When the Ravens announced that they are considering signing Colin Kaepernick to the team, the floodgates opened in Baltimore. It is not simply a matter of football. It is loaded, political, and rife with meaning. It is news underlying actions wielding the jagged edge of a knife, it is coming down on one side or the other, it is fierce, defiant, divisive and ugly – though for many it holds the possibility of healing, reconciliation, and a ray of hope. It is a symbol and symptom of life in Donald Trump’s America.
Baltimore should stand up.
Stand up for the brutal fact that our America is so flawed, so haunting and unjust for some, that a beautiful young African-American man who has risen to the dizzying heights of the “American Dream” in terms of fame and fortune feels the burning weight of those injustices and flaws, and can’t stand by and do nothing. Stand up because this young man understands that the power of celebrity in our society assures that his actions will carry weight in ways that those of others, perhaps more deserving, will not. Stand up because he cares enough to take a knee when the national anthem is played on Sunday football in America. He does it silently and respectfully. He takes a knee in protest of continued police brutality against African-Americans and other minorities, and he pays the price. Living in Trump’s America, we need to stand up for him.
To paraphrase former leaders who actually understood the breadth and responsibility of the majestic office of president: if not now, when? If not us, who? The moment is now – our moment to be that shining city on the hill. How fitting that the opportunity has fallen to us, a city which needs hope and healing and a sign that although we are broken and bleeding, we are not yet beaten.
A chance to say that, yes, America our home but it is deeply unjust and inherently flawed. Not so flawed that it cannot be fixed, but flawed enough that it is going to be uncomfortable and difficult and stressful for all of us to amend those flaws. Not beyond hope, but broken enough that if we do not publicly verbalize the injustices, if we do not take a knee, if we do not drag them out into the light of day in order to be able to actually take the steps to fix them – then, just possibly, we are all in mortal danger.
Perhaps no other city is such a symbol of these inherently American flaws as Baltimore – as we stand still bleeding and bent under the accumulated weight of over 200 years of the thousands upon thousands of conscious actions of mostly white, wealthy men in power bent on power and subjugation. Men who started with the conscious criminalization and eradication of a race of native Americans and then moved on to the conscious enslavement and then segregation of a race of African-Americans and also the conscious financial dominance over millions of their own race and the conscious devaluation and subjugation of women – all accompanied by the requisite unspeakable and inhumane justifications of these actions which reverberate in every facet of our lives today.
So Baltimore, the city that began redlining itself over a hundred years ago when a black man had the audacity to buy a house on a white street and thus assign generations to segregated and hopeless neighborhoods and lives, we need to sign Colin Kaepernick. Stand up and say that is not okay to bystand for a close-minded billionaire white man and his administration packed with those who have made careers enacting racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic policies. We cannot let them take us back to a time when African-Americans, women, LGBT people, Hispanic. Muslim, immigrants, the disabled, the poor and uneducated were “in their place” – not seen and not heard and definitely not having a seat anywhere near the table.
It is not okay for a city in which Freddie Gray died from his ride in that police van to hear a president encourage police officers to give rough rides. It is not okay for gay people to not have the same rights and protections as our fellow citizens. It is not okay to ban transgender people from any department in this country. It is not okay for a president not to speak out and verbalize the nation’s pain and trauma and incomprehension when two men die on a Seattle train trying to defend two young women from an anti-Muslim tirade. It is not okay for this Justice Department to implement a return to the brand of policing which will lead to increased mass incarceration of black and brown men and women. It is not okay for an administration to spend its resources suing universities on behalf of supposed victims of anti-white discrimination. It is not okay for the White House to release a picture of the president surrounded by hundreds of White House interns and not see one young black, brown or openly gay face in the picture. It is not okay for a president to encourage millions of people to be blind to the humanity of those different from themselves.
Colin Kaepernick is a young man challenging his country to be its better self. It is okay for him to do so and to so challenge us all. Perhaps it is our only chance. Let’s take him in with both arms in our most loving and humble embrace. He’s our brother