Similar Message, Different Reactions

For 14 months or so, Donald Trump has trashed America. From his campaign slogan, which implies America isn’t great, to a speech the other day in Iowa—where, by the way. he once said, “How stupid are the people of Iowa?”—when he said the following to Hispanics and African-Americans:

What do you have to lose? It can’t get any worse. What do you have to lose?

There you have the Republican candidate telling people of color that America is a shithole and he and only he can make life less shitty for them.

Now, we’ve all grown use to Trump trashing his own country. You hardly hear a peep about it anymore from the blabbers on cable news. But, by God, the minute an African-American football player dares to not stand during the playing of the national anthem—as a way of sending his message that America’s treatment of people of color is not what it should be—conservatives soil their tighty-whities.

Colin Kaepernick, quarterback of the 49ers, explained his protest:

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.

You might think he’s wrong. You might think he should protest in another way. You might think his employer has a right to reprimand him. But you can’t hold the African-American quarterback to a different standard from one applied to the white GOP presidential nominee, whose candidacy is essentially a noisy and nasty protest against the entire country, government and all. Remember, Trump said during his “I alone can fix it” convention speech that,

I have seen firsthand how the system is rigged against our citizens…

Isn’t that what Kaepernick is saying? That the system is rigged against citizens of color? Yet many of the same people who embrace Trump’s trashing of America are burning Colin Kaepernick is forcing the country to take sides with his refusal to stand for national anthem.Kaepernick jerseys and expressing outrage at his refusal to stand during a song. And many people who are criticizing Kaepernick because he isn’t showing proper respect to our military men and women are showing up at Trump rallies and cheering a man who has disrespected John McCain and “captured” veterans; who has publicly mistreated a Gold Star family; and who has referred to our military as a “disaster.”

Both Donald Trump and Colin Kaepernick have every right to send their respective messages. One stands and shouts. The other sits in silence. And both do so in a country whose flag is supposed to wave over the land of the free. But as we have seen throughout our history, some folks are freer than others.

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18 Comments

  1. Anonymous

     /  August 29, 2016

    Kaepernick is half African American and half Causaian, he was raised in a Caucasian family. Does that make him African American or just plain American? Trump was raised by a Klan member, enough said.

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    • I resisted tying him to any ethnic group, but I did because he made it a point to identify himself with the effort to call attention to the problems with policing and the black experience in America. Just as President Obama, in the same genetic boat (a boat we are all in to some degree or another), refers to himself as an African-American because of the historic significance of it and because he has gone to great lengths (see his book) trying to figure out what is heritage means to him.

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  2. I hadn’t thought of it just that way, but you’re right, Duane. Trump waxes outrageous to get attention and Kaepernick is doing the same. However, the QB’s mode of doing so does give me heartburn.

    By not showing proper respect to the flag, he is dissing not the military but his country and its principles. His attitude implies that the custom of respecting the flag and anthem is that of only a segment of American society. Its not. The military doesn’t own the custom (although it executes it best). The act demonstrates respect for our country’s founding principles, i.e., the Constitution.

    Kaepernick is likely doing more harm than good for his cause because patriotism, like religion, is largely faith-based for most people. (The general population is not cerebral.) He should find another way to get attention.

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    • Jim,

      I’m not sure what you mean by “proper respect to the flag.” I know what it means to me, personally, but I don’t know that I can define it for everyone. Seems to me that, apart from mindless worship, the flag has to earn our respect, which means the country it stands for has to be the kind of country we can respect, according to our own expectations. At this point in his life, Kaepernick expects more from the country than he sees, and he has found a way to show his dissatisfaction with it. It might not be my way or your way to express dissatisfaction, but in his own way he is demonstrating respect for what the flag is supposed to stand for.

      I happen to believe we can, and should, show respect to our country by honoring our flag because buried in our mixed history is the idea that all men and women are really equal under the law, even though it has been a long, long journey to even get to the point we are now. But I can also respect the idea that the flag represents a country where free speech, including the kind of speech one engages in when purposely failing to honor the flag itself, is a cherished right. What kind of country would we be if one wasn’t free to withhold his or her symbolic (and that’s all we are talking about in this case) allegiance to its flag? Because we are a country that does cherish and protect free speech, that makes the flag and the country worthy of our allegiance, as far as I’m concerned.

      As to the practicality of his protest, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with you for the reasons you state and for another reason: this country is still predominantly white and its institutions are still largely controlled by white people, many of whom think that blacks like Kaepernick are being a bit “ungrateful” for all they have. In that sense, perhaps people will, like you suggest, think he is disrespecting “his country and its principles” and he, and the movement he is trying to represent, may suffer.

      Duane

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  3. Anonymous

     /  August 29, 2016

    I don’t think he’s dissing the country and its principles. Jehovah Witnesses do not observe this custom and represent 8 million Americans as a people of faith. Do you take issue with the message or the messenger? Jackie Robinson, the baseball great, took the same position as Kaepernick, and he is an American legend. According to the Smithsonianmag.com, the rules about how to address the flag came about because no one wanted to look like a Nazi.

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    • I don’t think Kaepernick is dissing the country either, but I think the majority of the country does think just that, which is my point. This is basic politics. The racists will jump all over this, wrapping themselves in the flag.

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    • Also, anonymous, Jackie Robinson’s comments about not standing for the flag are in the context of looking back from his retirement, 20 years later. I very much doubt that he did a Kaepernick when he was playing. That would have made really big headlines.

