By Danny Haiphong
BOSTON — Colin Kaepernick’s struggle with the NFL corporation continues to make headlines. In recent weeks, the 29-year-old quarterback came close to signing with the Baltimore Ravens. Retired linebacker Ray Lewis obstructed the signing in consultation with Raven ownership. Lewis advised Kaepernick to keep his activism “private.” The most publicized example of employment discrimination appears to have no end in sight. Kaepernick’s example shines light on why Black lives will never matter as long as the social relations that sustain the US imperialism remain intact.
Curiously enough, the Black Lives Matter network organization and its affiliates have been silent on the Kaepernick issue. No statements, positions, or demands on the question can be found on the website . New York Daily News writer Shuan King, often advertised as a Black Lives Matter activist, has announced an individual boycott of the NFL . However, King does not identify with the organizations often placed in the wide net of the Black Lives Matter movement. Kaepernick’s fate has thus been left to the interests and aims of the NFL, the Black misleadership class, and the corporate media.
Ray Lewis, ESPN, and the owners of the NFL have all conspired to punish Kaepernick for his political activity. Kaepernick has committed a heinous crime in the eyes of US imperialism’s ruling class. He connected the oppression of Black people with the roots of the nation itself. By failing to acknowledge the virtues of the America flag, Kaepernick made a clear statement that police brutality and the various ills experienced by Black America are no anomalies. Rather, these ills are an inevitable feature of a nation founded upon empire and white supremacy.
“Kaepernick’s fate has thus been left to the interests and aims of the NFL, the Black misleadership class, and the corporate media.”
Popular consciousness of white supremacy and US empire has been suppressed under a cloud of political visibility. Athletes and celebrities such as Ray Lewis have found more ground to operate over the course of a generation beginning with the decline of the Black liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s. As gatekeepers of oppression, these so-called leaders of Black America have promoted a politics of respectability in place of a politics of liberation. Their aim has been to ensure poor Black and brown people cozy up to power rather than fight it. Lucrative employment in political offices, corporate sporting leagues, and media outlets has provided enough material incentive for them to do the bidding of imperialism whenever called upon by their employers.
The personal wealth of what E. Franklin Frazier called the “Black Bourgeoisie” or Black elite has not led to any semblance of collective wealth for Black America. It would take 228 years for Black Americans as a cohort to accumulate the same amount of wealth currently in white American hands. The median wealth of two-parent Black households is half that of White American single parent households. According to a recent blog post in The Economist, Black poverty and unemployment remain double that of whites. Discrimination, education policy, and mass incarceration were cited as the primary factors keeping Black Americans in colonial conditions within US borders.
“As gatekeepers of oppression, these so-called leaders of Black America have promoted a politics of respectability in place of a politics of liberation.”
Mumia Abu-Jamal recently penned a book entitled Have Black Lives Ever Mattered? The book traces Mumia’s radio commentaries on policing in the US to highlight the special oppression Black Americans face in the belly of the empire. Mumia Abu-Jamal himself is a quintessential example of the Black experience in the US. As the nation’s most well-known political prisoner, Mumia has spent over three decades behind bars for the crime of participating in the Black liberation movement. Mumia is one of the dozens of prisoners sentenced to die for sacrificing their bodies and minds in service of the oppressed. Kaepernick’s predicament may not be as dire as Mumia’s and the movement not as strong, but the backlash against the unemployed quarterback stems from the same root and branch.
That root is US imperialism. US imperialism requires the super exploitation of Black people to maximize profits. As the system has developed technologically, it has disposed of Black labor at a rapid pace.
Nearly a million Black Americans languish behind prison walls. Black elites have done little to nothing to fight the issue. In fact, Black political leadership has been one of the strongest advocates of mass incarceration.
“The median wealth of two-parent Black households is half that of White American single parent households.”
This includes Maxine Waters, whose time in the California state legislature was highlighted in James Foreman’s book Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America . Waters is often championed as an opponent of mass incarceration due to her vote against the 1994 Clinton crime bill. However, she had already built a track record for the incarceration regime prior to the 1990s. In 1978, Waters led the effort to pass more punitive measures against users and dealers of PCP in the State of California. Her career received a boost after she successfully passed a bill that increased penalties for small level possession of PCP to up to five years in prison.
Now Waters spends her time pushing for war with Russia in Congress. In a press conference in February 2017, Waters claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “invaded Korea.” In a more recent interview on The View, Waters stated that the Democrats would work to “impeach Putin” after facilitating Trump’s demise. That Waters has Putin on her mind should come as no surprise. The entire Democratic Party apparatus has caught anti-Russia fever. Democratic Party politicians have attempted to ideologically isolate the left and the Trump Administration with claims that each promotes “fake news” and colludes with Russia to undermine “US democracy.” Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has been the most enthusiastic enforcer of NATO’s provocations with the Russian Federation along its Eurasian border, which includes support for actual fascists in Ukraine.
“Waters stated that the Democrats would work to ‘impeach Putin’ after facilitating Trump’s demise.”
Black liberation, let alone Black life, will never “matter” under these conditions. The system of US imperialism was built to exploit Black workers and poor people generally. Now US imperialism is in the process of a protracted economic and political crisis the likes of which have never been seen in the system’s history. The ascendancy of a small number of Black elites into political leadership has run its course. Kaepernick’s example shows how the silencing of the slave is always in the best interests of the slave owner, to paraphrase Harry Belafonte. No amount of representation nor reform can eradicate the oppression wrought by a system that is rotten to its core.
US imperialism is currently negotiating whether humanity itself is worth risking in favor of the profits of the ruling class. What is at stakes is far bigger than what Trump represents. The same goes for Kaepernick as an individual. Kaepernick’s situation is indicative of a far graver issue. Not even his individual stance against US exceptionalism is allowed to gain any form of mass appeal without serious reprisal. And if the only way forward for the vast majority of humanity is a revolution in the heartland of imperialism, then we would be well advised to begin preparations now for the war that is already here.
NOTE: Danny Haiphong is an Asian activist and political analyst in the Boston area. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.