When I was a kid, my mom used to say, “Do unto others as you’d have them do to you.” Basically, treat people the way you want to be treated.
I always wanted to be treated with dignity and respect. There are countless Americans who aren’t treated with either. Many of them are people of color, who were born into a country that claims 'all men are created equal' but proves from Moment One that that’s not the case.
Over a year ago, Colin Kaepernick sat during the national anthem and inadvertently started an uproar that continues to this day. This weekend, the President of the United States focused not on hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico but on a desire to punish any athletes who don’t conform to his related viewpoints on national anthem responsiveness.
Colin Kaepernick is a black man who is being blackballed by his sport for sharing his views on society. If you exist in or engage with modern-day culture, his views are not unique. But no one has laid them out on this sort of stage quite like Kaepernick, and no one has stuck to them with his level of fervor.
And for this, he suffers. Only now, thanks to the president’s ramblings, he has an army by his side. A brotherhood of athletes, black and white, who are tired of having their life stories dictated by others. Who are tired of being told to stay in their lanes when they can finally explain why the world they’ve conquered isn’t the one future generations should have to face.
Do unto others as you’d have them do to you. All Kaepernick has ever asked is for us to consider his viewpoint. He’s asking the many Americans who can’t understand kneeling for the national anthem to pause, for a brief moment, and ask why others might.
It’s not because those who kneel dislike this country; it’s not because they are disrespecting the flag. It’s because, for years and years, no one asked for an athlete’s opinion. Everyone told them to get a job; when they got one—a major one—they said, “Be happy you have it.”
When the athletes finally spoke up, people said, “Stick to sports.” But in 2015, the NBA was 74% black. According to VICE, 70% of NFL players are black. These leagues frighten people because they no longer represent what many consider ‘typical’ Americans; they largely represent the 12% of black or African American citizens who’ve dealt with racial profiling and societal pressures that many of us cannot imagine.
And though our current media landscape is beset with endless podiums for people who shouldn’t have access to whistles, let alone megaphones, one of its true pleasures is direct access to the Colin Kaepernicks of the universe. He and his peers shouldn’t have to be filtered through ESPN or Sports Illustrated; if LeBron James thinks the president is a bum, he should fucking say it. And he did.
James Baldwin once said, "I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually." That’s the most wonderful quote of all time, and anyone who misunderstands Baldwin’s sentiment misunderstands what it means to be American.
If you are criticizing Colin Kaepernick, or Stephen Curry, or LeBron James, or the countless NFL players who kneeled on Sunday in recognition of their First Amendment right to peaceful protest, you misunderstand America. But that won’t surprise Kaepernick or any athletes of color or otherwise who spoke out this weekend; they kneel specifically because you don’t understand.
If we took time—literally, the briefest moment—to place ourselves in the shoes of black and brown men and women being discriminated against, of gay men and women who only wish to love each other in peace, of anyone disenfranchised who seeks just the bare necessities to survive, the world would be a remarkably better place. If we took my mother’s advice and treated others like we'd want to be treated, there’d be no need for Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling. But until that magical day comes, he’s going to kneel, and you’re going to hear about it.
And if you don’t get it, well, that’s pretty much the point.