*The following is an opinion column by R Muse*
It is impossible for any American to deny that naked racism has been mainstreamed over the past eight years, and made wildly popular as a Republican campaign issue over the past year. If it’s not Donald Trump calling African Americans lazy and stupid it’s Maine Governor Paul LePage claiming that they need to be shot; and those are just the most recent Republicans expressing blatant racist beliefs. As a rule, though, Black entertainers and sports celebrities are given a pass as long as they don a team jersey or deliver a platinum-selling album and keep their heads down; Americans love “their Blacks” for their entertainment value but that’s where the adoration ends. When that Black athlete takes off his uniform and when the entertainer gets off the stage, that’s when everything changes for the worse.
It is a historical that when an African American expresses an opinion it had better be praising conservatives and elevating white supremacists because according to conservatives, freedom of speech and expression only apply to African Americans willing to toe the conservative line and pretend racism doesn’t exist in America.
Over the weekend Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49er quarterback, learned firsthand that although he may be a stellar athlete, because he is Black and demurred when requested to “please stand for our national anthem,” conservatives were apoplectic he failed to “do as he was told” in protest. This piece isn’t about why Kaepernick didn’t stand for the national anthem; there are plenty of stories and reporting detailing his protest and motivation. This is about the reaction of conservatives and Donald Trump who demeaned the athlete for exercising his First Amendment right of free speech, even if his “speech” meant staying seated. Obviously, Republicans ardently believe that a legal instrument, “a corporation,” enjoys freedom of speech, but not a Black athlete protesting the conditions in a nation rife with social injustice borne of racial animus toward African Americans.
When Kaepernick did the unthinkable, expressing himself as an African American, he was carrying on a long tradition of Black athletes “standing up” and saying they are not happy with the way African Americans are being treated. In fact, during the same period that Muhammed Ali protested the Viet Nam war and Black athletes raised their fists at the 1968 Olympics, baseball legend Jackie Robinson said, “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.”
Donald Trump, a racist by any measure, had to weigh in and said that the idea of Kaepernick exercising his First Amendment right and protesting the racism plaguing America “Is a terrible thing. You know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him. Let him try – it won’t happen.”
It is unbelievable, but Trump’s remarks were not the worst by any means. Conservatives, to a person, never acknowledged that, even though they disagreed with Kaepernick’s reason for protesting, he had a constitutional right to free expression. Instead they demeaned him as an ungrateful and “washed-up” athlete who is incapable of comprehending that racism no longer exists in America.
Fox News’ conservative pundit Tucker Carlson lashed out at the quarterback and wondered,
“When rich people became victims? When did people stop laughing at the idea that someone who makes $10 million a year and get up and say ‘I’m a victim?’ The president: ‘I’m a victim.’ Oprah..” Carlson went on to list African American leaders who he claims revel in playing ‘the victim’ and said, “The next time some overpaid [Black] entertainer or athlete or politician stands up and says, boo-hoo, people are mean to me, laugh in their face, including this guy.”
Sean Hannity, another highly-overpaid entertainer like Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson, echoed the slimy bow-tie guy and said:
“He, in his own life, has suffered no oppression. He’s free to share all the money he wants; he lives in the greatest nation on Earth. You know, this is a nation that has overcome slavery, overcome evil and injustice, righted wrongs, you know, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act…all made the country a better place.”
Another conservative malcontent, Tomi Lahren, of the Blaze actually denied Kaepernick’s right to protest because he is greedy and not really Black. Lahren said,
“What’s selfish is you, buddy. And what’s your message to Black kids, to people of color? That they’re biggest contribution to justice and self-fulfillment is to parade around with a chip on their shoulder like a victim? How dare you sit there and blame white people for the problems in minority communities?
When will those in Black communities take some responsi-damn-bility for problems in Black communities? It seems to me blaming white people for all your problems might make you the racist.”
Of course, conservatives certainly have constitutional freedom of speech rights to criticize Kaepernick, but demeaning him as a racist, or claim he’s playing at being victimized, something he definitely did not do, are typically Republican racist memes. However, what these dirty conservative hypocrites are really criticizing him for is being a Black man and daring to exercise those same constitutional rights conservatives claim are reserved for whites and corporations. That is a textbook definition of racism that Colin Kaepernick was protesting and it is irrelevant if he is a highly-paid athlete or biracial; as an American citizen he has the right to protest. That is what has conservative’s heads’ exploding and it has nothing to do with not accepting a stadium announcer’s invitation to “please stand” for a patriotic song.
What this incident’s aftermath proves beyond a shadow of a doubt is that not only is America not close to being finished with racial animus toward people of color, nothing has really changed except that blatant racism is now mainstream and a staple of one of America’s two political parties. And that is all despite “overcoming slavery, the Civil Rights Act, and the now-defunct Voting Rights Act;” a Black man, or Black woman, are still not regarded as “equal” in this country and that is what justifies Kaepernick’s protest.
When a candidate for the United States presidency and leading conservatives are comfortable enough to say out loud that a Black man protesting racial and social injustice “is a terrible thing,” no American should be deluded that this country is not patently racist and it is only going to get worse because there is no cure; at least not one that could be discussed in a public forum or polite company.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.