Newly elected and sitting American President Donald J. Trump used a campaign rally in Huntsville, Alabama to ignite his fan base by weighing in on the ongoing Colin Kaepernick controversy. At the Alabama campaign rally President Trump was quoted as saying, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag to say ‘get that son of a bitch off the field?’” Trump later tweeted, “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect … our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”
For those of you who have been living under a rock, Colin Kaepernick is the African American NFL quarterback who, in 2016, began a public campaign by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem to highlight the epidemic of police killings of unarmed black men across this country. Kaepernick’s actions of course drew immediate and vocal criticism from the news media, police organizations, and from many, generally white, war veterans and armed service members. Kaepernick’s public protest also resulted (arguably) in his being blacklisted by the NFL and not signed by another NFL team after exercising his right to be released by the 49ers and test his value on the free agent market.
Throughout the long off-season and into the third week of the 2017 NFL season, not one team has signed Kaepernick to a contract or given him a serious look. This continues despite the fact that Kaepernick is still in his prime and head and shoulders above many of the clipboard-carrying, inexperienced backup quarterbacks presently playing on NFL teams. This is in stark contrast to Kaepernick, a proven winner and successful professional quarterback who had previously taken his former San Francisco 49ers team far into the post-season playoffs.
Despite the many reasons advanced by the NFL and others that Kaepernick is too much of a distraction, or that to hire him would hurt ticket sales and viewer turnout, the NFL’s heretofore win-at-all-costs philosophy has proven to be a fallacy -- at least in the case of Colin Kaepernick. Also proven fallacious is the argument by the President and others that Kaepernick’s refusal to stand is somehow disrespectful to the flag and the country that the flag represents. This manufactured and contrived flag issue, which I call the Flag Fallacy, is simply a present-day manifestation and consequence of the Uppity Nigger syndrome from the Jim Crow era. This popular belief at the time mandated that a black male must know-his-place-and-stay-in-it or face retribution.
The American flag in reality is steeped in blood, oppression, and genocide. Not just the blood of those who fought and died defending and or promoting America’s special brand of colonialism and imperialism, but also the blood of the Native Americans who were slaughtered for their land and the African slaves whose free labor and blood sacrifice catapulted America to the height of economic power and influence around the world.
Consequently, President Trump’s condemnation of black athlete activism flies in the face of history and runs afoul of the Constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and expression. Trump’s words were not only meant to have a chilling effect on free speech but they were also meant to economically punish those athletes who, like Kaepernick, dared not to stand for the playing of the national anthem. The righteous indignation of the mostly white police and veterans organizations who have taken the lead in the vilification of Kaepernick would be wise to revisit history: African Americans fought, bled and died for America in every armed conflict from the Revolutionary War through the continuing military conflicts in what is now called the Middle East and Africa. America has a long and storied history of so-called equal protection under the law that has never been extended to African Americans. These critics of African American free speech should also be reminded that these same black soldiers who fought in the name of freedom for this country were denied basic freedoms and civil rights at home.
Sadly, neither the American flag nor the country it represents has ever lived up to its creed or the hypocritical ideals of liberty and justice for all. After centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, civil rights laws, and the election of the first black President in America, no amount of false patriotism and misplaced indignation can cover up or obscure America’s shameful past and present failures in erasing the vestiges of institutional racism and white supremacy.
Kaepernick’s protest had nothing to do with the flag or patriotism. It was a demonstration to bring attention to police brutality and the seemingly endless execution of unarmed black men. The irony and fallacy of the flag issue and the backlash of the white power structure is that at the end of the day, it’s still a simple matter of white and black: continual white supremacy and black oppression.
Gerald Torrence is a lawyer, educator, writer, social and political activist, and motivational speaker living in Atlanta. You can find more insightful opinions from TheTruthTeller at the-truth-teller.com. You can follow Gerald on Twitter @tttspokentruth.