an act of sedition and treason.[1] 

11                                                  Kaepernick: Right to Dissent

Kaepernick protest action whether or not we viewed his behavior as being distasteful and/or un-American or viewed him as a hero and/or a true American patriot. It really did not matter because this writer after assessing and analyzing the data has come to the conclusion that Kaepernick social protest on the football field must be protected as free speech and under his First Amendment Right to dissent.[2]

His political stance gained national attraction in which other NFL players, college athletes and even high school athletes joined on to Kaepernick stance to expand the conversation about race, police brutality and justice. My research will only serve as a microcosm to a much larger and extensive problem in the United States, which is the unresolved question of race and racism.[3]

Colin Kaepernick as stated above is a National Football League (NFL) professional athlete and quarterback of the San Francisco Forty Niners. Let me try to historically and presently make an attempt to contextualize my argument by briefly bringing an understanding of the social, political and economic landscape of the United States of America from 2012 thru 2016. Moreover, by given brief attention into recent political events, which have impacted African Americans relative to addressing the issues of police brutality and the judicial system. The scholar Michelle Alexander in her book titled, The New Jim Crow, explores the systemic outcomes of a judicial and criminal justice apparatus that have been race based and has led to mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex. 

III                                  Treyvone Martin Speaking From the Grave

It was perhaps the Treyvone Martin's case in Florida that involved a young black teenager who was walking from the store and entered into his father's neighborhood where he was deemed suspicious based on racist biased stereotypes and possibly from those stereotypes, it was determined that Martin had criminal intent on his mind in which this led to Martin being followed, accosted and was eventually murdered by George Zimmerman (a white security guard).[4]

The Florida judicial system found Zimmerman not guilty of murder and acquitted him based on citizens living in Sanford, Florida having the right to defend ones self under a law called stand your ground law. The legal exoneration of Zimmerman created emotions on both sides (was it a racist murder or self-defense justifiable homicide).[5] Thus, once again for some this incident was a microcosm into America’s racial history, which led to the argument of the impact of race, justice and fairness within the judicial system relative to people of color.[6] 

Many in the African American community felt that Martin was unjustly murdered and this was historically consistent with black men being killed by white police officers and law enforcement agents throughout American History. It would be this judicial case that became the impetus for the establishment of the Black Lives Matter movement in which this grassroots protest organization brought national attention to police brutality and the high incidents of unarmed African American men being killed by white law enforcement officers across America

 IV                                                     Black Lives do Matter

The Black Lives Matter movement begin spearheading large mass protest demonstrations throughout America via marches, boycotts and in some cases outright confrontations with law enforcement ensued. This was typified in Ferguson, Missouri when Michael Brown was gunned down by a white police officer and in Baltimore, Maryland where Freddie Gray was killed while in police custody.[7]  The political momentum extended to the colleges and universities campuses where students joined on to the efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement demanding responsible policing and holding law enforcement officers accountable when they break the law. This type of mobilization was best highlighted by students at the University of California at Berkeley, a white prestigious university who stood in defiance and in rebellion and the University of Missouri football team who also stood in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and agenda.

We do not live in a vacuum (nor a bubble) and this writer thinks that Colin Kaepernick, although, he is wealthy and privileged as a professional athlete begin seeing the world outside of the bubble, and sought to engage himself within a social issue that had extended far beyond the comfort of his personal wealth status, which he himself being a black man in America could easily identify. Perhaps being exposed to the mass medium reports, both electronic and print about the high profile killings of unarmed African American men resonated with Kaepernick. It possibly led him to question the social internal contradictions and was the premises of these law enforcement murders more rooted in the unresolved question of race and racism in America

V                 America was Founded on Racism and White Supremacy

This writer maintains that these incidents sensitized Kaepernick to the agony, pain and suffering of black mothers and fathers having to bury their sons and daughters prematurely (it sprung him into becoming proactive). Race as an antagonistic contradiction in American history has been in existence since the inception of this nation's early development; this was best analyzed by professor Derrick Bell in his book titled, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism [8] and Cornel West in his book titled, Race Matters also deals with how intertwined race has been as a social phenomenon, throughout American history impacting every facet of our social, political, and economic fiber since our sojourn in America beginning with Chattel Slavery (1619-1865); this social dilemma continues to have lasting effects on race relations in the United States even as I write this essay. 

