What are we Fighting for?
In the midst of one of the most confusing years in my recent memory, I often find myself asking myself and others, “What do we stand for? Where are we going as an American society?” My eyes, ears, and attention have gravitated towards so many stories that leave me confused. Confused and lost to what people actually want for this country. One of the stories that have made me think about the question I pose is the Colin Kaepernick situation. Colin Kaepernick, a football quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers on a pre-season game, did not stand but instead sat when the time came to stand for the national anthem. Some people were outraged, others knelt with him in solidarity. He explained his decision by stating:
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. 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.”
Athletes and retired athletes such as Damien Woody stated “This is what comes with a free society, unless people hate democracy.” and “Kaep has every right to express his feelings/beliefs and people have every right to disagree. That’s okay folks!” Baseball player Aubrey Huff stated “This guy is a joke. Get lost. You don’t like a country that has given you opportunity to succeed? Then get out.” Granted, we’re all entitled to our differing opinions and that’s what makes our country great, however with ongoing civil unrest, racial tension, and the history of racism that has haunted our country for years, how are we not getting the big picture? People of color in this country have been abused, objectified, and conditioned to believe we’re inferior. We’ve been used and counted when it’s beneficial and ignored when we stand up for something or want justice. Then we’re told to celebrate this country, certain holidays, and all it thinks it’s given us. So at this very moment I have to ask myself and everyone else, What do we stand for? What are we fighting for?
Recently, I’ve gotten the opportunity to read a speech. A speech I can say opened my eyes and mind. It was Frederick Douglass’ Independence day speech: “What to the American Slave is your 4th of July?” It blew my mind in terms of how parallel a speech done in 1852 could mirror our current situation in 2016. When you think we’ve come so far as a society, you read Frederick Douglass’ speech that was made (months before the Emancipation Proclamation no less) and realize we still have nearly the same work to do. Frederick Douglass starts the speech with a simple question that stings with blaring honesty and he just doesn’t stop. He asks:
“Fellow citizens, pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits, and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?”
In reading Frederick Douglass speech, I found myself having flashbacks to every fourth of July barbeque I’ve ever attended. Every fourth of July barbeque my family has ever thrown. Images of the flag, fireworks, food, and laughter flashed through my mind. Have I been living a lie? I had to question whether July 4th, Independence day, was a day of freedom for me as a woman of color? On July 4, 1776 America was liberated from under British colonial rule. Our country and the white men and women in our country were being controlled by Britain all the while controlling and colonizing black slaves. The oppressed became the oppressors. The hunted became the hunter. Irony. I questioned how did they not realize the same problem they were fighting and running away from is the same problem they’re creating for black slaves? Then I remembered, we weren’t even seen as human beings. So our suffering didn’t matter.
The statement that “all men are created equal”, those inalienable rights of , life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, were not meant for us. We were just included later on. The Declaration of Independence was independence for the white Americans fighting British colonial rule. We weren’t a matter of discussion in freedom until the 1860’s. This realization was a hard pill for me to swallow. It bewildered me that it took me damn near twelve years of school to realize we had two different independence days. It never hit me until now. Some of the practices, songs, etc. that follow us as Americans and make us Americans were racist It’s something that maybe many of us and myself have definitely embraced in ignorance and for the sake of celebration. It was a punch in the gut and another bone chilling reminder for me to actually look back at our history, reassess it and realize the deep-seated issues and history that America has with racism and prejudice. We as a country saw Colin Kaepernick take a silent but powerful stance to this. Just as two hundred years ago, Frederick Douglass took a stand against the fourth of July for black people.
Colin Kaepernick taking a silent protest against the National Anthem is not the first or the last time in history we’ve seen silent protest. In the past we saw Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others lead silent protests, marches, and sit-ins, all while knowingly risking their lives in the process. Now because of Colin Kaepernick, we see others beginning to take a stand. It’s a beautiful and powerful domino effect that has had both negative and positive reactions. But that’s the risk we take when fighting injustice. Recently NFL linebacker Brandon Marshall lost two endorsements with CenturyLink and Air Academy Credit Union because he kneeled during the Star Spangled Banner. However, he obtained another endorsement with “RushCard”. Colin Kaepernick and Brandon Marshall in their silent protests, demonstrated one of the four components of a non-violent campaign. They both demonstrated direct action. Their silent protest lead to others joining the fight. It was done in the most peaceful way possible. Sitting and taking a knee. Of course there are other ways the protest could’ve been done, but why not take a stand in the place where most people see you and put their money? MLK said in his famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail” that he went to protest in Birmingham, AL because it’s “the most thoroughly segregated city in the country.” So Kaepernick protesting during a game and MLK protesting in 1963 in Birmingham, AL is not a coincidence. It’s a message. A smart and powerful message.
In addition to the opposition many people have endured participating in and supporting the silent protest against the National Anthem, I have also come across people asking, “Why during the game?” and saying, “This is not the time and place to address such matters. It’s inappropriate.” In response to these people, I have to ask, define “inappropriate”? What is “inappropriate” to you? What’s “inappropriate” and quite disappointing to me as a woman of color, is the fact that we still have to protest a lot of the same things my grandparents, MLK, and Malcolm X have had to protest fifty to sixty years later. Police brutality, gun violence, oppression (in many forms), and immigration. The fact that we still have people in this country who don’t get that black lives most definitely do matter and that this is a much needed movement. It’s inappropriate and disappointing that the black body is celebrated and useful when it’s scoring a touchdown, dunking a ball, or hitting a homerun. But the moment he or she speaks up and says something that you don’t agree with, their Jersey is burnt, they’re told to know their place, and to be grateful to those that feed and support them.
Tell me, if others before us had waited and asked for a moment, time, and place to protest, would it have happened? No. If the people in America that wanted to break free from British colonial rule had waited for their freedom, would it have happened? No. Many people in history did not wait or have the time and place to get what they wanted. They took their freedom into their own hands and walked across bridges while being blinded with tear gas. They fought battles and took up the time and space of others to make people pay attention. So how is this different? How is Colin Kaepernick and the others that are participating in this protest “inappropriate”?
So what do we do when February is upon us and the Superbowl is taking place? When the fabulously dressed singer takes the podium and gets ready to slay and execute our national anthem? Do we put our hands across our hearts? Do we turn the channel? Mute the television? Because I’m not sure about you, but I love when someone sings the Star Spangled Banner with great vocal veracity and power. I almost want to cry when “the land of the free” parts note is hit. I love when singers add their extra melisma to end strongly on, “And the home of the brave”. But there will be part of me that will vehemently side-eye the shit out of those parts that I so passionately love. Because there’s still people who are not free in this land today. So I have to ask again ladies and gentlemen, what are we truly fighting for?
Jada Gordon is a 20 year old writer and college student from the South Bronx.
Illustration by Van Hong (website).