Colin Kaepernick, Nike, the NFL, and the LA Riots
It feels fitting to talk about the LA riots on the Kickoff of the NFL season, and fresh off the heels of Nike naming Colin Kaepernick — a former quarterback who was blackballed for his peaceful protest of racial inequality and police brutality — the face of their new campaign. So many things weaving together.
The reason for bringing up the LA riots today — besides the juxtaposition of violent protesting to peaceful ones, all for the same cause — is because I just recently watched a documentary called Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982 - 1992. It’s on Netflix, it’s two and a half hours long, and worth every minute.
As indicated in the title, the documentary doesn’t chronicle the explosive event as simply a result of the Rodney King beating and subsequent acquittal of the four police officers involved, it goes deeper to explore tensions that had been boiling beneath the surface for far too long. The unjust killing of James Mincey Jr. in 1982, which bears eerily striking resemblances to the murders of Eric Garner and Freddie Gray. The police-raid-turned-domestic-terrorism at 39th & Dalton in 1988, where officers looking for drugs proceeded to comprehensively devastate, destroy, and demolish an entire home beyond recognition and necessity. The rash and senseless murder of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins in 1991 by a Korean shop owner who went on to serve *no* jail time for again — MURDER. And these accounts are just from the decade leading up to the Rodney King incident, not even beginning to mention the centuries-long historical record of violence committed against black bodies, criminals walking free, acquitted by all-white juries because you know, if it’s against a black body it’s not really a crime. At some point, as we’ve seen throughout history, as we saw in LA and then again decades later in Baltimore, enough becomes enough.
I cried after watching this documentary so warning, if you’re not prepared to have your heart broken, you may want to wait this one out. Though I would also argue the breaking of your heart is necessary for change here so ignore that last statement and go watch it. I cried because it would be one thing if this were a thing of the past. An ugly chapter in American history that we could look back on and go “Damn, wasn’t it crazy when that happened?? GLAD THAT’S OVER.” But instead it's persisted. Which brings us to Colin, Nike, and the NFL.
Colin knelt, thousands still kneel, I kneel or keep my ass in my seat, precisely because the tensions that caused the LA riots have not been relieved. Black people are still being murdered by the police largely without recourse, black men are still incarcerated at an astronomical rate, and black men and women still suffer under the legacy of slavery from sea to shining sea.
One of the great tragedies of the LA riots is that we lost sight of each other. I mean racism made white people lose sight of the humanity of black people a longggggg time ago, but what I saw in the riots was that it was a time when black people lost sight of the humanity of... well, everyone who wasn’t black. Every non-black person was fair game for violence. As one female police officer said in the documentary “If you weren’t black, you were getting your ass kicked.” Which let me be clear: I UNDERSTAND. After living in a country that has financially, legally, often physically, kicked your and your family’s ass FOR GENERATIONS? Yeah there’s going to be a response and it's not going to be measured and it's not going to be kind.
And yet, Colin Kaepernick circumvented that. He didn’t burn the flag, he didn’t beat anybody up, he didn’t go out and murder police, he took a knee. In response to the anthem of a country, the flag of a country drenched with the blood of countless people of color, he bent a knee in protest.
I think what white people are forgetting, in all their frankly-ridiculous outrage, is that protest is AS American as racism. Both are the literal building blocks of the country. There’s no America without the revolution against the British, just like there’s no America without slave labor and mass genocide. The protection that our soldiers have fought for is exactly what Colin Kaepernick put into practice — the right to peacefully protest. So what’s the problem? Is it that a black man is exercising an American right? Is it that a black man is exercising an American right against something that is also distinctly American (but that we want to believe isn’t)? What exactly is the problem?
I know what it is. As much as America loves a revolution, she loves her racism more. And if the revolution is against her racism, guess which one she’s going to pick?
My heart breaks because we continue to be unable to see each other. I’ve rarely seen a more grossly, and at this point I feel also purposefully, misunderstood action than Colin’s kneeling during the anthem. And nobody wins in that scenario, when we’re blind to each other. In the LA Riots, everybody lost. Black people lost, the police force lost, Americans lost. It was a tragedy of the highest order.
Regardless, I’m here for Colin Kaepernick. I’m here for Nike trolling the NFL hard. And I’m here for whenever we decide to start treating each other like human beings (white people, mostly looking at you).
You can find that documentary on Netflix, it’s called Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982 - 1992.
You can find the new Nike Ad voiced by Colin Kaepernick here.
And you can find ME not watching the NFL Kickoff game tonight but also feeling kind of sad about it.
Thumbnail Photo From Nike via Google