By Kimberly Tolson
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Colin Kaepernick
Former NFL player and U.S. military veteran Nate Boyer told Colin Kaepernick that kneeling as a protest would show more respect to former and current military members than sitting on the bench.
Martin Luther King, Jr., black American, delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed labor discrimination. Malcolm X, black American, was assassinated on February 21, 1965, receiving a total of 21 gunshot wounds. In 1965, the federal government enacted The Voting Rights Act, legislation that outlawed racial discrimination at the voting booths. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., black American, was assassinated. Just seven days later, President Lyndon B. Johnson, white American, signed into law The Civil Rights Act of 1968, which protects those against intimidation and violence based in racial discrimination. On December 4, 1969, Fred Hampton, black American, was assassinated at point-blank range by two Chicago police officers. That same year, my white parents graduated from high school, got married at twenty, and enrolled at a small, Baptist college in the South, most likely unaware of the racial tensions that many in their own state of Arkansas endured. Or if not unaware, my white parents were largely unaffected by the tide of racial discrimination. My father was drafted in 1972, so instead of becoming a foot soldier, he enlisted in the Air Force as an officer and devoted twenty years to the United States military. At my white grandfather’s funeral, he scoffed at the folded flag my white mother clutched. He told me he refused a military funeral. They can go to hell, he said under his breath. I’m done.
On September 1, 2016, Colin Kaepernick, black American, kneeled
during the National Anthem in a preseason game for the San Francisco 49ers. His
teammate Eric Reid, black American, kneeled beside him. That same day, in a
different football game, Seattle Seahawks’ Jeremy Lane, black American, sat on
the bench during the National Anthem. Days later, Megan Rapinoe, gay American,
kneeled at a National Women’s Soccer League match during the National Anthem.
Eight days after Colin Kaepernick first kneeled, Denver Broncos’ Brandon
Marshall, black American, kneeled during the National Anthem. On September 11,
2016, four Miami Dolphins players kneeled during the National Anthem: Arian
Foster, black American; Michael Thomas, black American; Kenny Stills, black
American; Jelani Jenkins, black American. The same night, the entire Seattle
Seahawks team linked arms as did the Kansas City Chiefs team. Colin Kaepernick
and Eric Reid kneeled during the National Anthem on September 11, and two of
their teammates, Eli Harold, black American, and Antoine Bethea, black
American, held their fists in the air. Two players from the opposing team, the
Rams, held their fists in the air: Robert Quinn, black American, and Kenny
Britt, black American. Colin Kaepernick, black American, kneeled during the
National Anthem for every 49ers game in the 2016 season.
Colin Kaepernick, black American, lost his job because he kneeled
during the playing of the National Anthem. Opting out of his contract in early
2017 as opposed to being cut by his team, he was blackballed by the NFL. Later
in the year, he filed a grievance against the NFL, accusing owners of colluding
to keep him out of the NFL. In 2019, the NLF paid Colin Kaepernick an
undisclosed amount in exchange for his silence. On the three-year anniversary
of his kneeling, he tweeted in support of those who refuse to be silent in the
face of systemic racism. Eric Reid, black American, nearly lost the chance to
play football again because he kneeled during the National Anthem. He was
passed over for months during the 2017 free agent season but was finally
drafted by the Carolina Panthers for a one-year contract; in Reid’s first game
with the Panthers, he kneeled during the National Anthem. Brandon Marshall,
black American, lost contracts with CenturyLink and a Colorado credit union,
both companies citing his kneeling as the reason. In solidarity with Colin
Kaepernick, Rihanna, black American, turned down an invitation to perform at
the 2020 Super Bowl Halftime Show saying, “I just couldn’t be a sellout.” U.S.
Soccer admonished Megan Rapinoe’s kneeling, as did the public. American Soccer
Now held an online poll that asked if Megan Rapinoe, gay American, should even
be allowed to play soccer for the United States due to her kneeling during the
National Anthem. Months after she kneeled, U.S. Soccer passed a policy that
required all players stand during the National Anthem. My white parents’ new
home flies the American flag, a red, white and blue reminder of what country
they proudly live in and fight for: America. For the past thirty years, my
white father has taken advantage of everything retired military life has to
offer: free healthcare, more affordable food, at-cost travel, and nationwide
discounts. He’s become more of a patriot after his service than during active
duty. And now he flies the American flag in his dead-end cul-de-sac.
