Dear Colin Kaepernick,
This is an open letter from a black Auntie.
I don’t know you. I have followed you and the movement you are leading since it began, supporting you and your fellow players. I still do.
You were born in 1987, and I was born in 1947. I could be your auntie or your grandma.
You and your brothers who are taking a knee are doing the right thing. Many of us sisters have backed your actions and will continue to do so. Those of us who are moms, aunties, grandmas, and godmothers have lived through Jim Crow, and rape, and being disrespected on a daily basis. We have changed your diapers and fed you from our breasts. We have buried many of our sons.
Sons just like you.
We have wept. We have mourned. We have put you in open caskets for the world to see like Mamie Till did for her brutally murdered son Emmett.
I have been having a discussion with some of my sisters of a certain age, and we want to ask you to get up offa your knees. Sit down in a chair and listen up for just a few minutes.
What you opt to do with the words we have to say is on your shoulders. But we’re gonna keep on doing what we been doing since before you were born.
What we have been doing is voting.
First, we had to fight to get that right. When white suffragists didn’t want us? We formed our own movement, led by sisters like Ida B. Wells Barnett, Harriet Tubman, Margaret Murray Washington, Frances E.W. Harper, Mary Church Terrell, and Josephine Ruffin.
You are fighting to raise the issue of state-sanctioned violence against us. Those aforementioned women fought not only for the ballot, but to stop rampant lynching and burning of black people.
After winning the right to vote, it was taken away from us. Some of us were beaten, jailed, and killed. If you get some time, read up on Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer. I met her when I was a little younger than you are now. I was a college student in New York. She opened my eyes about what was happening across the south. I took my right to vote for granted. Mrs. Hamer changed that.
This documentary about Mrs. Hamer is titled Stand Up, and she did—along with thousands of other black folks.
We know that a lot of our young folks admire you, and are following your lead. That puts you in a position of power in our community. We ask that you use that power more wisely.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick says it would have been hypocritical to have voted in the 2016 election after his national anthem protest, he told reporters on Sunday.
Kaepernick believes that it did not matter to him who won, and he declined to vote.
“You know, I think it would be hypocritical of me to vote,” Kaepernick said. “I said from the beginning I was against oppression, I was against the system of oppression. I’m not going to show support for that system. And to me, the oppressor isn’t going to allow you to vote your way out of your oppression.”
And yet you are kneeling to bring worldwide attention to young black men, and women too, who are being shot down in cold blood by racist police. You are calling attention to a system of criminal injustice.
How in hell do you think we can change white supremacist lawlessness into justice? It’s going to take not just protests, but fundamental change. That change can only take place when we have mayors who put a stop to hiring police chiefs who encourage rogue and racist cops; when we have judges and DAs who don’t give killer cops a slap on the wrist; when we have a slew of elected officials who don’t think being black sentences us to a life of hell; when we don’t have a sexual pervert in the White House—a man who called for the summary execution of innocent young black men known as the Central Park Five.
That change goes all the way up to the Supreme Court of these United States, of which you are a citizen. As a friend is fond of saying, “It’s the Supreme Court, stupid.”
Now our task is harder. The highest court in the land is stacked against us—again. Memories of the Dred Scott decision come to my mind.
You say you won’t show any support for the system, yet you are engaged in a court battle in that very same system.
I look at you, standing proud in your ‘fro, and think back to my brothers and sisters from the Black Panther Party. We fought, some of us died, and others are still in jail. We challenged systemic oppression. And yet it was Panthers who mobilized to get Ron Dellums, may he rest in power, elected to Congress as a Democratic Socialist, who then went on to co-found the Progressive Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus.
It was a member of that Caucus who took to the House floor to kneel in support of you and to call out Trump when he disrespected us by calling y’all sons of bitches.
We are not bitches.
We are your mamas and grandmas and aunties and godmothers. We are your sisters—and sometimes your daughters.
You know what? We are gonna keep fighting. While you are telling young folks why you didn’t vote, we are gonna smack the black offa some of those youngsters and teach them some of our history, as we march them to the ballot box.
Football players and others should keep on kneeling. Supporters should keep on protesting.
But when you stand back up again to brush the dust off of your kneepads, you should also mobilize our kids to learn a basic lesson in civics.
You gotta be in it to win it—and if you don’t vote, you won’t change a motherfucking thing.
You play a game called football. We are playing for keeps—and for survival.
Don’t get in our way.
The only blockers we need are those who will clear a path to the ballot box.
Sending you some tough love, young man.
Some Black Aunties.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.