Take a Knee: The revenge of Colin Kaepernick – By Stephen Squibb



Colin Kaepernick


BEFORE THE COPS BOUGHT DYLANN ROOF a burger after he killed nine people in a South Carolina bible study and before Michael Slager shot Walter Scott in the back after a traffic stop and then planted evidence on his body; before Daniel Pantaleo choked Eric Garner to death on camera and Jeronimo Yanez killed Philando Castile for legally owning a gun; before Sandra Bland was found hanging in police custody and Heather Heyer was run over by the fascist James Harris Fields, Jr., and the police told the media he was “just scared”; before Jeremy Joseph Christian told two young women of color on a train in Portland, Oregon to go back to Saudi Arabia and then stabbed to death two of the three men who rose to defend them—“I’m a patriot! This is what liberalism gets you!” he shouted in court — before James Harris Jackson came to New York from Baltimore for the purpose of killing black men and stabbed 66-year-old Timothy Caughman to death while he was collecting cans; before John Russell Houser killed two women in a movie theater for watching a feminist film and before Robert Lewis Dear, Jr. was captured alive after killing three people — one of them a cop — in a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood; before the police killed Freddie Gray in the back of a van and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in a park in Cleveland; after so many thousands of others but before all of these, officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown when he was standing in the middle of the street with his hands up in Ferguson, Missouri.     

Wilson thought he was just killing an animal, an angry beast with the temerity to do something other than what he said exactly when and how he said it. The courts and his fellow officers agreed with him, and he was rewarded with early retirement. But Wilson wasn’t killing a creature like a dog or a pig whose complex emotional lives we routinely torture and destroy without consequence. He was killing a citizen of the United States of America, and these creatures are stubborn. They do not listen when you tell them that for 400 years reactionary violence has been part of the culture of this nation. They do not believe it when you point out that the Constitution has always been a hypocritical, contradictory, selectively-enforced document, only taken seriously by the weak-minded.

They cannot be convinced that a garish rectangle set about with stars and stripes is just another piece of cloth. And so the protests began. In the streets, in the classrooms, and on the football field, when Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem to draw attention to the blatant, doggedly consistent violation of American citizens’ rights to life, liberty, and due process.

What did they expect would happen? That’s the part that has turned me against more beloved members of my family than I would have thought possible. It’s not that they approve of the killing, here or elsewhere, it’s that they apparently share the widespread expectation that after the killing there would be no consequences whatsoever of any kind. Not just in the sense of a lack of official condemnation or punishment but actually nothing. As if something going up doesn’t also come down. As if the friends and family of the deceased would just shrug their shoulders and go on about their lives in complete and total violation of Shylock’s Law.

What is Shylock’s Law? It’s not the one you have probably heard about. The gentle are fond of quoting Shylock’s rhetorical questions in times such as these, particularly “if you tickle us do we not laugh?” and “if you prick us do we not bleed?” but they neglect the entire passage, which is much less comforting.

Recall that Shylock has chosen to lend Antonio 3,000 ducats, even though Antonio routinely subjects Shylock to anti-Semitic abuse in public. As a way of literally getting even, Shylock refuses to lend to Antonio at interest — that is, he refuses to play the Jew — but instead does the “Christian thing” and lends him the money free of charge, provided he returns it on time. Should Antonio fail, Shylock will collect not 3,000 ducats, but a pound of Antonio’s flesh, as the Christians do from their slaves when they are displeased with them.

Faced with the imminent failure of Antonio to pay on time, Salerio remarks to Shylock “Why, I am sure if he forfeit thou wilt not take his flesh. What’s that good for?” And Shylock replies with one of the great passages in literature and a lesson we are still struggling to learn. What is the flesh good for?

To bait fish with! If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies — and what’s his reason? I am a Jew.

Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute — and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.

And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? This is Shylock’s law, the first law of social physics: people push back.

That’s what makes them people. Not always in redemptive, uplifting, or effective ways, but they push and that’s what makes the oppressed the same as the oppressor. Not their singular and beautiful suffering, but their typical spleen. It’s all well and good to imagine a universal brotherhood of victims, each mourning in their own, culturally distinct ways, but the minute you attempt to point out that revenge, too, is part of creaturely existence, that’s when you see Grandpa’s mask drop and the fangs come out.

