Colin Kapernick is an American Quarterback for the NFL who is known for knelling during the national anthem. In order to draw attention to police brutality against the black community and stand alongside the black lives matter movement, Kapernick exercised his right to protest.
This month, Kapernick was crowned one of GQ magazine’s men of the year. Kaepernick’s public image is divided causing widespread debate, reminiscent of his vocal black predecessor in sports the legendary Mohammed Ali.
Historically, black protest has been framed as a nuisance, whether violent or non-violent. Growing up black I realised that whether you are throwing a brick threw a window or knelling during the American national anthem, black people are meant to remain silent in the face of injustice and submit to the status quo.
Subsequently, Black radicalism has been smeared as Black political extremism with those who live and breathe change facing censorship, media encouraged abuse and even assassination.
Whether you are the first democratically elected Prime minister of Congo, Patrice Lumumba or Loreal’s first black trans model Munroe Bergdorf it is clear that disrupting power and its roots through speech and action bring inevitable consequences.
The first amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
This extract places emphasis on preventing government restrictions on free speech, as opposed to private businesses who subscribe to their own rules. In October 2017, this was apparent in sports channel ESPN’s decision to suspend TV host Jemele Hill due to statements made on her Twitter account. Hill’s tweets included her calling Donald Trump a “white supremacist” and later addressing the NFL in what some believe encouraged a boycott.
In a country where exercising freedoms is seen as the fabric of the nation, consequences from speech and political expression are not equal. Those who fail to fit the white, male, cis-heterosexual, able-bodied standard are perceived as more publishable in all areas.
Not wanting to hear or provide a platform for individuals who exercise “hate speech”, results in those who challenge the status quo being framed as sensitive “snowflakes” who hide in their safe spaces. It is not to say that these individuals do not have a right to speak, but that nazis should face the repercussions of their hateful rhetoric which incites violence and radicalises young white men. We must establish boundaries.
Those challenging white supremacy and fighting for a better world should not be the first to face repercussions for their perspectives. Freedom of speech should not mean freedom from consequences for those who incite hatred. Capitalist entities, governments and powerful people constantly choose to side with the oppressor rather than the victims of oppression. Munroe Bergdorf faced an onslaught of abuse and was fired for discussing systematic racism, yet former Girl’s Aloud member Cheryl Cole who allegedly racially abused a cleaner continues to work with Loreal.
I often hear complaints that those on the right feel persecuted and outcasted for their political ideology. My response to this is welcome to the club. But by all means let me know if your opinions put your life at risk. Let me know if you risk facing derogatory abuse for sharing your experiences. Let me know when you are targeted for being an activist and made to feel as if freedom of speech is for everyone that is not like you.
Colin Kapernick is a symbol of the effort taken to silence black voices. If someone is eager to silence you, you are saying something which everyone needs to hear. In an age where protest is important now more than ever, we must not allow ourselves to be silenced.