Plenty of people are still mad at Colin Kaepernick and as I wrote before, they are quite hypocritical. More importantly, the entire ordeal has shed light on this ugly truth: racism doesn’t really bother the majority of Americans. In theory we all denounce the idea of “racism” but when confronted with it directly, it’s not a big deal. In 2013 NFL wideout Riley Cooper was caught on video using the “N-word” specifically to threaten violence against black people. Most of the country was embarrassed but not terribly offended. In fact, many hoped that Michael Vick and other black teammates would openly embrace Cooper, which Vick did. But Kaepernick has been vilified for simply highlighting racial disparities; fans have even burned his jersey. Racism clearly does not bother most Americans. Challenging the nation on its racism bothers America to no end.
No one in America wants to be labeled a racist. That is a bad thing. But to actually be racist or indifferent to racism doesn’t disturb the conscience of most Americans. This is why the Governor of Maine routinely spews racist rhetoric but when he thought someone actually called him a racist this past week, he was angry enough to openly talk of shooting the man. This is why no one batted an eye when Wells Fargo was caught redhanded discriminating against borrowers of color in 2012. However, if someone were to call any of their loan officers a racist, they would flip out. The actual racism does not bother anyone so much as being called out for it and that is what hampers our progress as a nation.
Kaepernick’s critics aren’t bothered so much by the conditions he is actually protesting. The San Francisco Police Union called for the NFL and the 49ers to denounce Kaepernick’s words but I can’t recall any police union condemning Riley Cooper and the violence he was advocating at the time. No one is volunteering to burn cop uniforms when unarmed black people are routinely killed by police in America, either. It is Kaepernick’s audacity to call us out as a nation that bothers us, not the actual racism. This has always been the American way.
Whether the issue was chattel slavery, segregation or the predictable inequalities of race, as a nation we have done all of it with little anguish. It is only when confronted that we have a problem. Kaepernick is simply the latest to learn this lesson. Perhaps he saw the treatment of Riley Cooper and thought that his own action, benign in comparison, would not cause such a stir. Kaepernick may not have been aware of how the Voting Rights Act got passed in 1965. Endless peaceful protests did not move Congress or the nation. It was only after the entire world saw the bloody attacks on peaceful protestors–including white allies– in Selma that the nation was shamed into action. We were not bothered by the racism but rather, being called out by the rest of the world as they watched the footage on television. In the same way, cell phone and police videos today are slowly changing the narrative on police violence.
Kaepernick just called our bluff as a nation. We’ve seen explicit racism from NFL players and have not responded with nearly the passion we do now for Kaepernick’s protest. As a nation we have repeatedly chosen to practice personal and systemic racism with little remorse, reserving passion only for when we are confronted about it. It is not the racism that bothers us at all–it’s simply being called out for it that makes us wildly upset. Kaepernick just proved it.