Tuesday, August 30, 2016

I am Colin Kaepernick

Photo courtesy of inquisitr.com

For much of my first 20 years of my life, I was Colin Kaepernick.

For those completely shut off from the media, Kaepernick is the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who’s refusing to stand for the playing of the national anthem. The flag-which everyone faces during recitation of the anthem-represents “a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told reporters.

As a kid and young adult, I didn’t sing the national anthem, recite the Pledge of Allegiance or salute the flag. It was against my religious beliefs. I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, a religion that taught that pledging allegiance to the flag was a violation of Scripture, specifically Exodus 20:4:

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:” Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God" -(King James version)

I was sometimes ostracized by my peers or scolded by my teachers but no one could make me salute the flag. The Supreme Court, in 1943, reversed a 1940 decision involving two Pennsylvania JW students who refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. In essence, the high court ruled that patriotism did not trump an individual’s spiritual right to not violate the Ten Commandments.

I received nowhere near the backlash Kaepernick has endured. Football fans-some gleefully resorting to the use of the “N-word” to describe Kaepernick- are demanding he be fired or that he leave the country that has “blessed him” with a lucrative football career. The San Francisco Police Officers Association wrote a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and 49ers president and CEO Jed York, demanding that Kaepernick apologize for besmirching police with “false narrative and misinformation that lacks any factual basis.”

Many will argue, as did the 49ers’ management, that reciting the national anthem or saluting the flag is just a pre-game “opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens.”

That’s all well and good but some people actually pay attention to words. At least the Jehovah’s Witnesses do.

“…the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air… ’Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave…” are examples JW leaders cite that speak to the glorification of war and the celebration of a “craven image.”

It’s also hard to argue that pledging allegiance “to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands…” before even mentioning GOD isn’t placing a symbolic image before a “jealous God.” Further, as many have noted, Francis Scott-Key’s third stanza of the Star Spangled Banner actually revels in the deaths of black slaves who joined British forces during the Revolutionary War.

To be clear, Kaepernick has not relied on a spiritual defense. His rationale seems to be supported by his moral beliefs:

To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

It seems to me that Kaepernick’s decision raises the following question: “Does a moral stance carry the same weight as a spiritual stance?”

Well, yeah. Despite today’s patriotic, hyperbole words still matter. America set itself up for centuries of rebuke when it issued the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Moral push-back should be expected in response to factually, hypocritical words etched behind the backdrop of human slavery:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

Many Americans are faced with an inconvenient truth. Looking at the negative, disproportionate rates of black mortality, health, wealth, poverty, unemployment and diseases, it is self-evident that all men (and women) do not enjoy the rights of “life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness” simply due to the color of their skin.

Then there’s the disproportionate rates of incarceration, judicial oppression and the shootings of blacks by police in which Kaepernick bases his argument. According to a project by the Guardian that tracks police killings in America, 136 black people have been shot by police so far this year. In 2015, the project estimated that at least 306 black people were killed by police.

I am no longer a Jehovah’s Witness but my spiritual upbringing influences my moral leanings. I am appalled that my children and grandchildren have to carry the yolk of racial injustice that has burdened their father, grandparents and their ancestors since the birth of this nation. Vestiges of my previous faith remain. I may stand during the Pledge of Allegiance or the singing of the Star Spangled Banner but I never swear my allegiance to the flag. It’s my choice.

Be it spiritual or moral, Kaepernick has the right to stand (or sit) for his beliefs in a country that’s still in opposition of its constitutional tenets. It concerns me that many are questioning his allegiance, calling for his job or, like GOP candidate, Donald Trump, demanding that he leave America.

Kaepernick, is exercising the same right as did novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic, James Baldwin who wrote:

I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

Be it spiritual or moral, Kaepernick and anybody else who shares his concerns have the God-given, constitutionally backed, racially-relevant right to criticize their country continuously until that nation stands up to its principles perpetually.