In fall of 2016, 63 percent of white Americans disapproved of
kneeling and 74 percent of black Americans approved of kneeling. The poll also
revealed that the older the American, the less likely they were to approve of
kneeling. Seventy-seven (77%) of NFL viewers are white Americans. Every single
NFL team owner is a white American. Another set of polls revealed that 72
percent of Americans disagreed with Kaepernick’s kneeling, calling his actions
“unpatriotic,” and 61 percent of Americans didn’t support his reasons for
kneeling. About the Americans kneeling during the National Anthem, the
President of the United States said, “Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”
The President described the players’ actions as “disgraceful.” He called them “sons of bitches.” In 2018, two years
after the kneeling, 53 percent of Americans still thought it was never
appropriate to kneel during the National Anthem. A vast majority of those who
disagreed were old, white Republican Americans. My parents are old, white,
Republican Americans. Now many Americans just hope they can make it through the
holidays without ever talking about politics. Many Americans think that talking
about political issues increases the hate and the prejudice. More Americans
would rather talk about religion with a stranger than politics.
Hundreds of black men are shot and killed by police each year. Many police officers don’t lose their job or receive criminal punishment. Colin Kaepernick, black American, kneeled because he was fed up with the unchallenged police brutality, as were many Americans. From Oscar Grant to I can’t breathe, he’d had enough.
Eric Garner, 43 years old, father
of six, suffocated by the New York police on July 17, 2014. Michael Brown Jr., 18 years old, fired
at 14 times by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer who killed him on August 9,
2014. Laquan McDonald, 17 years
old, shot and killed while walking away from a Chicago police officer on
October 20, 2014. Tamir Rice, 12
years old, shot and killed by Cleveland police on November 22, 2014. Walter Scott, 50 years old, former
Coast Guard, shot five times while fleeing a North Charleston police officer on
April 4, 2015. Freddie Gray, 25
years old, arrested and unnecessarily assaulted by Baltimore police officers which
resulted in his death on April 12, 2015. Philando Castile, 32 years old, shot seven times by Minnesota
police officer while sitting in his car on July 6, 2016. Alton Sterling, 37 years old, shot
dead while held to the ground by Baton Rouge police officers on July 5, 2016. Dennis
Plowden, 25 years old, shot and killed by Philadelphia police on
December 27, 2017. Stephon Clark,
22 years old, shot at 20 times and killed in his grandmother’s backyard by a
Sacramento police officer on March 18, 2018. Rashad Cunningham, 25 years old, fatally shot by Indiana police
just 10 seconds after being approached on August 17, 2019.
In 2015, black men were nearly 2.5 times more likely to be shot by
police officers than were white men. By 2016, that statistic rose to 4 times.
Young black men were 9 times more likely to be shot than either of my white,
middle of America parents. Now they are killing black women. 28-year-old
Atatiana Jefferson, black American, was shot in her home while playing video
games with her nephew.
All I heard from my white parents about it all was that Colin
Kaepernick needed to show some respect and stand for the National Anthem. True
patriots stand for the flag and our country. It’s just what you do, they
lectured me, my white mom absentmindedly placing her hand over her heart. My white
dad told me that the young black man who was shot at fleeing a stolen car
deserved it. He said that only guilty people flee the cops and that the police
had every right to stop his car in the first place. I told him that there’s
never a reason to shoot at someone who is running away. That cops can’t just
stop random black people because they look suspicious. I thought that’s
racist, but I didn’t say it. I wanted to say it, I tried to, but I
couldn’t. I also failed to say I love you, Dad. We don’t talk about
things because we prefer to cling to the bad feelings, the need to be right,
like the fact that I haven’t visited my parents for Christmas in fifteen years because
the first year I invited my future husband to celebrate with us together, they
separated us, forcing us to stay in different rooms. But I don’t want to
lose you, I think. More and more Americans cancel their holiday plans to avoid
being around those who support the opposing side. I don’t want to be that
I sit across the table from my mom and dad, both old, Republican Americans, both retirees living in Kansas. A news scroll on the restaurant television reports that a white cop entered a black man’s apartment, thinking it was hers, and fatally shot Botham Jean, a 26-year old black American. Castle doctrine be damned, I think. My dad refuses to chime in. My mom says that there is never an acceptable reason to kneel or protest during the National Anthem. She refuses to listen to my side. Nothing I say will ever convince her otherwise. It’s personal, she says.
Kimberly Tolston teaches college English at the convergence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers where she also resides with her two dogs and partner. Her essays appear in Sonora Review, 100 Word Story, Crosscurrents and Talking River.
Image: “September 2015,” between Oxford and Calhoun City, Miss., iPhone 5S, Kristen Brown
Kristen Brown is a Louisiana native currently residing in Mississippi. She attended school at the University of Mississippi and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Theater, Cinema and English. Her photography consists primarily of scenic landscapes and nature, with most of it occurring within the winter and autumn months, and is intended to prove that it is possible to create high-quality artwork with an iPhone. All that’s required is a cellular device and an artistic vision.