Back in August, when I first heard about Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the National Anthem before an NFL preseason game, I was slightly confused. I was confused as to why he was refusing to stand. Come to find out, he viewed this refusal as a form of protest against a system that “oppresses people of color.” Fair enough.
My confusion admittedly didn’t subside then and there, however. I wasn’t quite sure how refusing to stand for the anthem of your country wasn’t a smack in the face to all those who have served and all those who have lost their lives to protect that anthem and the flag that accompanies it. I also, in a moment of ignorance, asked “why now?” Why not when he was the relevant face of his ball club, instead of the backup?
That was an unfair question, one that I regret even thinking. As a minority in this country, you have every right to stand up for what you believe in, even if that means sitting down. If you feel that protest is in order to help call for change, it doesn’t matter if you’re a superstar, a backup, or just a regular working stiff.
I was proud to see that he acknowledged some of the issues that Americans had with his particular form of protest, altering his protest from a sit to a kneel in order to still show respect to the many men and women who fight for his right to protest. I was proud to see that he was still thinking of his protest, but also thinking of how others felt too. And I was proud when others in the NFL and pro sports joined in, putting themselves out there to call for change.
Kaep had me on board for quite a while. And then he didn’t vote. Now my subsided confusion has resurfaced, bubbling up into a bit of anger. See, our country does oppress people of color. It oppresses women. It oppressed people of the LGBTQ community. Every single one of us that falls into one or more of those categories has an obligation to themselves and to the rest of their communities to strive for change.
Protests are great at spreading a message. You’ll get no argument from me and, based on the outcome of Tuesday night, you’ll probably see many forms of protest from me over the next four years. However, when you have the opportunity to vote, to put your stance out there in a way that can actually bring upon the change you protest about, and you don’t do it, you’re part of the problem.
Kaepernick said that it “didn’t matter” who went in to the White House. That it will simply be another face of oppression against minorities. Okay, maybe he’s right about that, maybe he’s not. I would make the argument that one will definitely work to oppress people of color much more than the other would, but that’s not the point of this post. He thought a vote for the presidency wasn’t important and that’s fine, I guess. But upon deciding that this vote didn’t matter, he also decided that the down-ballot measures didn’t matter. Measures about early parole, juvenile trials, the death penalty, all of those didn’t matter.
Protests can do a lot to affect change. But so can a vote at the ballot box. Kaepernick was and is in a position to get the word across multiple mediums. The word he just spread was that voting doesn’t matter, that it can’t affect change. I’m not so much worried about him and his individual thinking. What worries me is that he may have just made a lot of young people of color think the same thing. That, I have a huge problem with.
I have a huge problem with it because all of this matters. All votes matter. The 15,000 people that voted for Harambe, those votes mattered. They mattered negatively, I’d argue, but they mattered all the same. Kaepernick could have had a vote that mattered. Instead, he showed a lot of impressionable people that a vote didn’t matter. As far as I’m concerned, he negated the very effectiveness of his protest. Maybe I’m in the minority on that point, but I frankly can’t get behind his message after that. For me, it boils down to this:
Kneel, sit down, lay down. I’ll respect any form of non-violent protest that calls for change. But when it matters, when there’s an actual chance for change in this messed up world of ours, stand the hell up.