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      • Anonymous

         /  August 29, 2016

        The flag is but a symbol. What is real is the racism Jackie Robinson experienced. Did you listen to his explanation, or doubt the validity? I applaud his taking a position he knows unpopular to bring the issue forward, even though it might impact his earnings. And by the way, you did say he was “dissing the country and its principles”!

        http://sports.yahoo.com/news/creating-discomfort-point-colin-kaepernicks-000000840.html?.gg_invalid=true

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      • Butting in here, I must say that Jackie Robinson was a special case. He was purposely chosen not just for his athletic prowess as a baseball player, but for his temperament and ability to understand the historic nature of his presence in the game and what it would mean to the culture at large. The situation he was to encounter, again and again, required a different kind of reaction at the time than the one Kaepernick encounters today. It is because of Jackie Robinson, and others, like Muhammad Ali, that Kaepernick can do what he is doing so boldly and, at least up until now, not pay the kind of price that a defiant Robinson would have paid or a defiant Ali actually did pay.

        Duane

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        • Anonymous

           /  August 30, 2016

          Duane,

          A defiant Robinson could have faced death or harm to his family from racists for such a statement, but I’m sure he wanted to do just that. We have improved and I am thankful, but white privilege is still alive and well, as exhibited by the reaction to Colin exercising his right.

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  4. And by the way, you did say he was “dissing the country and its principles”!

    No, I didn’t. Go back and read it.

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  5. Anonymous

     /  August 30, 2016

    “By not showing proper respect to the flag, he is dissing not the military but his country and its principles.” I have to call bullshit on that statement you made.

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    • Context, Anon. I was talking about the public perception of his act. And, I clarified this in my second comment by saying, “I don’t think Kaepernick is dissing the country either – -” You are straining at a gnat.

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  6. ansonburlingame

     /  August 30, 2016

    Hang in there Jim. You are correct to express disagreement with the QB’s actions, disdaining our Flag. It is supposed to be a symbol of National Unity, unity in the face of political disagreement.

    Kaepernick is a (f…..) football player. I could give a …… what his political beliefs might be. I have as much respect for him as I would if Obama tried to be a QB in the NFL. I would only watch one game, part of it, to see what kind of ass he would make of himself trying to be a football player.

    Just so “anonymous” gets it, I point out to him, her or it that Jim and I served on active duty at a time when we were collectively called “baby killers” and could not wear our uniforms in many public places (San Francisco for example) unless ready to be spit upon by …….. We also spent 20 plus years saluting men that on a personal level we may well have disdained. But we saluted the uniform, the symbol, not the man.

    I put Kaepernick in the same category as Rev Wright (of God DAMN America fame). They can both go the hell in a hand basket for all I care. But at least those two men took public positions without trying to hide behind anonymity.

    For Duane however, I completely understand why you wrote this blog. Anyone has a right to publicly express political opinions, at least in AMERICA, thank God.

    One final thought. If Kaepernick has such disdain for “America” he should put his money where his mouth is. Sit out a few games in protest, along with any other NFL players feeling the same way. Now that will really get some attention, for about 5 minutes until fans all over the country go nuts without football to watch!!! It is after all “America’s Game”, right!!!

    Anson

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  7. Anonymous

     /  August 30, 2016

    Jim,

    In your initial comment you did not state you were referring to the public perception, although you did in the second. 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses do not salute the flag, so yes there are segments of the population that do not agree with your assertion. Are they not “true” Americans? The flag is a symbol, nothing more. I’m not straining at anything. Just calling it like I see it.

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    • True, the flag is a symbol, but to dismiss it as “nothing more” diminishes its significance in American culture. It is, as both Anson and I have experienced it, a symbol so important that it is the bedrock of patriotism, the foundation of military esprit de corps. To service personnel of every race and creed it has symbolized that we are one nation indivisible under the Constitution. That 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t revere it simply means that 3% of the population is getting a free ride, something I do not begrudge them. I fought for the freedoms our system provides as available to everybody who respects that system. To disrespect that system, and that symbol, diminishes the unity essential to America’s political survival.

      It occurs to me, as an example, that the reason blacks have escalated shootings in Chicago is because human beings need to feel belonging to a tribe and they are joining gangs because they do not feel a part of the nation as a whole. Whose fault is that? It is not the Chief of Police’s. He is black and he’s trying his best. The fault is cultural, not organizational, and that is Kaepernick’s mistake. Instead of disrespecting the flag he should be extolling it for the sake of young people.

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  8. ansonburlingame

     /  August 30, 2016

    Duane,

    After posting the above I saw your reply to Jim, above. It is thoughtful and on the mark in my view. You are a strident progressive, politically and of course agree that BOTH Trump and Kaepernick have every right to speak and act as they are doing. You don’t “like” what Trump is saying or doing and have at least tolerance to allow Kaepernick to make his views known.

    Where we part is I believe BOTH men are making asses out of themselves.

    In the long saga of Trump bullshit that we all can list, I pick ONE that sums it up. In response to a NYT article detailing Trump’s bankruptcies he said, “Never borrow money for your business with your personal commitment at stake, personal liability to repay any loan”.

    Kaepernick, Trump, even “anonymous” are unwilling to put their personal …… at stake to make political points.

    Anson

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  9. Anonymous

     /  August 30, 2016

    Anson,

    Kaepernick is risking his popularity, job and future earnings to make his statement, I take it seriously. Trump, OMG, is receiving free publicity to support his racist agenda. If you can’t tell the difference from silently, peacefully, making your point, and broadcasting racist views, then you are beyond hope. Duane has not condoned Trump, but he does recognize Colin is making the point that racism is alive and well in the U.S..

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