The Black struggle for dignity and self-determination will forever be criminalized as a problem by the white elite and their hirelings in the Black misleadership class.
“We must hold Black servants of the American Empire accountable.”
Colin Kaepernick hasn’t played an NFL game in more than three seasons. The 32-year-old quarterback was banished from the NFL in 2016 for his protest of police brutality during the pre-game national anthem ceremony. In mid-November, Kaepernick was invited to a workout in Atlanta by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell offered the workout in exchange for a signed waiver that would have prevented Kaepernick from taking future legal action against the NFL. The NFL further demanded that Kaepernick participate in the workout without the presence of the media.
Kaepernick understandably rejected the proposal. He instead opted to hold the workout at a self-selected location. Kaepernick invited the media to his workout and threw to receivers of his own choosing. Only a fraction of the owners invited to the NFL’s original workout showed up to the alternative arrangement. After a stellar workout performance, Kaepernick demanded that NFL ownership “stop running” from him.
The latest chapter in the ruling class effort to keep Kaepernick out of the NFL has opened the floodgates for mainly Black corporate sports analysts to carry the torch of white supremacy. FS1 and ESPN analysts condemned Kaepernick for the workout debacle. Pundits such as Stephen A. Smith claimed that Kaepernick’s actions have proven once and for all that he doesn’t want to play another game in the NFL. Other commentators such as Shannon Sharpe posited that Kaepernick did not handle the situation “professionally” and even mocked him for wearing a Kunta Kinte shirt. In lock-step unity, the corporate sports media slandered Kaepernick’s character and demonstrated why the presumed innocence of the American Empire is nothing but white supremacist sport.
“FS1 and ESPN analysts condemned Kaepernick for the workout debacle.”
The ruling class has deployed the Black misleadership class to attack Kaepernick with a heavy dose of American innocence. American innocence portrays the oppressive conditions of the Empire as mistakes, one-offs, and aberrations rather than inherent features of the system. The same analysts who once rhetorically supported Kaepernick’s protest when it was convenient for them have since forgiven the NFL for its ongoing effort to exclude him from employment on a political basis. Their treatment of Kaepernick sends a stark message to Black athletes and Black Americans more broadly. The crimes of the thoroughly white supremacist American Empire are easily forgiven, but the Black struggle for dignity and self-determination will forever be criminalized as a problem by the white elite and their hirelings in the Black misleadership class.
Kaepernick’s true crime was always the use of his multi-billion-dollar platform to expose the white supremacist relationship between the police and Black America. Black Americans are beaten and killed by police and law enforcement agencies of all kinds on a daily basis. When Black Americans escape death, they often find themselves thrown into the Black incarceration gulag. What Michelle Alexander calls “The New Jim Crow” is a tool of social control directed mainly at the Black poor. It is a project devised not only by the white oligarchs that rule the United States but also by a Black misleadership class whose political privileges and career opportunities depend upon unwavering loyalty to the ruling class’ agenda. James Foreman Jr.’s incisive work, Locking Up Our Own, analyzes in great length how prominent members of the Black misleadership class such as Maxine Waters, Eric Holder, and Jesse Jackson hitched their political sympathies to the War on Drugs’ narrative of Black criminality to justify tough-on-crime measures. These measures laid the groundwork for the American prison system to become the most populated and racist “criminal justice” institution on the planet.
“James Foreman Jr.’s incisive work analyzes how prominent members of the Black misleadership class hitched their sympathies to the narrative of Black criminality.”
NFL owners, like all capitalists, have accumulated vast super profits from the labor of Black American players. In many ways, the NFL demonstrates how Black capitalism is every bit of the myth that E. Franklin Frazier described in Black Bourgeoisie. White American capitalists never could stomach the thought of sharing their wealth with the broad masses of Black Americans, and they never will. As Roberto Sirvent and I explain in our book, the NFL is but another branch of American apartheid. There isn’t a single Black president or CEO to be found in the NFL. Meanwhile, Black Americans make up nearly seventy percent of all players in a sport that is widely considered to be the most dangerous and detrimental to human health.
American innocence minimizes and erases the variety of ills imposed on Black America by the American Empire. Even worse, the ruling class utilizes American innocence in a broader white supremacist sport where the mass torture, oppression, and murder of Black Americans is consumed and enjoyed by white society. White supremacy, then, is as much of a cultural system as it is a political and economic system of power. Black corporate sports analysts like Stephen A. Smith and Shannon Sharpe are players in the game of American innocence and are coached by their bosses in the white corporate media. Their principle role is to normalize the suffering of poor Black Americans and render it obsolete and tolerable.
“The NFL is but another branch of American apartheid.”
The media reaction to Colin Kaepernick is only one instance where the Black misleadership class has used its position in the corporate sports industry to dehumanize Black America. In 2014, Stephen A. Smith defended NBA owner Mark Cuban for stating that he would cross the street if a young Black male in a hoody was walking toward him. Smith defended Cuban by chastising Black Americans for their cultural inferiority and, in Bill Cosby-like fashion, demanded that young Black men speak proper English and pull up their pants. In last year’s NBA Eastern Conference Finals, Shannon Sharpe compared Kawhi Leonard’s defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo as akin to being “locked up” in Pelican Bay prison. Sharpe didn’t mention to his massive viewership that Pelican Bay’s SHU organized prisoners by race as recently as 2013 or that the practice of prison isolation, otherwise known as solitary confinement, is an internationally recognized form of torture. He also ignored the fact that forty-five percent of the 80,000 prisoners subjected to solitary confinement in the United States are Black men.
To do so would challenge the very class interests that provide Black pundits such as Sharpe and Stephen A. Smith their privileged positions within the Disney-owned sports media. Kaepernick’s treatment by the corporate media is a product of the capitalist class’ fear of the Black uprising that arose out of the police murder of Michael Brown. The repression of the Black Lives Matter movement in the form of the FBI’s policy to neutralize “Black Identity Extremists” is a historical phenomenon. The Black struggle for self-determination in the U.S. has always been met with white supremacist political backlash meant to galvanize popular support for state terror. Dog-whistles to the innocence of the NFL ownership and the lack of “appreciation” on the part of Kaepernick serve the same function. They tell Black Americans to not only accept the racist exclusion of Kaepernick from the NFL but also the material conditions which propelled Kaepernick into protest in the first place.
“Kaepernick’s treatment by the corporate media is a product of the capitalist class’ fear of a Black uprising.”
Malcolm X’s remark that the newspapers will have us hating the oppressed and loving the oppressor remains a fact of life under the American Empire’s dictatorship of capital. Black rebellion has been portrayed as a blight on the exceptionalism and innocence of the American Empire since the inception of its colonial project on the North American mainland. Colin Kaepernick is no different. The corporate media has attempted to discredit Kaepernick as a spoiled, high-paid athlete who should be grateful for the fruits of racism, capitalism, and imperialism. Yet his struggle is an outgrowth of Black freedom struggles dating back to the chattel slave system and into the era of mass incarceration.
The white supremacist sport of American innocence has real consequences for the oppressed. Colin Kaepernick lost his job. Mumia Abu-Jamal lost his freedom. Malcolm X lost his life. Their example teaches us that the presumed innocence of the American Empire must be rejected, whatever the cost. And we must hold Black servants of the American Empire accountable for their allegiance to a system which super exploits Black workers in the United States and around the world. Real justice for Colin Kaepernick, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the legacy of Malcolm X depends on it.
Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He and Roberto Sirvent are co-authors of the book entitled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News--From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror (Skyhorse Publishing). He can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @spiritofho, and on Youtube at The Left Lens with Danny Haiphong.
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