The 49ers QB wore a shirt commemorating Fidel’s meeting with Malcolm X.
Over the weekend, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem at the beginning of an NFL preseason game. Predictably, this touched off a firestorm after Kaepernick explained at a press conference after the game that this was done to protest injustice in America. “I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed,” he said. “To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”
I think Kaepernick’s gesture is overwrought, but I found his full remarks to be more nuanced and less brazenly anti-American than, say, what you’re bound to hear from your average San Francisco city council member. He’s well within his rights as an American to make such a statement, and I think his motivations are well-intentioned, if misguided. It’s probably also overwrought for the local news to be airing footage of fans burning his jersey.
Kaepernick even said some thoughtful things that conservatives would appreciate. I was particularly struck by this: “Someone that’s holding a curling iron has more education and more training than people that have a gun and are going out on the street to protect us.” He has a point. In California, you need 1,600 hours of training to be a licensed cosmetologist. It takes only about 1,500 hours of training to be a commercial airline pilot. Maybe this is more a lesson in occupational licensing reform, but Kaepernick is correct that cops often lack necessary training relative to the pressures and demands we put on on them to keep the peace.
However, there was one startling display of ignorance by Kaepernick that makes me think he’s not the best person to listen to on the topic of racial injustice. I’m referring to his attire at the press conference: a Malcolm X hat, and though it’s difficult to make out, his T-shirt is of photos commemorating Malcolm X meeting Fidel Castro.
One can revisit the great civil rights debate over using violence as a means to an end; suffice to say, America’s better off that Martin Luther King, Jr. and his commitment to nonviolence, not Malcolm X and his “by any means necessary” approach, won the day. And this divide is only highlighted by Castro’s harboring of a bunch of American cop killers, such as Assata Shakur and Eldridge Cleaver, who claim their unconscionable and murderous actions were done in the name of “racial justice”.
The biggest problem here is that Kaepernick is seemingly unaware of Castro’s legacy. Aside from Castro dragooning and executing Christians and gays, Castro’s record on racial justice is decidedly not “woke”, as the Internet likes to say. While Cuba’s legacy of racism predates Castro, it’s safe to say overt racism against individuals of African ancestry there remains far more pronounced than it is in the United States. In fact, racism is kind of an unstated official policy: “State-posts, government jobs, or positions in the tourism industry are often allocated on the basis of skin color. Take a look at the top office holders in Cuba. See any black faces there? No,” Mediaite’s AJ Delgado wrote.
Earlier this year, as the White House was normalizing relations with Cuba, the New York Times declared “Cuba Says It Has Solved Racism. Obama Isn’t So Sure.” Obama even addressed the topic of Cuban racism explicitly during his historic visit. But there’s no evidence Obama used his leverage to extract any meaningful reforms to address the issue.
The fact remains that the Cuban government doesn’t deal with racism, because to talk openly about it would be to admit that Cuba’s not the socialist paradise it’s cracked up to be. But don’t take my word for it—Cuban editor Roberto Zurbano wrote an illuminating article about Cuban racism that was translated and published in the New York Times three years ago: