When I was fighting for civil rights, the backlash was intense. Black protest always upsets majority opinion
The backlash against Colin Kaepernick and all of his colleagues who are refusing to stand for the national anthem is growing. His protest against racism and police brutality is being widely panned as unpatriotic, and some have gone as far as to call him a traitor. I would say the backlash is puzzling, except its not. I have long recognized that this is a common response to black protest one I witnessed as far back as the civil rights movement.
Within the context of sports protest, the raised black-gloved fists of protest by John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Mexico Olympics comes immediately to mind. Less noticed than their dramatically raised fists was the fact that both athletes wore black socks and no shoes when they accepted their medals. This was to represent the poverty of African Americans in the United States. They suffered insult and abuse when they returned home. Time magazine wrote: Faster, Higher, Stronger is the motto of the Olympic Games. Angrier, nastier, uglier better describes the scene in Mexico City last week.
Most Americans opposed the sit-ins when they erupted in 1960; and opposed the Freedom Rides when they took place in 1961. Young black people were pushing too hard, demanding too much too soon was the typical charge. The country was changing; give it time. Most black people it should be said here were not engaged in sit-ins or Freedom Rides for there was risk, sometimes great risk, involved in public protest. But it also must be said that the country changed because of aggressive pushing against segregation and white supremacy and the silence that supported it.
Protest will always make someone uncomfortable, or governments uncomfortable. It is, however, the American way a liberty for which blood has been shed at home and overseas. The civil rights movement of the 1960s, for example, was not only a struggle for civil rights, but for civil liberties the right to speak and to engage in public protest.
And yet, to this day, some forms of protest are more criticized than others. I cannot help but notice that the public rage being directed at Kaepernick and those emulating him is disproportionate. Compare Kaepernicks crime with that of the Bundy brothers and their group, which orchestrated an armed takeover of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon. While Kaepernick has been called unpatriotic, the Bundy brothers and the rest of the so-called Citizens for Constitutional Freedom were never labeled that way.
Those behind the takeover of the wildlife refuge felt that they were acting to assert an American way of life they felt was under assault. Yet Kaepernick and his colleagues feel that their lives are under assault too, that they do not matter, to borrow from a slogan currently rising in prominence politically. As these football field protests have grown from a single act to actions by a growing number, so too has the backlash.
And, while I draw the line at violent protest such as the armed Malheur national wildlife refuge protest or Ku Klux Klan terrorism which plagued the country for a century after the civil war, I do not make a distinction between good protest and bad protest.
There are protests that reflect what I agree with or what I believe in and those that do not. But that issue is not fundamental to their legitimacy. The protesting athletes are simply trying to push the country to live up to its professed ideals. To accuse them of being unpatriotic now that is what seems un-American to me.