Before I start, I feel I should give a disclaimer: Colin Kaepernick’s iconic Nike ad is literally the wallpaper on my iPhone lock screen. As a young Black man living in America, I admired the professional quarterback’s courageous act of kneeling during the national anthem before games in protest to racism and police brutality. Kap’s demonstration during the 2016-17 season inspired other NFL players to join in protesting causing a massive disruption throughout the league and country as whole.
Even now, over two years since Kap took a knee for the first time before a San Francisco 49ers preseason game, these NFL protests are still heavily debated everywhere in this nation, from the White House to local barbershops for its reason and method. The contentiousness of this topic was apparent when podcast host Shawn H. Wilson, sat down to have real talk with Andrew Young, the Civil Rights pioneer that once served as the mayor of Atlanta and the first black U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Kaepernick’s newest campaign, which reportedly brought in Nike upwards of $6 billion after airing, projects the message,
“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Not many people living today relate to this premise as much as Andrew Young, who marched as Martin Luther King’s right-hand man in the height of the Civil Rights Movement. However, Young directly spoke out against Kap’s stance in Episode 5 stating that “symbolic protests” like this are “too simple and irrelevant,” thus unhelpful to the advancement of race relations.
“I don’t believe in symbolic protests, I believe in substantive protests” illustrated Young.
He doubled-down on his belief when explaining how recent demonstrations against the confederate flag, which he deemed useless, distracted citizens. According to Young, this distraction lead to the demise of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) making millions of Americans lose healthcare.
Now, to all the Black Twitter activists whose fingers began itching when reading the headline to this article: chill out. What we’re not about to do is try to cancel Andrew Young and his 60+ years of blood, sweat and tears for the Black community because he’s on the opposing side of this divisive topic. He’s not disagreeing with the fact that bigotry and police brutality is an epidemic in this country. Nor is he taking the dismissive “shut-up and dribble” tone that Laura Ingraham spoke with when LeBron James criticized Donald Trump. In fact, Young states that Black athletes, such as Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Hershel Walker and Hank Aaron, have “lead the desegregation of America”. What Young disagrees with in regards to the NFL protests is the tactic of kneeling that Kaepernick chose.
Young has experienced his fair share of marches and sit-ins as a member and Executive Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He even played a key role in strategizing the infamous Selma March of 1965 in which unarmed protesters, including women and children, were beaten with billy clubs and sprayed with tear gas by Alabama state troopers. Therefore, I initially thought it was hypocritical for the 86-year-old activist to dispute Kap’s stance. However, the more I listened to Young’s reasoning, the more I understood where he was coming from. Young realized at some point in his extensive career that a more practical approach to advocating for change will lead to better results than just causing uproar.
According to Young, leaders with Kaepernick’s level of wealth, intelligence and social influence, should use their position to directly access people with the power to make these changes.
“When you have a PhD and ten million dollars, you ain’t supposed to be marching. You’re supposed to be picking up the phone talking to somebody man to man”, he emphasized.
In other words, if Kap truly wants to see an improvement in police brutality, Young feels that he should be using his status to establish meetings between law enforcement and the people in the communities they serve.
“You have to know what you are protesting and the protest has to be relevant to the crime”, explained Young elaborating on his point.
Andrew Young’s points about Colin Kaepernick and the NFL protests were an extension of the overarching theme that he stressed throughout this conversation: A man’s actions and decisions should be based on reason, not emotions.
Young learned this at an early age when his father explained to him that the building located about 50 yards from the house he grew up in was the Nazi headquarters. His father iterated that white supremacy is a sickness that he should never be rattled by.
“When you’re in a fight, don’t get mad. Get smart. If you stay cool, you’ll win more battles with your mind”, he would tell his son.
Therefore, Young has always made an effort to maintain his cool even in the most hostile situations. When you allow yourself to become overwhelmed with emotions, you lose clarity of your thoughts.
Asserting this message of unbreakable composure, Young does not let the divisive tactics of President Donald Trump infuriate him. “The reason I dismiss him is not to be disrespectful but because I think that his eccentricities are designed to provoke us”, he explained to Shawn. Young sees no benefit in antagonizing oppressors. The better alternative would be to try to connect with them on a human level. He states that “you overcome hatred with love.. and another word for love is understanding.”
This idea of always maintaining composure and sound reasoning was continued in Episode 6, the last of this two-part episode. For the second half of the conversation, Young and Wilson were accompanied by Chaka Zulu, Atlanta hip-hop pioneer and co-founder of Ludacris’ Disturbin Tha Peace Records. The men discussed that key practices to being able to remain poised in tough circumstances are self-care and controlling stress levels. Young and Chaka Zulu expressed their belief that stress is a self-imposed phenomenon caused by when someone is running away from their problems instead of facing them directly.
Look, in all honesty, I have no idea if Kaepernick’s protests are going to make any tangible changes for the conditions of under-marginalized groups in this country. Who am I to disagree with Andrew Young? The man is a walking encyclopedia on the matter of civil rights after all the time and work he’s put into the movement.
However, my support for Kap remains unwavered. The truth of the matter is that there is no definitive answer on how we are going cure this nation from its disease of the systematic oppression of black and brown people.
Some believe that the best way is through peaceful protests that draw awareness. Some believe that best way is through economic empowerment. Some believe that we should draw arms and revolt against the government. Some people, like me, are stuck somewhere in the middle. Either way, when I see a Black man genuinely sacrificing his time, money and resources to try to improve our livelihood in whatever way he deems fit, I can’t help but salute. Otherwise, we have no hope for the “Promise-land” that Andrew Young and his best friend once dreamed of.
Checkout the full episode here: Ep. 5: Civil Rights Icon, Ambassador Andrew Young (Part 1 of 2)