Racist Blowback Against Colin Kaepernick Isn’t Just About Him: It’s Aimed at Black Resistance Itself

We refuse to apologize for fighting for our freedom.

Keedra Gibba

By seeking to take on all of the threats to Black lives and not just those that are most immediate and violent, the Movement For Black Lives (M4BL) is creating a banner behind which the Black working class can march and fight. (niXerKG/ Flickr)

Right-wing media out­lets are attack­ing Col­in Kaeper­nick for donat­ing to an orga­ni­za­tion I vol­un­teer with, Assata’s Daugh­ters, which is ded­i­cat­ed to rais­ing youth to love and sup­port Black peo­ple. This press onslaught, inflamed by Bre­it­bart, stems from the age-old attack on every­thing Black. That attack is now esca­lat­ing, because we are deter­mined to fight for our free­dom. The fact that these so-called alt-right” groups are threat­ened by the strug­gle for Black self-deter­mi­na­tion shows the real pow­er we have and our audac­i­ty in exer­cis­ing it.

Why should a Black person be expected to side with a U.S. government that legally rendered their ancestors property and celebrated their deaths as they struggled to free themselves?

As Jami­lah King wrote in Moth­er Jones, Kaeper­nick donat­ed $25,000 to Black women, and con­ser­v­a­tives have lost their minds.” 

Assata’s Daugh­ters is com­mit­ted to sus­tain­ing and deep­en­ing the move­ment for Black Lives. We chant the words of Assa­ta Shakur — a free­dom fight­er, poet, moth­er and Black rev­o­lu­tion­ary — every Wednes­day after school with beau­ti­ful Black girls as young as six on Chicago’s South Side:

It is our duty to fight for our freedom.

It is our duty to win.

We must love each oth­er and sup­port each other.

We have noth­ing to lose but our chains.

This lat­est attack is not just about the cur­rent back­lash expe­ri­enced by Col­in Kaeper­nick, Assa­ta Shakur or Assata’s Daugh­ters: It is about all of us. This coun­try is found­ed on and has prof­it­ed from Black­ness being owned and con­trolled. Our bod­ies have toiled in fields and fac­to­ries and filled pris­ons with cheap or free labor to cre­ate prod­ucts for Victoria’s Secret, McDonald’s, Whole Foods and oth­ers. Crim­i­nal­iz­ing Black peo­ple has been — and con­tin­ues to be — a key func­tion of the U.S. police force and legal sys­tem. Assa­ta Shakur has been crim­i­nal­ized by the same fed­er­al gov­ern­ment that pro­vid­ed free prison labor to BP to clean up the 4.2 mil­lion bar­rels of oil spilled in the Gulf.

The ques­tion of whether to trust such a sys­tem is life or death for us, espe­cial­ly as our peo­ple are mis­la­beled as cop killers” and dragged in the press.

The back­lash and war on Black peo­ple we are see­ing today has come in sev­er­al forms through­out time. We are out­cast, fired, smeared, arrest­ed, impris­oned, bru­tal­ized and killed for sim­ply walk­ing down the street in our neighborhoods.

We remem­ber Rekia Boyd, a Black woman shot in the back of the head in Chica­go by an off-duty police offi­cer while she was walk­ing with a com­pan­ion and hold­ing a cell phone. Since the cop who mur­dered her assumed that Black peo­ple are crim­i­nals, it did not occur to him that the vic­tim he pic­tured point­ing a gun at him could have instead been mak­ing a phone call. And again, we wit­nessed the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of Black death and state mur­der, when the police offi­cer got away with it.

We remem­ber the case of anoth­er Chicagoan, Laquan McDon­ald, who was shot 16 times by a Chica­go cop. Police were charged with numer­ous counts of con­spir­a­cy for tam­per­ing with the evi­dence, writ­ing false reports and lying to cov­er up the mur­der. This so-called code of silence” has been chal­lenged for years by Black peo­ple who didn’t need web­cams and a near­ly-two-year inves­ti­ga­tion to con­firm what end­ed up being true again: The offi­cer cre­at­ed a false nar­ra­tive of a vio­lent, knife-wield­ing, Black, dan­ger­ous, teenaged McDonald.

