We Owe Colin Kaepernick More. And by we, I mean Black people

Olayemi Olurin

I’ve been doing a lot of deep breathing lately. A lot of deep breathing and eye-rolling as I scroll through every social media timeline I have, avoiding the urge to respond to every incident of pretend ignorance.

What is pretend ignorance?

Pretend ignorance is when people pretend not to be capable of understanding a concept so (1) you get stuck fighting about what it is you’re doing so you never get to discuss the why; and (2) you can never hold them accountable for spewing racist foolishness everywhere because they’re allegedly ignorant and don’t know any better.

Usually, pretend ignorance comes at us in the form of people pretending they think that when we say Black Lives Matter we’re saying Black Lives Matter more than other lives. They pretend that that’s their understanding of the message, as though Black Lives Matter isn’t self-explanatory.

Matters. That’s it. Just matters. Nothing more, nothing less.

But still, they pretend that that’s their understanding of the message, as though they’ve ever interpreted Autism Awareness to mean fuck Down Syndrome. As though they forgot that we title things based on its subject matter.

The movement is called Black Lives Matter because Black lives are what we’re talking about.

They know that, they understand that. But they also know that if they get us stuck in their straw-man arguments, we’ll never get to discuss why we’re saying Black Lives Matter. We’ll never get to discuss what’s actually being done to Black bodies, the dehumanization, the criminalization, and the lack of anything being done by the government in response.

Today’s pretend ignorance is closely related.

All I see anywhere are tweets, facebook statuses, comments, memes, videos, articles, and blogs, deliberately pretending that Colin Kaepernick was protesting the anthem, the flag, and Trump.

This isn’t an accident. They distort the protest to make it easier to attack the man and hide the message. If they make it about the anthem and the flag, then they can make it about veterans and fighting for the country and rally racism behind a mask of pretend patriotism.

Colin Kaepernick was protesting police brutality against Black bodies by kneeling during the anthem. That is what this has always been about.

He was never protesting the anthem or the flag in and of themselves. Moreover, Kaepernick began this protest when Obama was still in office.

This was never about Trump, it’s still not about Trump, and it will never be merely about Trump.

More than anything, please stop making this about veterans and pretending to give a shit about veterans.

Just own that you don’t care about Black Lives, Black Lives Matter as a movement, or police brutality. It’s okay to own being shitty. But stop using veterans and the army to inflame the passions of the racists when you know good and well this isn’t about them. And even if it were about them, you don’t actually give a fuck about them.

11% of this country’s homeless population are veterans. 45% of them suffer from mental illness. 50% suffer from substance abuse problems.

I don’t hear about any of this, ever.

As a matter of fact, all I ever hear by all you allegedly veteran-loving Americans is how the welfare state is too big, people need to help themselves, pull themselves up by the bootstraps, fuck Obamacare, and everything else that helps keep veterans down.

I hear about veterans on select occasions: Veteran’s day, 9/11, and every time someone’s mad at Black people for not standing for an anthem meant to celebrate the equality in a nation whose police kill Black citizens without consequence.

Veterans in this country suffer, at alarming rates, from homelessness, PTSD, unemployment, and both mental and physical illness with no health insurance. So please stop pretending to give a shit about them just to mask your true motivations for being angry at Kaepernick.

Stop pretending not to know better.

Pretend ignorance is when your patriotism is inflamed by the idea that some “entitled, Black athletes” didn’t stand for your anthem because you view that as an affront to America, when in actuality, there can be nothing more American than exercising your constitutional right to free speech.

SCOTUS has long-acknowledged protest as a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. SCOTUS has even held that flag-burning is constitutionally permissible.

You don’t have to agree with Kaepernick’s form of protest, but to suggest that he or any other athlete choosing to kneel is un-American, is simply incorrect. He can protest how he chooses, that is his constitutional right as an American.

Colin Kaepernick kneeled because Black people are dehumanized in this country, because Black lives are not being treated like they matter. He kneeled for us and we, as Black people, owe him more. I’m not mad about what Trump says, what Ben Roethlisberger says, or what any of them have to say about how he chooses to protest. This isn’t about them.

But Black people, this is about us. We repeatedly screamed that Black Lives Matter. We asked someone to care. Kaepernick cared. He took a stance and he’s losing his career over it.

We owe him more than accepting athletes holding hands, linking arms, and hiding in tunnels. We owe Kaepernick more than showing him love on social media but allowing him to remain unemployed while we tune in to watch weaker men stand for the anthem every week. We need to support who supports us. We owe Colin Kaepernick more.