Afros, Anthems, and Racial Bias in the Land of the Free


Colby Menefee

In a 2016 pre-season game, 49ers player Colin Kaepernick sat during the traditional playing of the national anthem. After the game, Kaepernick told reporters that he is “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Since his first protest, fellow 49ers player Eric Reid, Seattle Seahawks player Jeremy Lane, and U.S. Women’s national soccer team player Megan Rapinoe have joined his efforts. Kaepernick says he plans to continue the demonstrations until he sees that the American flag “represents what it’s supposed to represent.”

Kaepernick’s actions are an important symbol of solidarity with the black community. The extreme backlash he has received highlights the bias that white Americans hold.
Kaepernick’s position as an NFL player provides a powerful platform from which he can influence the American people. Every week, millions of Americans watch Sunday night football. Using this position to promote equality is a logical step for black athletes.

To white Americans, who have constantly lived in a bubble of privilege, the idea of an athlete speaking out on social issues is alien and unnecessary. The extensive public hate he has received demonstrates the very racial inequity he is fighting. White athlete Ryan Lochte, 32 years old, was widely seen as “just a kid” after urinating on a business’s floor and lying about being attacked to cover up damages he and his fellow athletes were responsible for while representing the United States in the 2016 Olympics, yet Kaepernick is called “unpatriotic” for trying to start a serious conversation about racial inequality.

Within 24 hours of the first protest, #veteransforkaepernick was trending on twitter. The very veterans that he is allegedly disrespecting are supporting him in exercising the rights they fought to protect. These men and women understand the rights they fought so hard to give us.

Those opposing Kaepernick’s actions say that as a highly-paid athlete, he does not face the oppression he’s protesting. This is ridiculous. Regardless of economic status, blacks face treatment that is different from whites. Earlier this year, Seattle Seahawks safety Kim Chancellor had the police called on him while looking at a property he was interested in buying. A few years before that, Richard Sherman was attacked with racial slurs over twitter for a rant after an NFC championship game. Before that, Atlanta Hawks guard Thabo Sefolosha had his leg broken by NYPD officers. No black person, no matter their wealth or social status, is immune from the racism perpetuated by white America.

The only way to stop this denial of the challenges that black people face is for more athletes and public figures to join him in his efforts and for white Americans to understand the privileges their race grants them.

Kaepernick is bold in taking an important step towards drawing attention to the oppression of black people. His vilification by the public makes it very clear what happens when a black athlete steps outside of the bounds of what white America says is OK.