Assata’s Daugh­ters was part of the strug­gle to win jus­tice for Laquan McDon­ald while suc­cess­ful­ly push­ing for the oust­ing of for­mer Cook Coun­ty State’s Attor­ney Ani­ta Alvarez, who was instru­men­tal to the cover-up. 

Our present-day abo­li­tion­ist strug­gle con­tin­ues to oppose the police and a wide­spread form of cap­tiv­i­ty — incar­cer­a­tion. After all, if we stud­ied the his­to­ry of polic­ing as well in the Unit­ed States, we would even­tu­al­ly learn that the police were orig­i­nal­ly white vig­i­lante groups that evolved into Indi­an Patrols” and fugi­tive slave catch­ers — all nec­es­sary to con­trol and prof­it off of the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of Black and Brown cap­tives of the past, as well as the present.

While Black peo­ple com­prise just 13 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion, we com­prise 40 per­cent of the incar­cer­at­ed pop­u­la­tion. We are entan­gled and bru­tal­ized in a legal sys­tem more like­ly to wrong­ful­ly con­vict and imprison us than any oth­er group. This is the same sys­tem that crim­i­nal­ized Assa­ta Shakur, Har­ri­et Tub­man and Rosa Parks. 

My 11-year-old niece does not learn in her class­room the lessons she learns in the after-school pro­gram pro­vid­ed by Assata’s Daugh­ters. This orga­ni­za­tion shows her what it feels like when a com­mu­ni­ty of Black peo­ple vows to fight for free­dom in the tra­di­tion of Assa­ta Shakur, Har­ri­et Tub­man, Har­ri­et Jacobs, Queen Nan­ny, Nana Yaa Asan­te­waa and many oth­ers who have taught us how to win.

It is no sur­prise that Black resis­tance to white suprema­cy will be, and always has been, con­sid­ered inap­pro­pri­ate” in this coun­try. This is just one of many attacks Kaeper­nick has endured, includ­ing the blow­back to his deci­sion to reject anti-Black­ness by sym­bol­i­cal­ly tak­ing a knee dur­ing the Unit­ed States Nation­al Anthem. The alt-right” does not think it is his right, or the right of any Black per­son, to be ungrate­ful” to a coun­try that has made great strides. But they fail to real­ize it was our Black free­dom fight­ers, in sol­i­dar­i­ty with oth­ers, who fought for and won such strides.

The sto­ry of Black resis­tance is tucked away, like the hard­ly-ever-sung, racist third verse of the Nation­al Anthem, which cel­e­brates the deaths of Black peo­ple, the Colo­nial Marines, who were auda­cious enough to fight against their own enslave­ment on the side of the British in an 1814 attack on the White House. (To be clear, the British also engaged in slav­ery at this time.)

Why should a Black per­son be expect­ed to side with a U.S. gov­ern­ment that legal­ly ren­dered their ances­tors prop­er­ty and cel­e­brat­ed their deaths as they strug­gled to free themselves?

As this lat­est racist onslaught against us shows, Black peo­ple do not have the right to lib­er­ty and resis­tance in 2017 either. Ath­letes like Kaeper­nick are expect­ed to sus­pend their First Amend­ment rights, be grate­ful and pre­tend that verse doesn’t explic­it­ly shame his ances­tors for resist­ing their own enslave­ment. We all are expect­ed to stand and sing the Anthem with pride as if our babies don’t know that third verse.

And this is exact­ly why we have the audac­i­ty to resist and the audac­i­ty to name our own heroes.

Kee­dra Gib­ba is a queer Black edu­ca­tor and orga­niz­er liv­ing in Chicago.
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