Over two centuries ago, the United States’ Founding Fathers convened in Philadelphia to lay out a framework for the budding nation. The result was the construction of our Constitution — the brainchild of many men, all with different philosophies and visions for the future of the nation. However, they shared a reservation for unrestrained dominion like that of the British monarch that once reigned over them. The Declaration of Independence asserted “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” and the Anti-Federalists, those wary of executive power, insisted that a Bill of Rights be added to the Constitution following its ratification that ensured the certain liberties of the people would not be infringed upon by the government.
In contemporary political discourse, there exists a debate regarding one of the most sacred rights enshrined in the Constitution. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” Although these words have protected the rights of white men since its inception, the Bill of Rights has not always protected those of minorities. Enslaved Americans were not viewed as human beings with God-given autonomy like their White counterparts. They were considered property, and the law, whether it be in spirit or in practice, affirmed their objectification. Only within the past century has the Supreme Court (arguably) fully avouched the equal rights of minorities.
Still, the right of Black people to express disdain for a government they see as repressive is under attack. Ex-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest has incensed masses of white Americans. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick declared. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” The United States clearly has an issue with the unjust murder of Black people by the police, and Kaepernick is using his voice and his Constitutional right to do so, to shed light on it. But apparently Black people that take a stand on Black issues do not have the same rights.
Our president, in an unhinged tirade this past week, asked his crowd of adoring fans if they would, “love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag… say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now … He’s fired. He’s fired!’” Coincidentally, Kaepernick is unemployed despite, in many people’s opinion, possessing the necessary skills to remain competitive in the league. Though some dispute this and argue that he is not the player he once was, many are questioning whether he would be on the field now had he not stuck to his protest. One of those people is ESPN host Jemele Hill, who also came under fire from the White House for her words. In a series of tweets, Hill professed that, “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.” In response, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders went out and suggested that ESPN should fire Hill. The president also took to Twitter to demand an apology. Conservatives all over the country have vowed to protest ESPN for its decision to keep Hill.
This is the president that doubled down on his support for the white supremacists and neo-Nazis that wreaked havoc at a Klan rally in Charlottesville, Va., this summer that led to the death of an innocent counter-protester. In defiance of his own advisers’ advice, the condemnation of racism from leaders of his own party and decades-old political norms, he suggested that there were, “some very fine people on both sides.” Far-right commentators also rushed condemn the violence, but insinuated that white supremacists, too, have First Amendment rights to speech and assembly.
Are you sensing a pattern?
It wouldn’t matter that Hill, Kaepernick or any of the many other Black dissenters villainized in today’s society are chastised, if those that spout hatred and racism were chastised too, specifically from the President of the United States. However, this isn’t the case. The Constitution grants freedom of speech as a right for all, and the days of Black rights being second-class rights are over. Agree with our positions or not, Black people still have the right to have them — and take a stand, or a knee.