Also, Andrew Hacker in his book titled, Two Nations: Black and White Separate, Hostile, Unequal, In this thesis he examines the racist and white supremacy mindset that evolved along side the first white settlers who arrived in the so-called 'New World' during the early 1600s (colonial America) and encountered the Native Americans (race therefore after would become a problem).[9]

VI                            Kaepernick Protest was About Speaking Truth to Power

Kaepernick was not considered a Black Nationalist or an activist, but he felt obligated as a black American to address the killings of unarmed black men by white law enforcement officers by using his high profile position and status as a professional athlete to condemn, rebuke and stood with those who were deemed victims of an unjust system. But beneath Kaepernick's tactic and strategy of not to stand and salute the American flag and the national anthem, was him having the fundamental and Constitutional right to exercise lawful dissension.

Some viewed his kneeling protest as an act of sedition and treason. Kaepernick critics were equating patriotism with a false flag waving mindset and failed to understand that the U.S. Founding Fathers in the language of the Preamble to the constitution for saw and imposed language that would lead us more toward a perfect democracy.

VII                                   Black Athletes Who Stood For Social Justice

Yet, he was not the first high profile African American athlete to take up the cause of social justice, perhaps one of the most well known black athletes to do so was former 1960 U. S. Olympic gold medalist[10] and heavy weight boxing champion of the world Muhammad Ali who had joined the Nation of Islam and had become a Muslim under Elijah Muhammad who in the 1960s refused to be inducted into the United States arm forces citing himself as a religious conscience objector.[11] 

Ali condemned the United States military industrial complex and openly refused to fight in Vietnam. His stance brought international attention to the political validity (relative to imperialism and aggression) of the United States being militarily involved in Southeast Asia and using black men as political tools and as cannon fodder in achieving American reactionary foreign policy objectives.[12]

Also, at the 1968, Mexico City Olympic Games in which John Carlos and Tommy Smith, two American track and field athletes who received the silver and bronze medals respectively, but at the medal ceremony, they both raised their black gloved fists in solidarity with the Black Power movement of the 1960s that was being led by the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.[13] There was a revolutionary mood in America in the 1960s with black nationalists personalities such as Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Stokley Carmichael, H.Rap Brown, Angela Davis, Elaine Brown, George Jackson and the Soledad Brothers, etc. 

I do not think we could equate Kaepernick's protest intentions and motives of possessing and having the political implications of the above mentioned Black Power advocates, but yet they shared a similar political thread, which was addressing injustice and police brutality in the black community. The Black Panther Party in their "Ten Point Plan" (‘What the Panthers Want, What We Believe’) was critical of police brutality and believed the people had a right to defend themselves by any means necessary against such brutality.[14]

VIII                     Patriotism, Americanism and Citizenship: What does this Mean?

Kaepernick was not advocating arm resistance or any form of violence against the United States Government; he like many in the African American community sought to dramatize police brutality by creating a larger conversation about race and policing, as well as drawing attention to injustice. His refusal to stand when U.S. National Anthem was being sung went much deeper into the social and political complexities of Americanism and how has this been applied to a marginalized people who have been referred to as hyphenated Americans (African-Americans). 

Dr. W.E.B. Dubois in 1903, confronted this social dilemma in his monumental book titled, The Souls of Black Folk, what he referred to as "twoness" the duplicity and ambivalence of being a the so-called American Negro and torn between being American and African in the United States.[15] This in my opinion was the social dichotomy which rested the foundation of Kaepernick's civil disobedience and refusal to acknowledge the American flag and national anthem; his kneeling served more as a denunciation and exposing the perceived hypocrisy of what they stated it meant to be an American citizen as conveyed in the 1776 Declaration of Independence; “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal that they are endowed by their Creator with certain in unalienable rights among these are  Life,  Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”.[16] 

Yet, African Americans being unjustly gunned downed and murdered by white law enforcement officers left a lot to be desired relative to the question of patriotism and Americanism from Kaepernick's vanish point.  These racially motivated incidents of killing unarmed black men left the impression that blacks were not being treated with justice and therefore, the flag and American patriotism were being defined differently by Kaepernick because of these injustices. 