This is why Trump talked about the firing of Colin Kaepernick as though it had not already happened and this is why Shylock ends The Merchant of Venice with everything taken from him — his money, his daughter, his religion — because there is no punishment too disproportionate to be visited on someone at the margins when they dare to mention the fundamental scientific fact of their equality with someone at the center. That’s when the ruling class declares a fire sale: everything must go.

It will no doubt strike many as inappropriate, to say the least, to speak of Colin Kaepernick’s protest as a kind of revenge. Before this year, I would have agreed with them. Tactically it has seemed necessary to downplay the mounting evidence that not only was Kaepernick’s protest working, but that it was actually tearing the league apart. Letters poured in from aggrieved white patrons demanding an end to the protests, ratings started to drop and they’re still dropping, such that it now seems impossible to deny what the fascists have been saying for a while now, that Kap has succeeded where concussions, Deflategate, and roughly 30,000 hours of advertisements per game had failed: it has given people a reason to give up the game for good.

The only adjustment we must make to this diagnosis is that it was not Kaepernick who did this, it was the systematic campaign of reactionary terror that a large percentage of the NFL’s Republican audience wanted to pretend wasn’t happening. Unfortunately for them, the Pentagon paid the league $5 million to install an anthem ritual before every game and with the anthem comes the flag and with the flag that pesky little Bill of Rights. The discourse of rights is hyperbolic, as Etienne Balibar points out: it says more than it intends to. Intended merely to defend slave owners from the madness of King George, the rights to life and liberty can’t help but reach beyond this and apply to everyone.  And so if you want to draw attention to the systematic violation of these rights in the middle of the empire’s favorite game, all you have to do is refuse to give up your seat when the masters sing their little song. Or, even better, take a knee.

Take a Knee

THERE ARE MUCH BETTER REASONS to give up football, of course, than the fact of Kaepernick’s protest, just as there are much better reasons to oppose Donald Trump than the fact that he received Russia’s help in stealing the election.

But we can’t always choose the weapons at our disposal, and it is important not to die of being right. So if I can take it as granted that most anyone reading this agrees that Trump must be opposed at all costs, let me spend these few remaining words articulating my resistance to giving up on football entirely.

There have been many comparisons made between our current struggles and those of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The best thing that can be taken from this comparison is a reminder that non-violence is more strategic than moral: the point is not that it feels good, the point is that it works, as Kap has brilliantly reiterated.

But the stakes are not entirely similar, even if the violence of the reaction has come to feel so. This is because the civil rights movement was chiefly about removing legal barriers to black equality which had been institutionalized by Jim Crow, many of which have returned in other ways, as Michelle Alexander and others have tirelessly pointed out.

Less widely understood is that the inequality installed by Jim Crow had a deeper function, which was to disrupt, prevent, and destroy black ownership and black accumulation. This is one reason why interracial marriage was outlawed — to prevent black inheritance of white capital — and this is why Obama’s presidency provoked such disproportionate hatred.

Because whatever little bedtime stories we like to tell ourselves on the left, everyone from outside the city knows for certain that the President is owner-in-chief. And if white Americans could maybe reconcile themselves to a certain, somewhat idealistic or immaterial equality with their fellow black American citizens, they couldn’t with the idea of being owned by them.

And so once the criminal traitor Mitch McConnell made it clear that the new black owner would be entirely disallowed from helping those Mitch had made his career immiserating — google “American Jobs Act” sometime and imagine a world in which it passed — then there was no reason for everyday Americans to resist the onrushing reaction from the old ruling class. Not that they voted for Trump mind you — “the poor voted for Trump!”-lie is still a lie — they just didn’t turn out for Clinton as much as they might have if the stakes had been made clear in advance.

I worry something similar is happening with the NFL. On the one hand, it is corrupt, reactionary, dangerous, and stupid. On the other, it is less white than it has ever been, and it is uncomfortable to admit that this blackening of the sport has coincided with good liberals abandoning it for “other reasons.”

This isn’t to say football shouldn’t switch to flags. (Which in fact could be great, if done right: picture the glorious leaping grabs after a runner’s flag and the new moves they’d develop to compensate.) I am saying I am finding it harder and harder to participate in the moral outrage machine that just happens to coincide with a league that suddenly has a bunch of exciting new quarterbacks of color, one of whom just led one of the greatest non-violent protests in a generation and paid for it with his job.

