President Trump has a knack for diverting attention from his failures, often using race as the vehicle. So when Sen. John McCain came out against the cruel Graham-Cassidy Republican health care bill, guaranteeing its well-deserved crash, Trump went speeding down the racially divisive low road.
At a virtually all-White campaign rally in Alabama that night, Trump decided to crudely attack NFL players with the courage and consciousness to follow the example of Colin Kaepernick, the African-American quarterback who took a knee during the national anthem to protest police killings of unarmed Black men and boys.
Racially-charged statements and allegations are nothing new for Trump. A Justice Department lawsuit for housing discrimination against he and his father; the Central Park Five; “birtherism”; attacking the integrity of an Indiana-born Mexican-American judge in the Trump University trial; calling Mexican immigrants “criminals, drug dealers and rapists” when he announced he was running for president; a Muslim travel ban; Charlottesville, Jemele Hill and now attacks on Kaepernick, Stephen Curry and any other athlete with the nerve to speak out against injustice.
Hypocrite in chief
After the murderous events in Charlottesville, President Trump said there were some “fine people” among the thousands of KKK, neo-Nazis and White supremacist protesters marching with tiki torches carrying Confederate and Nazi flags. But when Black athletes nonviolently kneel on the sidelines during the playing of the national anthem, Trump insults their mothers by calling the players “SOBs.”
President Trump said race had nothing to do with his name calling. He said Kaepernick was disrespecting the flag and the military protecting it, and should be denied his right to speak and earn an honest living. Kaepernick said he was protesting racial injustice.
What could Kaepernick possibly have in mind? His immediate concern was a rash of police killings of unarmed Black people.
But I’m sure he was aware of other substantive concerns as well: racial profiling while driving and in stores; a Black incarceration rate 5.1 times that of Whites (and in Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont and Wisconsin the disparity is 10-to-1).
In 12 states, more than half of the prison population is Black, with Maryland having the highest rate at 72 percent. In 11 states, at least 1-in-20 Black males are in prison; in Oklahoma, 1 in 15 males ages 18 and older is in prison. African-Americans are 13 percent of the population but since 1976 are 35 percent of executions.
One in 17 Black men aged 30-34 was in prison in 2015. Black males born in 2001 had a 32 percent chance of serving time in prison at some point in their lives; and in 2015, the rate of prison incarceration for Black women was double the rate for White women.
I’m sure racial disparities in health care also weighed heavy on his mind and heart.
African-Americans have higher rates of mortality than any other racial or ethnic group for 8 of the top 10 causes of death. People of color have the highest rates of cardiovascular disease, HIV/AIDS and infant mortality.
In housing, African-Americans were disproportionately foreclosed on during the Great Recession and are the main victims of redlining.
Black unemployment has always been at least twice that of Whites. Youth unemployment is often over 50 percent in poor urban areas. Economically, the wealth gap between Whites and Black families nearly tripled from $85,000 in 1984 to $236,500 in 2009.
In education, Blacks disproportionately attend poorly-financed and segregated public schools. While there has been an increase in Blacks going to college, most of this rise has been in lower-quality institutions.
President Trump wanted the owners to fire any player who took a knee. Instead virtually all the owners joined with their players in support of the issue Kaepernick raised – racial injustice.
That was perplexing and hypocritical, considering the owners had white-balled Kaepernick, denying him a job in the NFL for kneeling, and thereby standing up for the oppressed.
In good company
Kaepernick stands firmly in the linage of Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics, Curt Flood, Billie Jean King and Jackie Robinson – a founding board member of Operation PUSH.
Like those brave men and women, Kaepernick is not just courageous. He is good, very good, at his job. He should be on an NFL team and until he is, every American who cares about justice and fair play should take a knee and boycott the games.
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is president and CEO of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.