Colin Kaepernick exposes the racial double standard of fame

Let me just start off by saying I hate Colin Kaepernick. Full disclosure, I’m a Packer fan, like everyone else in the land of beer and cheese, and our drumming in the 2012 NFC Divisional Playoff game stung for a long time. My favorite moment of Kaepernick’s career so far was watching Clay Matthews “Superman” tackle him out of bounds in a flagrant late hit penalty the opening game of the following season.

So, thanks a lot, internet, for making me type this piece defending him. Sigh, fine, here we go.

On Friday night, before the Niners played, you guessed it, the Packers (we won, by the way) Colin Kaepernick chose to remain sitting during the National Anthem. When asked about his decision later, the QB said:

“I’m not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Cue the firestorm. The responses from internet comments, tweets, and right-wing media personalities were as predictable as they were tiresome. In a month when black demonstrators were told “violence is never justified,” and blacks marching peacefully were told to “stop impeding traffic,” we now have a black man who literally took no action at all by choosing to remain seated.

Apparently, there is no appropriate way for blacks to voice their concerns. Angry vets, furious at the imagined disrespect Kaepernick showed for the military, came out in droves shouting what boils down to “I fought for your rights, so don’t you dare use them,” seemingly without recognizing the irony. Just as often, the attacks came as demands he go live somewhere else if he doesn’t love and appreciate his country, as if one cannot love a thing without recognizing its inherent flaws and desire to see them fixed.

But the most persistent, and to my mind pernicious criticism of Kaepernick has been that he’s paid too much to have an opinion on matters of public interest, especially those which directly affect his community. He’s been called ungrateful and hypocritical simply because his individual experiences in America have made him wealthy, as if it was America spent all that time in the gym and in practice.

Think about that for a second. Many of the same people who cite Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpA better VA, with mental health services, is essential for America's veterans Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Trump arrives in Japan to kick off 4-day state visit MORE’s largely inherited wealth as raison d’etre to give his opinions greater weight are telling Colin Kaepernick the fortune he’s earned through a lifetime of physical exertion and risks to his health and safety is the reason he should shut the hell up.

It’s a common enough refrain. The same calls were heard after Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, (who was in the news for an entirely different tragedy this weekend) and other NBA players took to the court wearing “I Can’t Breathe” shooting shirts in response to the death of Eric Garner. Eric Garner was the illegal chokehold guy, right? It’s getting hard to keep track of all these unarmed minority deaths in police custody. We heard the same after the Washington Mystics WNBA team protested in support of Black Lives Matter.

The underlying message is always the same. Black athletes are valued only for their physical attributes and skill. Whatever wealth and success they achieve does not come with the same privileges and liberties that it does for other people. Their fame is not earned, but tolerated.

And they can keep the money so long as they don’t rock the boat, keep their heads down, and don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re really part of the club.

Nevermind that the same people trying to shame Kaepernick into silence will be the first ones to shout down someone mired in a cycle of generational poverty for being a “welfare queen,” who’s “stealing taxpayer’s money” and needs to “get a job,” (nevermind the fact the majority of welfare households have at least one full-time worker). In both cases, it’s not about the person’s job status or income. It’s about finding an excuse to ignore the voices of marginalized people. To make them feel as though whatever they have, whatever they’ve achieved, no matter how grand or meager, was unearned. And therefore it naturally follows that they don’t deserve to have a voice in the process.

It doesn’t matter where they fall on the economic ladder, the chorus remains the same.

Don’t make a fuss and be glad the majority allows you to keep what you have. Anybody think that’s fair or even sustainable? Anybody think that’s not going to come back to bite us eventually?

Because I sure don’t. So maybe just once let a black athlete talk without questioning their right to have and express opinions just like, I don’t know, you do.

Tomlinson is an author and comedian. Follow him @stealthygeek.


 

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.