We know why Colin Kaepernick took a knee, but do we know what he stands for? I don’t think we do, and I’m not sure Kaepernick does either.
Last year, when American soccer player Megan Rapinoe took a knee during the American national anthem, she explained that she did so as a “little nod to Kaepernick and everything that he’s standing for right now.” She said that with a straight face. Standing for something is actually the exact opposite of what Kaepernick was doing.
But that wasn’t the strangest thing Rapinoe said that day. When a reporter asked Rapinoe why she, as a White person, felt the need to take a knee, she said,“being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties.”
Over the last week, many NFL players took a knee during the American national anthem, taking the same posture as Kaepernick—but not the same protest. Some took a knee against Donald Trump. Some took a knee against censorship. Some took a knee because of peer pressure. And they all stood for nothing.
This is the problem with most protesters today: they are all style, no substance. They are memorable not for what they stand for, but what they take a knee against. Their postures are more significant than their protests. They take a knee against everything and stand for nothing. They are essentially rebels without a cause. They consistently shift goalposts and have zero goals to show for it. That is why what started as a protest against racial injustice shifted into a protest against homosexual discrimination, patriotism, censorship, Donald Trump—everything.
Trump’s rhetoric and the conservative media’s reporting on the anthem protests are part of the problem, no doubt. Their red herrings about patriotism or lack thereof in the NFL are in my opinion, unfair and unhelpful. It seems to me that patriotism is defined by a person’s love and loyalty to their nation, not necessarily their loyalty to the national anthem or flag. It’s not something I would do, and it’s maybe disrespectful. However, Americans have to believe that a person’s patriotism is proved by much more than their posture toward a song or flag, right?
Colin Kaepernick’s problem isn’t that he’s a bad patriot. His problem is that he’s a bad protester. Kaepernick says that he took a knee to raise awareness on anti-Black police brutality in America—and that’s pretty much it. For that, he’s our modern day Muhammad Ali. This is 2017 remember, where virtue signalling during a national anthem is as revolutionary as losing the heavyweight title and risking a five-year prison sentence in 1967 to challenge the hypocritical American government in the Jim Crow era. Muhammad Ali didn’t take a knee to raise awareness on racial injustice. He stood for desegregation. He stood for voting rights for Black Americans. He stood for something.
What does Colin Kaepernick and NFL players stand for? What racist laws does Kaepernick want abolished? Should cops be guilty until proven innocent? How would he change the American justice system? How was the Darren Wilson trial racist and unjust? Does he want to do away with jurors who have better access to the facts than he does? Were the three Black jurors at the Darren Wilson trial racist? What does he propose as a better alternative to current police tactics in America? What does he propose to promote better accountability from police officers?
What do they stand for? What do they want?
This blog post first appeared on Samuel Sey’s blog Slow to Write