Colin Kaepernick didn’t vote in last week’s election and continues to take a knee during the national anthem. Recently, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Mike Evans joined in by not standing as well. And it appears Evans didn’t vote, either.
I don’t blame either man for sitting Election Day or the national anthem out. Why vote for a white supremacist system you have no faith in? And why stand in honor of a national anthem that was never written or song to celebrate your liberty?
To be clear, I voted last week and believe that casting a ballot is one of the most powerful tools we as black people can use to fight racism in this country. Though I’d be hard-pressed to argue against a black person who disagrees.
For our most marginalized black communities, America has been a lifelong abusive relationship that most have simply checked out of. While some of us find ways to make the relationship work, others feel so worn down, so humiliated by its treatment, that we’ve disengaged altogether.
As I’ve traveled America covering this election, I have spoken to dozens of black people who feel voting doesn’t protect them and that America is not theirs.
To be honest, I often do not have much to say in response. They weren’t uninformed, or unintelligent. Mostly, they were in pain and that is what most of Kaepernick and Evans’ critics don’t speak to: their grievances with America’s racial abuse. Kaepernick put his stance in perspective during a postgame interview Sunday.
"You know, I think it would be hypocritical of me to vote," Kaepernick told reporters Sunday. "I said from the beginning I was against oppression, I was against the system of oppression. I'm not going to show support for that system. And to me, the oppressor isn't going to allow you to vote your way out of your oppression."
He has a point.
Even had Hillary Rodham Clinton won last week, black people’s oppression wouldn’t have ended. This year, 839 people have been killed by cops; 195 of them were black, a extraordinarily high number given that we make up just 12 percent of the U.S. population. Black people haven’t fared well under President Barack Obama, either. Cops have killed us at disproportionately high rates during his two terms as well. It has been clear that no elected official has been able to keep black bodies safe.
Voting for a black man hasn’t kept black America safe. A woman, well-meaning as she may have been, likely wouldn’t have changed that reality significantly, either.
The genesis of Kaepernick’s protests were predicated on the murderous campaign police officers are waging against black people in this country. The system—its courts that rarely prosecute abusive officers, National Guards that governors use to put down black descent, GOP-led legislatures that pass racist voter ID laws designed to suppress minority voters—represents everything that is unnatural about being black in America.
To participate in its racist cycle is not a testament to one’s patriotism or faith in democracy. It is a spiritual commitment that compels you to believe that America is a just and more humane nation that its unjust and inhuman history and present confirms it truly is.
For some black people, their faith does not allow them to see past America’s anti-blackness enough to cast a ballot in its elections and stand in honor of a song that wasn’t written for us to sing. That Kaepernick or Evans refuse to vote and stand is not their problem. It is America’s.
Being a black American is akin to living in an abusive relationship that will not end until you die. One day, your abuser may choke you to death for allegedly selling cigarettes on a street corner. The next day, it claims to love you. But you can’t leave the relationship either way. We can’t simply pack up and leave. Canada is not our home. America is, but it is an abusive one.
As black folk, we spend a great deal of time “playing the game” or “playing it safe.” We know our boss doesn’t like black people, but we smile at him or her anyway because we truly believe getting their corner office showcases that black people can thrive by obeying “their rules.”
When black parents teach their children to address cops with “Yes, sir,” showing respect is not the main objective. Staying alive is. They are teaching them to submit, as we were taught to do during slavery.
Saying,” Yes, sir” to an officer in 2016 is basically saying, “Yes, master.”
Most of us complain about such humiliating concessions at the barbershop with our boys, or by thumbing out angry missives on Facebook or Twitter. Though, most of us never protest it to the faces of our abusers. We just accept it. Because we often don’t have the privilege of fighting back.
Kaepernick and Evans, however, do. Their approach is to simply check out of the process altogether and find other ways to make America great for their people. They refuse to play the game most of us have become All-Pro performers in. They have given up playing the game of voting and Instagramming images of our “I voted” stickers, as if we are playing a bigger role in improving our democracy than people like them. Perhaps we, those who vote, should be rethinking what good we’re doing in our society by voting in a white supremacist system.
We should ask ourselves why we place our hands over our hearts during the national anthem. We should ask ourselves how we can join Kaepernick and Evans’ protest, even as we continue to vote. Perhaps ESPN’s Sage Steele, who recently criticized Evans, needs to ask herself why he doesn’t feel the national anthem is worthy of him standing for in the first place.
Indeed, there are plenty of black veterans who support Kaepernick.
Any black person who takes issue with Evans or Kaepernick’s refusal to vote or stand during the national anthem should ask themselves if they are using any power they have to protest white supremacy as defiantly as these young men are.
Kaepernick and Evans’ critics need to start asking why America hates black people so much and spend less time wondering why these young men no longer want to invest time and energy in an abusive relationship.
After all, everyone doesn’t agree with standing in honor of their oppressors.