Colin Kaepernick Is Not Their Nigger

Colin Kaepernick is a person. This seems like an obvious statement. But on countless occasions I see this person being treated like a thing. Colin, the person, has been reduced to an acerbic adjective for his antagonists. His detractors evoke his name with overtones of repugnance and disgust. His name has served as a pejorative metonym to describe the quality of being disregardable, disrespectable, and disposable. His name has served as a synonym for scorn, derision, and damnation. Colin the person is being situated as a euphemism for undesirable Blackness in the United States.

He is un-American.

He is un-employable.

He is un-grateful.

He is un-justified in his anger.

He is un-lovable.

He is un-deserving of fairness.

For them, he is a thing to be dishonored. For them, he is a thing to be detested and destroyed. For them, the thing that he is, is a Nigger.

There is a scene toward the close of Take This Hammer — a 1963 documentary set in San Francisco, featuring James Baldwin. In this scene, Baldwin famously disentangles the idea of “the nigger.” Baldwin explains, “Here in this country we have something called a nigger…We have invented the nigger. I didn’t invent him…” At this point, Baldwin, taking a prolonged pause in his explanation, places a lit cigarette to his lips and takes a deep drag. On the other side of inhaling the smoke, Baldwin exhales who invented the nigger, “White people invented him.” Baldwin continues by explaining, “I’ve always known that I’m not a nigger.” He then rhetorically begs the question, “But if I am not the nigger, and if it’s true that your invention reveals you, then who is the nigger?” Baldwin is fully aware of how “unnecessary” the existence of the nigger is to Blackness and how integral its existence is to the maintenance of whiteness. Baldwin knew “the nigger” was a catchall phrase that niggerized the one-drop-rule Black folks like Homer Adolf Plessy, all the way down to darker hued heroines like Claudette Colvin. Baldwin understood that Black people were not the problem.

So, Baldwin puts the ball in their court, handing those who weaponize whiteness back their problem, and lets them know, “You’re the nigger baby, it isn’t me.”

Baldwin refused to allow the white gaze to trap him inside a state of niggerization. As Dr. Cornell West explains, “Niggerization is neither simply the dishonoring and devaluing of Black people nor solely the economic exploitation and political disenfranchisement of them. It is also the wholesale attempt to…turn potential citizens into intimidated, fearful, and helpless subjects.”

You cannot niggerize a person without detaching them from their natural rights to be fully human. The person has to be detached from the rights to react to being wronged. The person has to be detached from the right to have feelings.

Niggers don’t get to have feelings.

Niggers don’t get to feel pain.

Niggers don’t get to seek redress.

The nigger has to be declawed, incapable of fighting on behalf of their humanhood. Niggers are subhuman. Niggers fit into a sub-humanhood compromised by three-fifthness. Niggers are never to seek the other two-fifths of their humanity. That wholeness is reserved for the family tree of this country’s forefathers, and not those forced to plant the seeds of that tree while in bondage. They were never meant to be nurtured by the plentiful crops born of dirt soaked in blood beaten out of their battered Black bodies. Instead, they were the strange fruits, hanging from tree branches to be plucked from their life source and sold on the open market.

And while Kaepernick is not being tied to a whipping post, and physically flogged for fighting for the right to be called Kunta Kinte, I cannot help but see how much money and manpower thirty-two billionaires have invested in attempting to whip Colin into submission. How they want to strip him of his black Kunta Kinte t-shirt, reveal the keloided scars on his back, and make him answer to the name Toby. The NFL is doggedly trying to force Colin to accept being treated like a nigger, for the opportunity to audition for a job that he never should have lost in the first place. The Shield knows that they cannot physically end his life. But by Blackballing him, Kaepernick has been sentenced to suffer, what Orlando Patterson would call, a form of social death.

The roots of Kaepernick’s sentencing to a social death are not novel. Paul Robeson, Muhammad Ali, John Carlos, Tommie Smith, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, and Craig Hodges were all placed in a politicized purgatory. They were all pummeled for the cardinal sin of refusing to shut up and be a nigger. They were punished for bucking the norms of keeping their mouths closed, and cashing checks. They had their careers cancelled. The goal was to castrate their courageousness. To break their spirits and prevent future thems from being born. But in a Frantz Fanonian way, “each generation, out of relative obscurity,” gives birth to people who, “discover their mission,” and refuse to betray it. As long as the nightmarish-normal of niggerization persist in America, this country will give birth to dissenters.

This is the work of working with, and on behalf of the people. It is a labor of love, leaving all of those, from the famous to the fameless, left with lashes from the whip wielded by white supremacism.

Kaepernick is, “not the nigger, baby.”

They want to collapse his humankind-ness into contrived controversy. His acts of charity are muted. The eight Know Your Rights Camps that Kaepernick has put on for young Black and brown folks is rarely mentioned. His donating over a million dollars, out of his pocket, to grassroots organizations are omitted from their narration of his life. The voices of mothers and fathers who have found strength in Kaepernick sacrificing celebrity and his career comforts in the NFL, to protest on behalf of their slain loved ones, are left inaudible.

