Can you imagine yourself as a twenty-something – a black person sitting in the San Diego Chargers football stadium – with 70,000 angry mostly white people booing you and you alone? Can you imagine how that would feel – or what it would do to your psyche and to your feeling of being oppressed – not to mention your performance on the field?
Well, that’s the position the San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick was in last Thursday night. Every time he touched the ball (virtually each of his plays, since he’s the 49ers’ quarterback) he was booed mercilessly by a hostile overwhelmingly white crowd. Many of them obviously took the opportunity to scapegoat Kaepernick for their anger towards the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM).
That’s because in the spirit of BLM, this 28 year-old bi-racial athlete has used the pre-game singing of “The Star Spangled Banner” to protest the numerous killings of unarmed black men and women by police officers over the past few years. He refuses to stand. He’s sitting it out.
As Kaepernick himself put it: “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.”
Ignoring those reasons, the quarterback’s critics have somehow turned his protest into his alleged attack on the honor the military who have given their lives “defending our freedom.” So when Thursday’s Chargers-49ers contest coincided with San Diego’s 28th annual Salute to the Military, the pre-game ceremony took on added meaning. It featured a special flag ceremony that only heightened Kaepernick’s “unpatriotic” stance – and the reaction against it.
Specifically, before the game a huge flag was spread across the playing field, its borders held aloft by service men and women in Army, Navy, Marine, and Air Force uniforms. It was then that the National Anthem was sung. While everyone else stood with caps doffed and right hands over hearts, Kaepernick took a knee. He knelt while the others stood. Afterwards the boos rained down – on him and him alone.
For me, the boos called attention not simply to many white people’s opposition to BLM, but to our unthinking, unconditional support for capitalism and the U.S. military in general. The fact is that those soldiers, sailors, marines and pilots on that San Diego football field are not in any way defending our freedom. Instead they are victims of nationalistic propaganda and of a failed economic system.
Think about it: since 9/11 and well before (e.g. Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama), U.S. military personnel have been simply brain-washed agents of U.S corporations defending the “right” of modern robber barons to steal resources, markets and cheap labor. General Smedley Butler said as much long ago. “War is a racket,” he charged.
The fact is that despite their good intentions, the military agents on that San Diego field do not deserve celebration any more than Hitler’s servicemen did.
Daniel Geery says it would be more fitting to celebrate conscientious objectors, deserters, and members of Iraq Vets against the War. It would be better to cheer young people who choose to actually do something productive with their lives. As he has identified them, they “serve us as nurses, doctors, teachers, construction workers, garbage men, laborers, cooks, waiters and waitresses, writers, inventors, organic farmers, architects, scientists, engineers, computer programmers, landscapers, and all those who choose to actually do something with their lives. . . Far better to be a prostitute, even, than to be a military person. You are at least hiring out to bring pleasure to others, not misery and destruction.”
Problem is, the “capitalist” economy is unable to provide enough of such jobs. So it funnels a desperate under-educated surplus workforce into the military whose commercials promise that there they can “Be all that you can be.” And the commercials are right. Under capitalism many simply can’t be more than killers for corporations. For them there is no alternative other than subscribing the neo-Cartesian principle, “I kill therefore I am.”
So subconsciously realizing capitalism’s failure to provide adequate jobs, but unable to face that music, propagandized fans express their anger by booing a scapegoat – a worker like themselves instead of the system’s managers.
Nonetheless, Kaepernick remains steadfast in his brave witness. He said, “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
We should keep those words (and Colin Kaepernick’s example) in mind the next time we’re asked to stand for the National Anthem. Can we be as insightful and courageous?