If living well is the best revenge, then I want a majority-black NFL and I want it to be more profitable, more powerful, and safer than ever. After Trump’s deranged demand that ownership purge NFL athletes who fail a loyalty test, it felt a little miraculous when, by a quirk of a game being played in London, Sunday morning dawned on the vision of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens arm in arm during the National Anthem. Standing with them was Shahid Khan, the league’s first non-white owner. I’d prefer no owners at all, but for now, it was a vision worth kneeling for.

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September 25, 2017

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  • Ric Hinds  On 10/01/2017 at 1:58 pm

    Couldn’t have said it any better. Love your ‘take on Shakespeare’s Shylock:used it once as an anology for my ‘perceived’ opinions on American culture and instantaneously lost their attention.
    Plan to take a look at the “jobs acts” only to reinforce/confirm my opinions about Mitch McConnell.
    GUYANESE “Indians”, who have turned to the Republican Party in droves following Obama’s ELECTION win, need to be reminded of the “MACACA” reference by senator Allen and know where they stand in this colour/race conscious society. The ‘anything but black’ race does not identify as or with “white”.
    There is a lesson to be learned, by Guyanese of all delineation, from the current American experience and the path this country – and indeed the world- is regressing on.

  • Bernard N. Singh  On 10/01/2017 at 3:11 pm


  • guyaneseonline  On 10/01/2017 at 3:52 pm

    Taking a knee, standing for justice
    Principled stands taken at great risk are often how movements are born.

    By Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan – September 29, 2017 | Op-Ed

    A year ago last August, a courageous athlete named Colin Kaepernick took a stand – by refusing to stand. The San Francisco 49ers star quarterback sat through the national anthem before an NFL game. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he told NFL.com. “This is bigger than football. … There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder,” he added, referring to the growing number of African-American men gunned down by police with impunity. Much like Rosa Parks, Colin Kaepernick sat down and refused to get up. And like Rosa Parks on that Montgomery bus more than 60 years ago, Colin Kaepernick has sparked a movement.

    “What Colin did was not an attack on the anthem. It was not an attack on the military. It was not even an attack on police. It was an attack on injustice,” Dr. Harry Edwards said on the “Democracy Now!” news hour. Edwards wrote the seminal book “The Revolt of the Black Athlete,” just reissued on the 50th anniversary of its publication. His academic career as a UC Berkeley sociologist focused on the experience of African-American athletes. He is a respected civil-rights activist and adviser to the San Francisco 49ers, where he advised Colin Kaepernick.

    Last spring, Kaepernick voluntarily left the 49ers. He has not yet been signed by another team. Many feel he has been blacklisted – or should we say, “whitelisted” – as punishment for his protest, which lasted throughout the 2016-2017 football season.

    Despite Kaepernick’s absence, scores of players from across the country have “taken a knee” during the anthem. The growing protest movement on the field, in solidarity with people of color and social-justice movements like Black Lives Matter, against police brutality and the police killing of young, unarmed African-American men was too much for President Donald Trump to take. At a rally in Hunstville, Alabama on Friday, Sept. 22, Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’” He got the desired response, cheers of “USA! USA!” from his base.

    NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement, “Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect … and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.” The NFL has 32 teams; of the 30 that played over the weekend following Trump’s comments, all engaged in some form of protest in solidarity with the players who have chosen to sit or kneel during the anthem. Some raised a fist in the Black Power salute; others simply sat on the bench. Some white players (who comprise 27 percent of NFL players, compared with 70 percent African-Americans) placed a hand on the shoulder of a protesting teammate. Many stood in a line, arms locked together. Some teams stayed in the locker room. Almost every team owner or CEO (many of whom supported Trump when he was campaigning) issued a statement in support of their players’ right to protest. They blasted Trump’s words as divisive, contentious, misguided, uninformed, disappointing, inappropriate and offensive.
    Kaepernick launched and funds a free program for youth called Know Your Rights Camp promoting “higher education, self-empowerment, and instruction to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios.” He has donated over $1 million to nonprofit groups around the country that work in oppressed communities.

    “It’s not accidental that Colin Kaepernick moved from protest to programs in pursuit of progress,” Harry Edwards said. “He’s one of the brightest, most articulate and committed people that I have ever come across. I knew Muhammad Ali. I worked with [John] Carlos and [Tommie] Smith [the two U.S. Olympic medalists who raised their fists in the Black Power salute while on the podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics]. Bill Russell, Jim Brown, some of these people from the 1960s, Arthur Ashe – I put him in that class … I personally am pushing him for a Nobel Peace Prize.”

