For over two centuries, human beings were kidnapped by African chiefs, packed into squalid ships, and finally put to work on American plantations. Granted, not all of them survived the trip: many died of disease while others were thrown overboard when food and water ran short. If you think it’s obscene to compare them to a millionaire athlete raised in a comfortable home, then there’s a reason for that.
Your name isn’t Colin Kaepernick.
The ex-quarterback recently got Nike to cancel a shoe line featuring the Betsy Ross flag because he associated it with slavery…which is odd considering that Betsy Ross was an abolitionist. But the ignorance didn’t stop there: Kaepernick next tweeted out words spoken by Frederick Douglass on July 4, 1852.
Born on a Maryland plantation, Douglass escaped bondage to become a best selling author and prominent figure within the Republican Party. Kaepernick’s use of his Independence Day speech brings a couple thoughts to mind. First off, it’s laughable to suggest that someone raised in suburban affluence and showered with corporate sponsorship has any connection to those Douglass represented. And second, by taking Douglass’ words out of context, he destroys their message.
Early in his address, Douglass praised the Declaration of Independence: "The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost." He called the men who signed and defended it "truly great"; for them "justice, liberty and humanity were 'final;' not slavery and oppression."
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Douglass then contrasted their ideals with the horrors he knew as a slave, noting to his audience how the "mournful wails" and "bleeding children" made "your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery." He explained that slavery wasn't an expression of American values--it was a betrayal of them.
As he finished his speech, Douglass stressed that the Constitution contained "principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery." He saw the country's founding values and "the genius of American Institutions" as a source of hope. Far from being a rejection of America, these were the words of a patriot demanding an equal place within it.
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Frederick Douglass lived to see slavery, "that great sin and shame of America," wiped out. And while the country may not be perfect, "the equal manhood of the Negro race" is no longer in legal dispute. I don't know what Frederick Douglass would say if he were alive, but I doubt he would reject the flag that represents freedom. Something else I doubt? That he would appreciate having his words hijacked by a clueless celebrity.
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