Black August:  On George Jackson and Colin Kaepernick


Black August is a time for us to reflect on the perpetual struggle against racism and white supremacy in this country.  Likewise, it is an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the struggle (or join it, for that matter).  During Black August, one of the things that we do is read the works of George Jackson.  Jackson, a revolutionary theorist, witnessed and experienced some of the worst examples of the inhumanity that this system of federated States is capable of.  This perspective is important lest we forget how vicious the monster is.

On the surface, the differences between Jackson and Kaepernick could not seem more stark.  In 1961, Jackson was convicted for a $70 robbery and sentenced to an indeterminate sentence of one-year to life in prison.  54 years later, Kaepernick would sign a 6-year $119 million contract to play football for the San Francisco 49ers.

At the time of Jackson’s incarceration, there was an active prison movement within the California prison system.  Jackson was introduced to the movement by W.L. Nolan and others and would soon become politicized by them and through the study of revolutionary theorists such as Karl Marx and Franz Fanon.  The prison movement was geared to towards advocating for humane treatment within the prisons where it was not uncommon for Blacks to be brutalized and even killed by guards.  In fact, both Nolan and Jackson would eventually be gunned down by prison guards.

45 years following Jackson’s assassination, it remains necessary for a movement to exist that is dedicated to struggling for the protection of Black lives from state sanctioned violence at the hands of state agents.  It appears as though Kaepernick has been inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, just as Jackson was inspired by the prison movement.

This is significant in light of Jackson’s analysis of the fate of Black leaders.  In his book, Soledad Brother, writing to his lawyer, Fay Stender, Jackson compared the plight of Black people to the plains buffalo, a herd animal, and the manner in which they are hunted.

The great American bison or buffalo — he’s a herd animal, or social animal if you prefer, just like us in that. We’re social animals, we need others of our general kind about us to feel secure…..  Social animals eat, sleep, and travel in company, they need this company to feel secure. This fact means that socialistic animals also need leaders. It follows logically that if the buffalo is going to eat, sleep, and travel in groups some coordinating factor is needed or some will be sleeping when others are traveling. Without the leader-follower complex, in a crisis the company would roar off in a hundred different directions…… The hunter understood this. Predatory man learned of the natural occurrence of leadership in all of the social animals; that each group will by nature produce a leader, and to these natural leaders fall the responsibility for coordination of the group’s activity, organizing them for survival. The buffalo hunter knew that if he could isolate and identify the leader of the herd and kill him first, the rest of the herd would be helpless, at his mercy, to be killed off as he saw fit.

Jackson goes on to discuss why he thinks that those who have achieved success in society tend to be disinclined from speaking out against injustice or joining movements for change.

The potential black leadership looks at the pitiable condition of the black herd: the corruption, the preoccupation with irrelevance, the apparent ineptitude concerning matters of survival…… He weighs this thing that he sees in the herd against the possible risks he’ll be taking at the hands of the fascist monster and he naturally decides to go for himself, feeling that he can’t help us because we are beyond help, that he may as well get something out of existence. These are the “successful Negroes,” the opposite of the “failures.” You find them on the ball courts and fields, the stage…..

George Jackson was assassinated, not so much because of his scathing and insightful critique of our society, but because of his ability to organize and inspire people.  One of the stated objectives of the FBI’s CounterIntelligence Program was to “prevent the rise of a Black Messiah who could unify and electrify the [people].”  Fearless, strong, inspirational, and uncompromising Black leadership is anathema to white supremacy.  

Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem and his pointed statements explaining his actions was momentous.  It puts him in the category of John Carlos and Tommie Smith, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, and other athletes who took unequivocal oppositional stances against social injustice – racism in particular.  Furthermore, it wasn’t impulsive.  It was calculated and deliberate.  He knows how intimately the NFL is associated with the military.  He knows that that simple gesture may have been career suicide, but he took a principled stance anyway.  For that he deserves our support.  

I have many friends in the movement who shun professional sports because of the social distraction that the tend to represent.  It is indeed an indictment against our societal priorities when the Super Bowl is the most watched event on television.  How many people would pay $50 to watch a ball game before they would donate $50 to a political party, or a non-profit, or a homeless person?  How many of us read the sports page first?  How many of us know the various statistics of players and games, but are clueless to the expenditures of the local, state, and national budget?  I get it.  And as “woke” as I may be, I’m guilty of it myself.  I love football.  

However, all of the reasons why one might choose to shun sports are the reasons to support Kaepernick.  Similarly, all of the reasons to cheer for sports are the reasons to support Kaepernick.  He is danger of losing endorsements and possibly his job because he is taking an unpopular stance.  It’s our job to make it popular.  To show that he is not alone and significant portion of the population appreciates what he did.  Voice your opinion on social media.  Support him and chastise others for standing during the anthem.  Might I suggest #SitNextToColin and #WhyAreYouStanding.  If you can afford it, purchase his jersey on the NFL Shop website or other retailers as a boycott in reverse.  Currently, the highest selling jersey is rookie Ezekiel Elliott.  Why? Because he is dynamic and fans are excited about him.  Kaepernick is dynamic and those of us who agree with him should be excited about him.  Supporting him at this moment will encourage others to take similar stances.

This strategy is applicable to all of our leaders and comrades within the movement.  People are apt to be more fearless when they know that others have their back.  However, too often we fail our leaders.  Betty Shabazz and her family should never have wanted for anything after her husband, our “shining Black prince” was assassinated.  But that wasn’t the case.  How many political prisoners have been buried alive and forgotten?  What of the fate of their families?  We have to appreciate the risks that people take when they stand out front.  And although Kaepernick may not be a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, currently, he is standing (sitting) out front and vulnerable.  Furthermore, at present he has a larger microphone than any of us.  Protecting him now is protecting our movement.  The enemy will attempt to make an example out of him.  So should we.  Let us heed George Jackson and avoid going the way of the buffalo.



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