This much this writer applauded Kaepernick's social justice stance and for using his large public stage to expose and draw attention to the systemic practices of racism and police brutality in America. Kaepernick pundits and critics did not understand and was intentionally overlooking that Kaepernick protest was protected under the First Amendment Right to the United States Constitution, which guarantees and protects every American to having the right of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. 
His failing to stand during the playing of the national anthem did not violate U.S. law, it has to be received as protected free speech. We have to understand that the real litmus test to free speech, is how do we receive speech that we disagree on and do we allow it to co-exist along side speech that we find agreeable.

IX                      Final Thoughts on Race, Racism, Policing and Free Speech

Lastly, Kaepernick is the epitome of what it means to be a patriot, in which the Founding Fathers created and established a democracy that would be rooted in a check and balance governmental system. They allowed for dissention to be an alternative to tyranny, oppression and injustice and the legality of such would be protected under the United States Constitution. Kaepernick refusal to stand at the raising of the United States flag and singing of the national anthem was definitely an act of dissent, but it wasn't necessarily un-American and should have never been viewed as a question of patriotism or treason. Some of us in the Kaepernick argument failed in the fundamental understanding of what Constitutional intent was conveying pursuant to what is referred to as protected free speech in which Kaepernick was exercising. 

There was no doubt Kaepernick's involvement as a high profile celebrity in the above mentioned social justice cause has drawn attention to the question of race, racism and police brutality aimed at black men in which in my opinion his involvement expanded the conversation. However, he did lose some credibility when he revealed that he did not vote in the last presidential election and his critics viewed this overt political neglected as the highest level of hypocrisy because part of change can be determined at the ballot box. Yet, this did not sway me away from seeing the larger picture of Kaepernick's social activism and the importance of his involvement. 

Yet, this writer thinks and understands by this being a contemporary issue, it is entirely too early for social scientist and historians to assess and evaluate relative to making a scientific judgment on the long term benefits and shortcomings of Kaepernick activism. The historiography is still developing and will perhaps be many years before we could make a true scholarly assessment of the personalities and events surrounding Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter movement and the impact they had on reshaping the conversation relating to race and policing in present and future America

This writer is also fully aware that Kaepernick's daring to engage in such controversial social justice issue could have a negative adverse consequence on his career as an athlete. He essentially was challenging the status quo in which the National Football League is a powerful and influential corporation whereas it generates huge amounts of profits and revenue. They have the power to 'black ball' Kaepernick as away of serving notice on other black athletes who would dare to engage in controversial social justice issues. Athletes are viewed as gladiators who are paid handsomely to entertain and to always think inside the box[17].


[1] John McWorter.Colin Kaepernick Had No Choice but to Kneel”; Internet article September 22, 2016.      
[2] Nancy Armour. How national anthem protests bring out the worst in people”; Internet article USA TODAY Sports  September 25, 2016.      
[3]Ibid, Armour.
[4]Ta-Nehisi Coates. “Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice”; Internet article the July 15, 2013.  
[5]Author William P. Benjamin, African Americans in the Criminal Justice. (New York: Vantage Press, 1996) vii- vii.  
[6]Ibid, Benjamin.  
[7]Marc Lamont Hill, Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, From Ferguson to Flint and Beyond. (New York: Atria Books, 2016).
[8] Derrick Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism. (New York: Basic Books, 1992) xiv-xv.
[9]Andrew Hacker, Two Nations: Black and White Separate, Hostile, Unequal. (New York: Scribner Publishing, 2003) 3-4.   
[10]Karl Evanzz,  The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad. (New York: Random House, 1999) 330-331. 
[11]Ibid, 331.
[12]Ibid, 330-331.   
[13] Edna and Art Rust. Jr., Art Rust’s Illustrated History of the Black Athlete. (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1985) 358-559.    
[14]Hugh Pearson, The Shadow of the Panther: Huey P. Newton and the Price of Black Power in America. (New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1994) 109-110.    
[15] W.E.B Dubois, The Souls of Black Folk. (New York: Signet Classic, 1903) 45.
[16]Ibid, McWorter.  
[17]William C. Rhoden, Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete. (New York: Random House, 2006) 2-3.


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