The Response to Colin Kaepernick Highlights a Racially Motivated Double Standard

August 30th 2016

Tricia Tongco

After the recent backlash against San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for his decision to sit out the national anthem in protest of police brutality, sports writer Allen Etzler succinctly called out the hypocrisy of Kaepernick's critics.


As Etzler points out, white privilege plays a huge part in how each person's criticism of America is received. As a white man, Donald Trump's base praises him for saying America is currently lacking and needs to be made "great again." However, as a black man, Kaepernick is deemed unpatriotic for making a similar statement, albeit pointing to different shortcomings.

While on the surface Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again" promises to reestablish America as a global economic leader, it also harkens to an ambiguous time in American history that was less diverse and more racially homogenous (read: white). The implication, then, is that America is currently not great — for white people. As a result, Trump implicitly portrays America's greatness as dependent on the mutually exclusive interests of whites versus non-whites, pitting white people and other racial groups against each other.

Kaepernick, on the other hand, highlights a specific way the United States oppresses black people — namely, the slew of recent police shootings of unarmed black men. In a statement to the NFL regarding his protest, he said:

"'I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,' Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. '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.'"

Trump's critique of America, combined with his inflammatory statements calling for the ban of all Muslims and building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, encourages and reinforces racism and xenophobia, which upholds the status quo of white privilege. Conversely, Kaepernick's critique exposes and protests racial injustice in our country.

In May, there was another case of a black person criticizing America and becoming a target of hostility for it. Krystal Lake, 22-year-old college student, had turned Trump's slogan against him, designing a baseball cap featuring the words "America Was Never Great." After a picture of her wearing it during a shift at her Home Depot job was posted to social media, Lake subsequently received everything from accusations of being anti-American to death threats from Trump supporters.

As Etzler has illustrated, criticism of our country should be valued regardless of someone's race. In fact, those without white privilege and who have been routinely silenced and ignored should be especially heard.