Colin Kaepernick: Patriot or Pariah? Kent’s Perspective

Colin Kaepernick a QB for the San Franciso 49ers has refused to stand for the national anthem. His choice to sit has created a backlash. He’s put at risk his livelihood for the sake of conscience. As a black man he’s voiced his own experience of discrimination and stands in the current justice stream that is Black Lives Matter.

“There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust [that] people aren’t being held accountable for. And that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that this country stands for — freedom, liberty, justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.”

A friend of mine who is white, on Facebook recently voiced his support for Kaepernick. The push back from his ‘friends’ was strong with expletives flying stating that such an act is unpatriotic at best and traitorous at worst.

This tells me that many of us in the white community don’t have a clue of what it is like to be a person of color in the United States. Nor do we have a fully formed understanding of patriotism.

The election of Obama to the presidency created an illusion that we had put our racist history behind us. The reality is that we live in a nation with a profound bias against people of color. Have we made progress since the days of legal segregation? Yes. Do we have a ways to go? Yes.

It’s a fact that the prison population has grown by 500% since the 1970’s coinciding with the ‘war on drugs’. It is not a coincidence that the majority of people incarcerated are people of color arrested for non-violent drug related offenses. That close to 80% of those in prison will cycle back into the prison system upon their release speaks of a broken system that focuses on punishment and not rehabilitation. The result is broken lives, broken families and broken communities.

This is the reality for many of our sisters and brothers of color. The Black Lives Matter movement says ‘no more!’ Colin Kaepernick has risked his career and financial future to make a symbolic stand by paradoxically choosing to remain seated while our nations anthem is played.

He is called many names, including traitor. What do you call him?

I call him a principled man of conscience.

I don’t know whether Mr. Kaepernick has a faith life but he stands in the tradition of prophets who have lifted up the mirror and reflected back the inconsistincies around them. Prophets are truth tellers and unwelcome. Jesus spoke a prophetic word to his hometown and his neighbors tried to throw him off a cliff. Rosa Park refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus and was tossed in jail.

Each unleashed a movement.

When Muhammad Ali refused to serve in the military and denounced the Vietnam war he too was called a traitor. So too with African Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos when they raised their fists during the medal ceremony in the 1968 Olympics as a protest to the treatment of people of color in the United States.

photo Black Power 2

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the legendary NBA player waded into these controversial waters with an Op-Ed in the Washington Post entitled: ‘Insulting Colin Kaepernick says more about our patriotism than his’

The discussion of the nuances of patriotism is especially important right now, with Trump and Clinton supporters each righteously claiming ownership of the “most patriotic” label. Patriotism isn’t just getting teary-eyed on the Fourth of July or choked up at war memorials. It’s supporting what the Fourth of July celebrates and what those war memorials commemorate: the U.S. Constitution’s insistence that all people should have the same rights and opportunities and that it is the obligation of the government to make that happen. When the government fails in those obligations, it is the responsibility of patriots to speak up and remind them of their duty

People of good will can have different points of view on proper ways to make one’s point. I believe however that Mr. Kaepernick’s symbolic act takes courage and once again sheds light on America’s great sin of racism. That such injustice continues should outrage us all.

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About Kent Harrop

I am bi-coastal...I was raised in New England (Rhode Island) and for twenty years 1994 - 2014 served as pastor of First Baptist Church McMinnville, Oregon. In May 2014 I moved with my wife Tricia back to New England and serve on a team of ministers at the First Baptist Church in Beverly, Massachusetts. I love the beauty and geographic breadth of Oregon and the north shore of Massachusetts. A growing edge for me is the integration of the contemplative and prophetic life. Tricia and I enjoy gardening, camping and kayaking on rivers and ocean. We have two grown daughters who are strong, smart and adventurous. The purpose of the blog is to explore the relationship between faith and the wider culture. The views expressed here are my own.
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