Colin Kaepernick will probably never play another down of football in the NFL and we don’t care.
Oh, we might say we care. We might have even cheered at the Nike ad and laughed when white people burned their shoes. But we don’t care care. If we cared, we would have done something. We could have shown the NFL owners, but we chose not to do so. It might not have changed their minds, but it would have shown that we don’t like the way we were being treated.
Aside from over-the-air antenna signals, the NFL can measure almost every single television set that tunes into a game and it knows that black people really didn’t care about what happened to Kaepernick. We might have participated in the performative outrage and tweeted a few harsh words, but they knew that we weren’t going to do shit about it. We still watched.
And as Black Twitter condemns rapper Travis Scott and Big Boi for agreeing to perform at the Super Bowl Halftime show, Scott is probably not worried at all. Big Boi is laughing at his Twitter mentions.
It is hard to fathom how anyone could be angry at them for supporting the NFL when the ratings the NFL receives from black people all season are probably worth much more money than any viewers who will tune in to watch Sir Lucious Left Foot and Mr. Sicko Mode. I refrained from watching the NFL this year because I stopped caring about it. It left too bitter a taste in my mouth.
I know what the rappers know. They know what the billionaire team owners know. They know what the television network executives all know: The whiteballing of Colin Kaepernick left a bitter taste in all our mouths ...
But we’re still going to eat whatever they feed us.
The history of resistance and the struggle for civil rights teaches us that protest works.
On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up a seat on a Montgomery city bus, sparking a boycott that crippled the city and caused it to integrate city buses. In September 1957, nine brave black students entered Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., desegregating schools in Arkansas forever. After the historic March on Washington, America saw the need for justice and equality, forcing politicians to change their position and pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Except none of that is true.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted for more than a year. Protesters were jailed for obstructing city business and black cab drivers were arrested for giving cheap rides to black people. The White Citizens’ Council attacked boycotters and the FBI went after King. After a federal court ruled that segregation on the city buses was illegal, the city took it all the way to the Supreme Court and lost. Only then, 381 days after Rosa refused to give up her seat, did Montgomery desegregate buses.
Only one of the Little Rock Nine graduated from Central High School. The other eight graduated through correspondence courses or at other schools. That’s mostly because Arkansas’ governor closed every school in Little Rock rather than integrate. He held a public vote and Little Rock citizens voted 19,470 to 7,561 against integration. Schools in Little Rock stayed closed for almost two years.
After the March on Washington, President John F. Kennedy tried to get Senators to vote on a civil rights bill. It was so controversial that Howard W. Smith vowed to filibuster it, so it died in committee. It was only after Kennedy was assassinated and Senate Democrats filibustered the bill for 54 days did the Civil Rights Act of 1964 become law.
Protest rarely has an immediate impact. King was right when he said: “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.” But we are an impatient generation and America’s moral arc is rigid.
It bends, but it bends slow.
Colin Kaepernick will probably never play another down of football in the National Football League.
To be clear, the whiteballing of Colin Kaepernick is not the fault of Travis Scott, Big Boi or black people who watched the NFL, just as segregation in Montgomery was not the fault of people who continued to ride the city buses. It is unlikely that a boycott would have changed NFL owner’s minds. But, as Dr. King said, a boycott is never meant to be a solution. It was always a way to show that we didn’t like how we are being treated.
Still, I have spoken to dozens of people who continued to consume the league that blackballed a black man for speaking on their behalf. And to a person, they all sang a version of the same stale song:
“What would a boycott prove?”
“Boycotts don’t work.”
Those are all excuses for: “I want to watch the Cowboys”
We are either too impatient or we don’t give a fuck.
We aren’t built like that anymore. The only revolutionary thing about us is our t-shirts and tweets. Whether it is our bodies, our feet or two-and-a-half hours of a Sunday afternoon, self-sacrifice is no longer a part of our vocabulary. We know, intellectually, that without struggle, there is no progress. But if we encounter anything that looks like struggle, we are more than willing to say: “Fuck the progress.”
Rosa Parks is a hero because she sparked a protest that gained the support of thousands of regular people in Montgomery. The boycott brought national awareness to the issue but it was the court case that changed Montgomery law. And the Little Rock Nine caused so much controversy and made so many people angry that the state of Arkansas was forced to confront the institutional racism of school segregation. The March on Washington was part of the pathway that led to the Civil Rights Act.
None of these protests resulted in immediate reformation. These collective acts of resistance, however, are inextricably intertwined with the historical changes they produced.
If every player in the NFL would have kneeled, police wouldn’t have stopped shooting black people disproportionately. If every black person in America would have turned off their television, the NFL probably wouldn’t have acquiesced and hired Colin Kaepernick.
Even if Big Boi, Travis Scott, Cardi B, Jay-Z, Rihanna and every other black artist would have told the NFL to go fuck itself and the Super Bowl’s halftime show was renamed into the Maroon 5 Musical Mayonnaise Spectacular, nothing would have changed.
But at least the oppressor would have known we don’t like the way we’re being treated.
And sometimes, that is enough.