By Julie DiCaro–
(CBS) It’s been nearly a month since 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality, igniting a firestorm that largely saw white Americans arguing for form over substance. In the early days of the national Twitter war we call “debate” these days, much of white America complained that, while they didn’t disagree with the point Kaepernick was trying to make, they disagreed with the way he went about doing it.
Though, it should be noted, I never saw an actual suggestion for what Kaepernick could have done as a less-intrusive form of protest. Close his eyes? Take a knee in his mind? Silently change the words to the anthem in his own head?
Either way, this argument was swiftly and effectively dispatched by none other than the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with an assist from The Nation’s Dave Zirin:
What (critics of Kaepernick) have in common is that they are 2016 textbook examples of Martin Luther King Jr.’s searing description of “the white moderate” in “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” when he wrote, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’”
In the month since Kaepernick’s protest began, more than 15 black Americans have died during contact with the police, a white officer has been charged with first-degree manslaughter and the general public finally seems to be getting the message that Kaepernick’s message matters more than how he chooses to convey it. After all, had Kaepernick simply chosen to speak out against racial inequality at his locker after games or outside the confines of football altogether, it’s unlikely we’d be having this national conversation about race. And, to be sure, there are those who would criticize Kaepernick for speaking out in the locker room, too.
And yet, the narrative surrounding Kaepernick in recent days has switched from “how dare he disrespect the troops!” to a more insidious and insincere demand:
These are conversations that I’ve taken part in recently on Twitter, but debates to this effect are taking place online all day long. The complaint now is that Kaepernick hasn’t done enough by drawing attention to a national emergency. He isn’t doing a enough by donating a $1 million to local charities that work toward racial equality. It isn’t enough for him to talk about race relations intelligently and thoughtfully every time he’s asked. No, now it’s on Colin Kaepernick to draw up a concrete plan to end conflict between the police and the black community.
Granted, I wasn’t alive when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, but I don’t recall reading about demands for her to also draft legislation ending Jim Crow laws in the South. I hope no one called for the Freedom Riders to come up with a comprehensive, written plan to end racism in America. I hope it was enough for Americans that Susan B. Anthony campaigned tirelessly for women’s right to vote. She wasn’t required to actually draft and enact the 19th Amendment.
There’s a faction of white America that’s constantly moving the goalposts when it comes to how black America is allowed to be heard. Protesters in Ferguson, Dallas, Minneapolis and Charlotte have all been derided as “thugs” and admonished to express themselves peacefully. Yet a black man taking a knee during an NFL game isn’t peaceful enough, either. Across the country, high school students are being admonished for refusing to stand for the pledge or taking a knee during the national anthem in solidarity with their friends of color. What other power does a high school student have to disrupt the establishment and call attention to their grievances? Would we prefer they walk out of class and assemble in protest? I have no doubt many Americans would find that distasteful, as well.
What is it, exactly, that we value, white America? Is it order, form, ceremony and obedience to the way life has always been? Or is it a multicultural society in which we listen to each other and strive to move forward together, no matter how different our life experiences may be? The hard truth is that it’s not the job of Kaepernick or black America to solve racial inequality. It’s on us, White America. It’s on the cultural heirs of a society that systemically oppressed black Americans for hundreds of years, the fallout from which we’re still stuck with today. We have to demand that our schools, our government and our police do better. We must demand we all do better.
So if your take is that Colin Kaepernick has been disrespectful, hasn’t done enough, isn’t doing enough to end racism in America, maybe take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself what you’ve done to help.