When Kaepernick showed up in the Bay Area and partnered with the People’s Breakfast of Oakland his nigglers on the faux-debate shows said nothing. They helped hundreds of houseless folks, providing them with medical services, survival kits, and hot meals on his birthday — his haters kept their mouths closed. I personally watched him as he hugged and held long conversations with folks oft-treated as things undeserving of basic human necessities. People forced to live in filth, freezing cold weather, and instability. I witnessed how the houseless folks and Kaepernick shared genuine joy and love. How they empathized with one another being treated like niggers.

Colin Kaepernick is a person.

He is a person being denied employment opportunities in the NFL. His personhood is being persecuted for protesting on behalf of people unprotected in our society. People who have been unjustly killed by police officers with virtual impunity. People like Gwen Woods, whose son Mario Woods was shot to death by five police officers in San Francisco. People like Oscar Grant, Tamir Rice, and Sandra Bland. People who live in homeless encampments, cobbled together with donated tents, constantly being condemned and cleared away by the Oakland Police Department. People whose bodies and personal possessions are condemned and treated like garbage to be discarded and removed for public visibility. People who are treated as if they don’t deserve wholeness as human beings. People who deserve the crumbs swept underneath the rickety legs of a seat at the table of democracy. People treated like niggers.

The Kaepernick saga has never been about football. It has been about navigating a never-ending moment of acute disrespect and denigration, or what sociologist Elijah Anderson would call a “nigger moment.” It has been about a denial of personhood. A denial of personhood for both himself and those that he took a knee on behalf of. A denial of inalienable human rights entrenched in a system that invented the nigger to be the receptacle for toxic-white fantasies. Toxic-white fantasies of Black bodies being the incarnation of everything that white people feared the past and continue to fear in the present. Black bodies of condemnation, deserving of draconian discipline and punishment.

The fallout(s) from the Kaepernick workout was less about his botching an opportunity to play in the NFL again, and more about Kaepernick escaping the NFL’s trap to have him sign a waiver that would extinguish his potential filing of a second lawsuit for ongoing collusion. Colin pulled a Brer Rabbit out of his hat on the NFL. Maybe they thought it was still illegal for niggers to be literate, but upon reading the fine print, Kaepernick not only evaded signing away his rights to legal recourse, he also avoided participating in a closed workout controlled by the very people seeking to send him to a social death. He averted fragmented pieces of his workout circulating throughout the media. He eluded the potential of his body’s preparedness being burned in effigy, and all evidence otherwise being locked away in secrecy. While the NFL wanted no media and no independent film crews recording the workout — Colin insisted on transparency. He wanted his skills as a quarterback to be judged fairly and objectively. Colin wanted his workout to be seen by all and not surveilled by a select few.

Kaepernick’s workout at Charles R. Drew High School in Riverdale, Georgia flowed with freedom and was fortified by love. Eric Reid had flown in to show his brother support. Reid’s three-year-old daughter stretched and shared smiles with her Uncle Colin on the field during his warmups. Hundreds watched the events unfold, through a chain-link fence, screaming words of encouragement and holding handmade signs that read, “I’m with Kap.” Countless viewers witnessed the workout via live-streaming and shared the link over social media. Free agent wide receivers Bruce Ellington, Brice Butler, Jordan Veasy, and Ari Werts, at short notice, all put their potential reentry into the NFL on the line as they came to the aide of Kaepernick. He effortlessly flung the football with ease for approximately forty minutes and completed fifty-three of sixty passes. His arm strength, one NFL executive present told ESPN, was “elite.”

At the close of Kaepernick’s workout he made a curtain call, and briefly addressed the crowd. His energy, a cocktail of adrenaline, love, and deserved dissatisfaction. He opened with a warm smile, and his throwing hand holding his heart, saying, “I appreciate y’all coming out. That means a lot to me.” This wasn’t what Kaepernick’s detractors wanted the world to see. They did not want Kaepernick seen as a man standing tall, his afro flowing as a crown of conviction in the night air. They did not want him pictured with a grin of gratitude gracing his face. They wanted him seen as a beaten bootlicker, on both knees, broken down, back bent, begging for forgiveness. Kaepernick roared with righteous-indignation, “I’ve been ready for three years. I’ve been denied for three years. We all know why…we have nothing to hide.” That roar was a reminder that here was a man, conscious of the reasons behind his exile from the NFL. He knew that it wasn’t about eroding skills, system fits, or touchdown to interception ratios. Colin Kaepernick knew that he was being exiled from the National Football League for publicly protesting against the American pastime of violently niggerizing Black people. He knew he was being Blackballed for being one of the many Black people who refused to allow America to keep running from the truth behind Black bodies lying in the streets by way of police terrorism. He knew that capitulating to someone treading on your personhood is tantamount to condoning it. And we all knew, and still know, that Kaepernick has been banished from the NFL for not allowing himself to be treated like their nigger, baby.

I write what I feel needs to be written. That you’re reading my work is a bonus.