by S.A. Prince
Art by Clay Jones
Colin Kaepernick. A year later, and he is still making headlines. That should tell you how encompassing the issue of race is. I don’t hear anybody talking about Ray Rice or Greg Hardy anymore. Do you?
Before we get into Kaepernick, let’s discuss words and symbols, and how those who control them condition us over time. Without an understanding of this, it’s difficult to get a grasp on the Kaepernick narrative.
When somebody wears the color “pink” what do you think? When you see a “rainbow” what does it mean to you? If you see somebody wearing a “swastika” what does that say about them?
Generally speaking, an American would think the color “pink” represents breast cancer awareness, but before that movement, we associated pink with women’s attire and Pepto Bismol. A “rainbow” represents the LGBT community. Before them, it was a beloved symbol of hippies. Let’s not forget the rainbow tie-dye era. And, before that, it was a Christian symbol. When we see a “swastika” being worn by somebody, we associate that person with Hitler’s Nazi regime. The symbol has become one of hate and death. But, before the Nazi’s, the swastika was (and still is) a Jain (religion) symbol. It represented the four stages of human existence. Jainism is arguably the most peaceful religion in the world.
Do you see how our minds are shaped by symbols that we have very little control over?
It is the same with the American flag. For some foreigners, the American flag means senseless death and destruction. For others, it is a symbol of self-indulgence and arrogance. For many Americans, it is a symbol of freedom.
For Blacks, the American flag (and the police shield) is a symbol of deep seeded pain and rejection. Blacks are aloof from the feeling of freedom that the flag holds for most Americans.
That Blacks and many Americans see the flag differently should tell you “right off the bat” that they won’t see Colin Kaepernick’s protest in the same light. Understand, if two groups have a different definition for a symbol or a word, then they cannot have a conversation about it until they reach a common ground definition.
Kaepernick and an increasing number of Americans are an anomaly, and what we are seeing from Kaepernick is an intrinsic race battle play out in the public arena.
Even though Kaepernick’s mother is White, he is considered Black because of his dark skin. This is called the One Drop Rule. Because Kapernick is Black, even though he is a fair-skinned Black man, he’s treated as though he is 100% Black by people outside of his family. Nobody sees him as White.
Now, Kaepernick was not raised by his biological mother (who is White) and father. He was raised by a White family. Kaepernick’s behavior tells me, while growing up, he was not connected to the Black experience and culture. He did not grow up as a Black in America. But, when he left home he was forced to live as a Black man in America. This is when Kaepernick began to make a connection to his blackness.
White people can’t see it. That’s why his family doesn’t understand it. But, he’s doing things that Black men did in their teens. There’s a point of separation that most Black reach in their teens. That’s where they decide to be either militant or corporate. Blacks that enter corporate America typically don’t have afros or rock Afrocentric t-shirts. That’s because Afrocentric attire and Black culture are threatening in that kind of atmosphere. To earn a good wage, many Blacks trade in Black expression for corporate political correctness.
Colin Kaepernick is about a decade behind most Black men. He is coming of age as a Black man where he’s deciding who he wants to be. He represents a growing segment of our society. That segment? Black children being raised by Non-Black families.
The number of single Non-Black women raising Black babies is increasing. Everywhere I go, I see a little Black baby holding onto their Non-Black mother’s hand. There’s nothing wrong with that. It means the world is coming together. That being said, we cannot be naïve.
Let’s go back to the America flag. It is a symbol that means something different to a Blacks and Non-Blacks. Why is that? Why are many Non-Blacks mad that Kaepernick kneeled, and why are Blacks applauding him? We have to ask ourselves these questions before passing judgement on Kaepernick or each other.
The answer is because Blacks and Non-Blacks have a different experience. America treats them differently.
Therefore, a Non-Black mother, although she may have grown up around Black people, can empathize with the Black experience, but will find it difficult to help her Black child understand the world that they are about to walk into. I’m not saying that a Non-Black mother cannot raise her child, because she can, and many of my friends who are single Non-Black mothers do a great job. But, if you decide to be with a Black man, your child will likely have dark skin, and they will have a different American experience.
Non-Black mothers and families that have Black babies have to be sensitive to the Black American experience and reality. They have to seek to understand why some American symbols, like the flag and the police shield, have a different meaning for different groups of people. Black American history has to be taught in the household, because they aren’t going to get it elsewhere. A Non-Black mother has to prepare her Black child for the world that they are going to walk into.
Kaepernick’s family, although well intentioned and seemingly wonderful people, did not prepare him to walk into the world as a Black man.
It isn’t that they couldn’t prepare him. They just didn’t see the value in doing so, and why would they? They didn’t grow up Black, so how could they understand the “Black struggle?” Because of this, Kaepernick missed out on so many important conversations that Black children have with either their Black parents and within the Black community.
Kaepernick’s protest is an expression of something that he’s just beginning to understand. Growing up, why would anyone in his family teach him how to navigate the world as a Black man? No, he only knew how to navigate the world as a White man. Problem is, Kaep isn’t White.
Corporate American (or in Kaepernick’s situation, the NFL) is only concerned with their bottom line. The Court of Public Opinion has a substantial impact on that bottom line, and it cares very little about Black America’s problems, especially when compared to the symbolism of the American flag and the National Anthem. Corporate America will almost always side with the Court of Public Opinion. Had they acknowledged any legitimacy in Kaepernick’s protest, the backlash would have been deafening. Kaepernick just didn’t understand the rules to the game. Maybe now he does.
Speaking of conversations, and of being prepared to walk into the world as a Black person. The issue is not just with Non-Black parents of Black children, but with Black parents too! Many Black parents are also not teaching their children about the world they are going to walk into. And so, you have mixed-Black children and Black children getting completely blindsided when they go to college and eventually into the workforce. #TheStruggle
What should we be teaching our Black children?
About history, sociology and psychology, in general and how they relate to the Black American experience. Go through everything from Plato, to Ayn Rand, and to Jiddu Krishnamurti. Teach them how the world sees them, but that the only way through the pain of rejection is by loving those who reject you. Teach them to understand that those who dislike them because of their skin color are in pain themselves. Teach them to maintain their individuality. Teach them to embrace their Black and Non-Blackness, but know that in order to do this, they must fully knowledgeable of their Black and Non-Black history. Immerse yourself and them into both cultures.
The list goes on, but this is a good starting place.