Colin Kaepernick will be returning as starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49’ers this Sunday. His arm, the one that’s earned him the right to take a knee, is going to be in the spotlight again.
It's an interesting moment. Kaepernick is the activist nobody saw coming, a man who now has a stake in an issue that wasn’t his own. He didn’t get pulled over by the police. He’s not related to Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, or Philando Castile. Why is this his thing? Because he lives in the skin he does. And that makes it complicated for everyone.
In the process, Kaepernick has started a national conversation about national conversations. Who gets to have one? When? And how? You know things have gotten real when you’re publicly sparring with a Supreme Court Justice on how to protest correctly. Ruth Bader Ginsburg told a reporter that she thought his protest was "dumb" and likened it to flag-burning. “At the end of the day, the flag is just a piece of cloth and I am not going to value a piece of cloth over people’s lives,” he said in response.
American football has become an exercise in national pride, a patriotic spectacle that binds us together for a few hours to feel good about watching highly-compensated people working in a multi-billion dollar industry risk permanent injury for our entertainment. See? Complicated.
And yet, it’s also personal. Gathering with friends and family to watch your team play Sunday after Sunday, holiday after holiday is a beautiful thing. Remembering legendary games. Reliving regional rivalries. Me? I’m from New York. Tom Brady could sprout a new kidney once a week and personally stitch it into a needy child, and he would still drive me crazy. But that’s part of the fun.
Kaepernick’s version of a national conversation interrupts all of this good feeling and cleaves the audience into opposing teams: The people who watch sports to escape the world, and the ones for whom the world is a dangerous place. The people who believe athletes aren’t paid to think, and the ones who need them to. And the people who don't want to talk about race, and the ones who don’t have that luxury. He's now the guy who brings up race in the staff meeting and then gets left off the happy hour email chain.
Kaepernick’s gambit puts his wealth and personal brand at risk, though he doesn't seem to care. But when student-athletes take a knee during the national anthem, as they are in increasing numbers across the country, they risk cleaving their own communities in two, without the benefit of fame, fortune or high profile cover on television. For everyone involved, including the kids who stand awkwardly beside their kneeling teammates, the national conversation has become their locker room talk. The degree to which these conversations go well should be the primary benchmark by which we measure Kaepernick’s success.
I’ll leave you with a story from another sport and another era that affects me deeply every time I read it.
In her short but powerful book On Boxing, Joyce Carol Oates shared a quote from Martin Luther King that perfectly encapsulates the intersection of race, racism, and heroism in a complex world that hasn’t changed as much as we'd like to think:
“Some time ago one of the Southern states adopted a new method of capital punishment. Poison gas supplanted the gallows. In its earliest stages, a microphone was placed inside the sealed death chamber so that scientific observers might hear the words of the dying prisoner…The first victim was a young Negro. As the pellet dropped into the container and gas curled upward, through the microphone came these words: ‘Save me, Joe Louis. Save me, Joe Louis. Save me, Joe Louis…’”
At the very end of his life, the “young Negro” invoked not the name of his mother or Jesus, but a different higher power of his choice. Now, Colin Kaepernick is no Joe Louis. Or Jackie Robinson. Or Bill Russell. But he is the hero we didn’t know anybody wanted. It’s complicated, I know.
Report: San Francisco police disproportionately use force against black people
A new report from the Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services found that the SFPD pull over black drivers at a disproportionately higher rate than other drivers, and are more likely to use force against black people as well. The report offers some 272 recommendations designed to help the department rebuild community trust, though the measures are not binding. Only 6% of the city’s population is black.
Michelle Obama delivers an emotional speech and takes on Donald Trump
The first lady could not have been clearer: The Republican candidate’s boasts about sexually assaulting women were too much. “It has shaken me to my core in a way I couldn’t have predicted,” she said, her voice breaking at times. Pundits say that the normally apolitical First Lady has delivered the most effective and important speech of the 2016 campaign.
Are you biased against co-workers that you don't like?
To find out if it’s your bias or their bad personality, you’ll need to investigate why they’re getting on your last nerve. Two leadership experts ask you to consider four questions before you write off an annoying colleague for good. The fourth one is tricky: Do you have a clear sense of right and wrong? People who do can be rigid thinkers, with less tolerance for ambiguity. If so, you’re more likely to make biased inferences about people who are different from you, which are unlikely to change over time.
Garry from North Carolina wants to be a better American
In August we reported on Garry, a white caller into a daytime C-Span show who surprised Heather McGhee, the black CEO of the liberal policy organization Demos, with this confession: “I’m a white man and I’m racist. How can I be a better American?” Her answer was pitch perfect, and the moment was viewed by millions. Well, it turns out, McGhee and Garry stayed in touch.
A TV show that avoids Asian stereotypes and is also entertaining? Who knew?
The ABC sitcom Fresh Off The Boat returns next week and critics and fans are delighted. In an environment where Asian talent and themes routinely get the short-shrift, the show is seen as definitive proof that Asian-centered stories, in this case, through the eyes of the delightful and fully realized Huang family, can deliver entertainment across all color lines.
A unique campaign enlists an unusual ally to stop the trafficking of Native youth
#NeverInSeason is the latest initiative from Rod Arnold, the former COO of the powerhouse Charity Water. He's aiming to reduce the rampant sex trafficking of Native youth in his home state of South Dakota; they account for 40% of trafficking victims. Working with local non-profit Native Hope, he’s created a savvy digital and ground campaign asking pheasant hunters, who arrive in the state in droves tomorrow, to be alert to any trafficking activity they may observe. When an event attracts a large number of men, a market for sex trafficking often appears. It's already working, click through for more.
The Woke Leader
Michiyo Yasuda, the woman who designed the color for Miyazaki films, has died
Fans of the gorgeous, animated films of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata – among them, Totoro, Spirited Away and Ponyo – may not have known that there was another genius behind the scenes. Yasuda’s job was to design and digitally paint the color palette of the beloved, ethereal films. For over 40 years. This short profile from 1999 gives a sense of her aesthetic: “I tried to create colors that were sometimes raging and other times really tense and gentle."
A story of race and family, mixed yet separate
Not that long ago, “mixed marriages" were fraught negotiations for families; they had to balance the racist societies in which they lived with the sudden need to accommodate a new son or daughter-in-law of a different color. With a black and Japanese mother and a white father (whose family disowned him), Sarah Ratliff struggled to define herself in a community unprepared to accept her unique mix. “For many of us, my family included, [identity] had to do with which parent’s race was more discriminated against.”
New genome studies help researchers understand disease in African descendants
A new study is using gene sequencing to help compare the DNA of people of African ancestry in the Americas, with people from West Africa, with the hope of uncovering why the diaspora population disproportionately suffers from certain illnesses like asthma and other diseases. Though it’s not clear that forced migration itself changed the DNA, the study should help doctors tailor specific treatments to people with African backgrounds.
Boston itself was a flea market of racism. It had all varieties, old and new, and in their most virulent form. The city had corrupt, city hall-crony racists, brick-throwing, send-’em-back-to-Africa racists, and in the university areas phony radical-chic racists. . . . Other than that, I liked the city.