    When asked a year ago what his plans were with the protest action he had taken, Kaepernick said: “I’ll continue to sit. I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed … when there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

    Principled stands taken at great risk are often how movements are born. As more people “take a knee,” let’s remember the original inspiration for this quiet act of defiance: the hundreds of unarmed people of color killed by police every year, and the need to build a movement to stop it.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 10/02/2017 at 1:23 am

    I copied the following paragraph out of Squibb’s essay:

    “Because whatever little bedtime stories we like to tell ourselves on the left, everyone from outside the city knows for certain that the President is owner-in-chief. And if white Americans could maybe reconcile themselves to a certain, somewhat idealistic or immaterial equality with their fellow black American citizens, they couldn’t with the idea of being owned by them.”

    You mean Trump and his supporters are that bitter because they could NOT reconcile themselves with being “owned” by a black Owner-in-Chief for a measly eight years??

    – An honourable and decent black Owner-in-Chief, at that??

    So, what we are experiencing is just another white tantrum – that’s all ??!?!

  • Clyde Duncan  On 10/02/2017 at 8:13 am

    SEPTEMBER 30, 2017

    Sixty years before Colin Kaepernick took a knee, nine black teenagers in Little Rock, Arkansas, took a stand.

    The pictures have since become iconic: Elizabeth Eckford stoically walking as a white mob jeers and shouts at her; Terrence Roberts and Carlotta Walls LaNier clutching textbooks under the cover of armed soldiers; Minnijean Brown arriving at Little Rock Central High School, escorted by the 101st Division of the Airborne Command.

    The Southern Poverty Law Center attended a ceremony at the high school to commemorate the 60th anniversary of its integration by the Little Rock Nine.

    I feel like I’m visiting a religious shrine, said Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., speaking in the school’s auditorium Monday. And if this is a shrine, ladies and gentlemen, these are the saints.

    The surviving members of the Little Rock Nine addressed the high school’s current students. By Sept. 25, 1957, they had withstood the mobs, a hostile governor and the Arkansas National Guard in one of the most iconic moments of the civil rights movement.

    The integration of Central High was so early in the civil rights movement, it was before many of the counter sit-ins. It was before the [Freedom] bus rides, said Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. That fact gives us all an even greater appreciation for the lonely steps of the Little Rock Nine.

    But members of the Little Rock Nine say they see activists today taking steps just as lonely.

    Emmett Till turns to Heather Heyer in Charlottesville protesting Nazis, said Ernest Green, one of the Little Rock Nine. Muhammad Ali turns to Colin Kaepernick taking a knee for injustice. And the Little Rock Nine turns to the Charleston Nine, who gave the ultimate sacrifice for peaceably assembling in a church.

    Almost every member of the Little Rock Nine was quick to warn those in attendance at the ceremony that the march for justice is far from over.

    Today we have [president] number 45, who behind the scenes and through his Twitter account, we become as we were 60 years ago anxious and worried and concerned about what lies ahead, said LaNier.

    Nor was she the only dignitary to reference President Trump. Former President Bill Clinton, an Arkansas native, acknowledged the disparity between the ceremony in Little Rock and Trump’s rally in Alabama, a rally where Trump referred to a hypothetical football player kneeling during the national anthem as a son of a bitch.

    I heard that rally down in Alabama, I thought, Oh my God, I gotta come look at the Little Rock Nine, Clinton said. They’re down there talking in ways you haven’t heard since George Corley Wallace, the governor of Alabama, and again they’ve forgotten the history.

    Trump’s comments exposed a selective patriotism, one that allows him to vilify black athletes who have the temerity to protest, but see very fine people among the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville.

    We don’t want to go back there. We don t want to give in to hate, Clinton said. Are we really going to let the 200 years of our struggle to get over the idea that our differences are more important than our common humanity just be blown away?

    Clearly, 60 years after the Little Rock Nine overcame massive resistance to integrate an Arkansas high school, the country is reeling from the bigotry and hatred once again given a voice by President Trump.

    Today, as in the 1960s, it is easy for some Americans to see any disruption of the status quo as going too far.

    Peaceful protestors have long been asked to silence their concerns and patiently wait for justice, but it has been through bravely pushing forward with such protest that justice has been won.

    As LaNier reminded those in attendance – In the words of the old Negro spiritual, We have come too far to turn back now.

    As always, thank you for your support,

    The Editors
    Copyright 2017

    Southern Poverty Law Center
    400 Washington Avenue
    Montgomery, AL 36104
    334.956.8200 // splcenter.org

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