I have two heroes today; Colin Kaepernick and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Colin Kaepernick is an unemployed professional football player who ignited the US with his protest against the shooting of young, unarmed black males. And all he did was nothing.
Colin Kaepernick sat still during the national anthem. That’s it. He didn’t raise a fist like John Carlos and Tommie Smith. He didn’t stand in front of an all-white school. He didn’t move to the front of the bus. He simply stood still, a non violent protest to an unfolding tragedy. In the United States, black teens are 21 times more likely to be shot dead than their white counterparts. That’s worth protesting.
Then when President Trump recently attacked Colin, calling him a son-of-a-bitch, and demanding he be fired, the nation recoiled. (Although Kaepernick’s mother, Teresa, showed the kind of spit that makes me proud to call her a fellow American when she tweeted, “Guess that makes me a proud bitch.) Protests around the NFL ensued and the nation seemed more divided than ever. Almost every owner in the NFL stood in support of their players, most of whom are African-American, and most of whom represent the lower end of America’s economic spectrum.
But then NASCAR opened it’s mouth.
After Trump praised NASCAR, team owners and drivers voiced support for POTUS, equating the taking of a knee in protest to disrespecting vets and our flag. Of course, none noted the obvious irony. It was candidate Trump who said that 81 year-old Senator John McCain, recently diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, was not an American hero. Trump said he liked people who weren’t captured. (For the record, saying that taking a knee disrespects vets is like saying Rosa Parks disrespected public transportation.) But such is the nature of a man who claims he can grab women’s pussies and shoot people in Times Square.
Which brings me to Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
NASCAR is a sport that is almost an entirely white American event. And I don’t mean that as a pejorative. But the numbers show NASCAR fans voted overwhelmingly for Trump, and more to the point, polls show they continue to believe Trump’s assertions that Obama was Kenyan. So the day after Trump tweeted. “So proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans. They won’t put up with disrespecting our Country or our Flag – they said it loud and clear!”, Dale Earnhardt tweeted, “All Americans R granted rights 2 peaceful protests
Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable-JFK.”
When I read that tweet, I felt hopeful. I have traveled extensively in the south, and know our differences can be resolved. But not today. Today, Earnhardt will see a backlash. Even though he’s retiring, even though he’s beloved, he’s not that popular to reverse the Jim-Crow racism that still haunts the south. But it does make him a hero. Like Kaepernick, he had nothing to gain by standing up to prejudice and hate, except for everything that really matters.
His soul, and the soul of our nation hangs in the balance.