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You Can't Love Muhammad Ali & Hate Colin Kaepernick

August 30, 2016

(PHOTO: Nike commercial)


I didn't watch the summer Olympics. At all. Not one second of it. Although I was elated to hear about all of the #BlackGirlMagic that seemingly dominated in gymnastics, swimming, and track. But honestly, I couldn't allow myself (admittedly an avid sports enthusiast) to become swept up in the fervor of American patriotism--- rooting "USA, USA!" given the stark realities of life for Black folks in America in 2016. No disrespect to the athletes who trained and competed, but for me the issue was much deeper.


In the very nation of my birth, today, America: the land of the free, home of the brave, with liberty and justice for all, continues to exclude, dehumanize, devalue, brutalize, falsely imprison, pre-judge, discriminate against, and unjustly murder Black folks with impunity. When a young brother like Trayvon Martin was killed at the hands of the coward G.Z., (I won't even type his name), our young brother Trayvon was not afforded equal protection under the law--- that was, in fact, his birthright. And for such reasons, I chose to boycott the Olympics. I cannot be a cheerleader for a nation that hates me. And shows her antipathy towards me repeatedly.


Until this nation begins to recognize the valuable contributions of its Black citizens; until this nation begins to honor the lives of Black folks as equal and full citizens; until this nation truly respects the sacrifice of Black soldiers like Crispus Attucks or the Tuskegee Airmen or freedom fighters like Fannie Lou Hamer and James Baldwin; until this nation lives up to the true meaning of its creed, and cuts that big fat pay check for reparations to all its Black citizens who are the descendants of those African peoples that were brutally kidnapped from their homes and held hostage in this foreign terrain; until these things happen, I'm standing with my brother Colin Kaepernick.


Of all the athletes that have suddenly found their social "voices" this summer: Carmelo, the Espy Four, the WNBA sisters, and of course, Mr. Johnny Come Lately himself, Michael "Air" Jordan, of all of their tactics, calculated speeches, prepared statements, and writing of checks, Colin Kaepernick's subtle act of resistance stands out as the most powerful protest thus far. And yet his act was so simple. He took a stand, by remaining seated. He didn't send an open letter to the press, he didn't give a million dollars to the antagonists, he just exercised his right to remain silent and seated during the so-called national anthem. 


First, let's set the record straight: Kaepernick's actions brings into question "who's anthem is it?" And his quiet act of resistance provides the clear and present answer. His silence, his non-acknowledgement articulates a bitter truth that has haunted Black lives in this nation since its inception. That truth is the pledge of allegiance and the star spangled banner (dare I say the Constitution) were not created with Black folks in mind. The Black national anthem sings a different song. Written in 1899 by James Weldon Johnson, the song "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" is considered the national anthem for Blacks in America, chronicling our perpetual fight for equity and equality in the very country that we actually built. Surely, Mr. Kaepernick would stand if they played that song. Because that song would be relevant and representative of his lived experience as a Black person in the U.S. embracing the double bind that comes along with its burden of representation.


If you haven't seen the eighteen minute locker room interview he gave, please find it below. Colin's words resonate with many citizens across the nation. His words are calm, yet strong, thoughtful, yet sharp, measured, yet poignant. He wasn't asking for peace. He was calling for justice to roll down like waters for ALL U.S. citizens. He didn't back down, and he wasn't sugarcoating anything. It was beautiful to see. I developed a new respect for this young man. God bless him. And hopefully other athletes in similar positions will take note and stand with him. What do they have to lose?--- except for their own dignity by standing with a system that continues to oppress them.


Some people who have professed love and admiration for the late great champion Muhammad Ali have found Kaepernick's actions deplorable. How hypocritical is that? Clearly, those people have no clue what Mr. Ali stood for or the political views he represented. Do the knowledge. Ali was much more than the man who lit the Olympic torch in Atlanta in spite of his disability. Mr. Ali was a militant, outspoken social critic of America and her ignominious policies pertaining to Black folks. And still, Ali's righteous stand did not change a single thing in America. And neither will Colin Kaepernick's for that matter. But it sure feels good to see that some people with wealth and a media spotlight actually do understand what Black America is truly up against. I honor that. And to the detractors…the real question is what has Kaepernick said that is, in fact, untrue? I'll wait...


And as much as America and its corporate owned media continue to proclaim that "progress" has been made in this nation, I am reminded of the words of human rights advocate Malcolm X.


He said "if you stick a knife in my back nine-inches and pull it out six inches, there is no  progress. If you pull it all the way out, that's not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And [America] hasn't even begun to pull the knife out, much less heal the wound. They won't even admit the knife is there!"


Dropping mic now....





Dr. Artel Great is a media scholar who specializes in Black cultural production and popular culture at the intersection of film, television, media, race, and society. He is also an award winning actor, Independent Spirit Award-nominated filmmaker, social impact artist, public speaker, and cultural critic. In his free time, Dr. Great is a professor of American Television History and Culture at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.


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