Can you imagine yourself as a twenty-something — a black person sitting in a 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 was recently the position of San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. Every time he touched the ball he was booed mercilessly by a hostile overwhelmingly white crowd.
That’s because, in the spirit of Black Lives Matter movement, this 28-year-old biracial 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 for the anthem.
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.”
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Ignoring those reasons, the quarterback’s critics have somehow turned his protest into an alleged attack on the honor the military who have given their lives “defending our freedom.” So when the Sept. 1 San Diego Chargers-49ers contest coincided with an 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 entire 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. Afterwards the boos rained down.
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 brainwashed agents of U.S corporations defending the “right” of modern robber barons to steal resources, markets and cheap labor. Gen. Smedley Butler said as much long ago. “War is a racket,” he charged.
Problem is, the “capitalist” economy is unable to provide enough productive 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.
Michael Rivage-Suel of Berea is a retired professor.