Since Donald Trump was announced president-elect on Tuesday night (Nov. 8), folks have taken to every media platform to pick apart the culprits. Fifty-three percent of white women voted the pussy-grabbing bigot into office (adiós white feminism!), while 94 percent of black women exercised our right and stood with Hillary Clinton despite overwhelming reluctance. Black men, white men, millennials — in total, no matter which party we picked, 57 percent of us participated.
The most disheartening number of the election results, however, is the 43 percent of eligible voters who didn’t cast a vote, and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was one of them.
By now, you don’t have to be the world’s number one football fan to know who Kaepernick is. Since August, the 29-year-old Cali native has had his afro-rocking image plastered on every major news outlet, morning talk show and ESPN program for taking a knee in protest of the national anthem. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag or a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told the NFL. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
With that simple action (or inaction), he created necessary discourse surrounding race in America, and it’s magnificent. The conversation is, once again, on a platform visible enough that advocates for white supremacy can’t turn away, further proving that sports is a proper vehicle for political change. At a press conference, Kaepernick even threw Malcolm X’s meeting with Fidel Castro in his folks’ faces and smiled because, quite frankly, he’s got white people shook.
Black folks are proud to know someone in the league was woke, so what did we do? We ran out to cop his No. 7 game jersey. Spent our hard-earned money on buying apparel with his name on it, in full support and appreciation of him taking our fight to the front lines every given Sunday. He then went on to donate the proceeds of his soaring jersey sales to charity and hosted a “Know Your Rights” camp for underprivileged kids in the Bay Area. By then, Kaep was the personification of the black power fist emoji.
Witnessing Kaepernick’s transition to consciousness has been inspiring, and an incredible amount of good work has been done because of it. But how can he stand as a black leader for social justice when he refused to take his efforts to the polls?
Back in September, he called out both candidates for being liars. “It was embarrassing to watch that these are our two candidates,” Kaepernick said after the first presidential debate. “Both are proven liars and it almost seems like they’re trying to debate who’s less racist.”
Amid backlash for not voting this past week, he posted videos of Malcolm X in response. “I wouldn’t suggest that they vote for any party or either party. I would suggest that the so-called negroes become politically mature,” the black leader says in the clip. “Negroes should do whatever is necessary to bring about the complete solution to their problems.”
What Kaep fails to realize is that the non-voting approach hurts more than it helps, especially now. Given the #GirlIGuessImWithHer trend and Trump turning the election into “Black Mirror”’s “The Waldo Moment” episode in real time, we get it — politics can be awful. However, voting remains a highly important way to have a voice. Sure, the Electoral College is bullshit, but we can’t be silenced if we all cry out for change (word to President Obama). Not to mention the black folks who died behind the whitelash of wanting that simple right.
In the end, Kaepernick decided to “look the other way,” something he initially deemed a selfish act in times of black crisis. He spent months suiting up for games and kneeling for black bodies, but when it came time to get in the game and put our ballots where our mouths (and tweets) were, he was dishearteningly absent. And the bottom line is, whether you want to burn his jersey or continue to support him, that’s not the kind of man any of us ever thought he was.