Hashtag activism has its limits, and most social-media reaction stories are predictable and boring, but the discussion of Colin Kaepernick’s “Star-Spangled Banner” protest taking place in #VeteransForKaepernick threads on Twitter and Facebook right now is more varied and interesting than almost all of the commentary on the subject cramming the airwaves.
My colleague Jon Schwarz startled many Americans by pointing out that our national anthem “literally celebrates the murder of African-Americans” in a rarely sung or talked about third verse about slaughtering escaped slaves who chose to fight for their freedom, and against the United States, in the War of 1812.
In the heated environment of the election campaign, it is also notable that Kaepernick explained that his attempt to draw attention to racial injustice — which was criticized by Donald Trump — is not something he expects to be resolved by the victory of either candidate.
More Kaepernick on presidential candidates: "You have Hillary who's called black teens super predators. You have Trump who's openly racist"— Cam Inman (@CamInman) August 28, 2016
As reporters swarmed around his locker last weekend, Kaepernick said he would continue to sit during the anthem. “I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed, to me this is something that has to change,” he said.
He was then asked what he would say to Americans who “see the flag as kind of a symbol of the military.”
He replied: “I have great respect for men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country and they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice for everyone. And that’s not happening. I mean people are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up.”
That set off a predictable backlash from commentators who describe themselves as pro-military but have not, apparently, spent much time speaking to the men and women who actually serve in the armed forces.
Kaepernick if you don't like ????????, get out. Our military puts their lives on the line every day for U to throw a football, to the wrong team.— Ricky Young (@RickyYoungMusic) August 28, 2016
Support for Kaepernick from active-duty and retired military personnel who recognize that the nation has a racial justice problem was evident earlier in the week.
The military blogger who writes as Johnny Silvercloud, for instance, made his feelings quite clear, partly by sharing a viral video clip of Muhammad Ali posted on Facebook by the boxer Ishé Oluwa Smith in support of the quarterback.
But the depth and varied nature of that support only became clear once the topic began to trend under the new hashtag on the dominant social networks on Tuesday and Wednesday. Those comments are worth reading in part because they cut across race and gender lines and display a complexity lacking from much of what passes for debate on the subject on radio and television channels.