Right-wing media outlets are attacking Colin Kaepernick for donating to an organization I volunteer with, Assata’s Daughters, which is dedicated to raising youth to love and support Black people. This press onslaught, inflamed by Breitbart, stems from the age-old attack on everything Black. That attack is now escalating, because we are determined to fight for our freedom. The fact that these so-called “alt-right” groups are threatened by the struggle for Black self-determination shows the real power we have and our audacity in exercising it.
As Jamilah King wrote in Mother Jones, “Kaepernick donated $25,000 to Black women, and conservatives have lost their minds.”
Assata’s Daughters is committed to sustaining and deepening the movement for Black Lives. We chant the words of Assata Shakur—a freedom fighter, poet, mother and Black revolutionary—every Wednesday after school with beautiful Black girls as young as six on Chicago’s South Side:
It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.
This latest attack is not just about the current backlash experienced by Colin Kaepernick, Assata Shakur or Assata’s Daughters: It is about all of us. This country is founded on and has profited from Blackness being owned and controlled. Our bodies have toiled in fields and factories and filled prisons with cheap or free labor to create products for Victoria’s Secret, McDonald’s, Whole Foods and others. Criminalizing Black people has been—and continues to be—a key function of the U.S. police force and legal system. Assata Shakur has been criminalized by the same federal government that provided free prison labor to BP to clean up the 4.2 million barrels of oil spilled in the Gulf.
The question of whether to trust such a system is life or death for us, especially as our people are mislabeled as “cop killers” and dragged in the press.
The backlash and war on Black people we are seeing today has come in several forms throughout time. We are outcast, fired, smeared, arrested, imprisoned, brutalized and killed for simply walking down the street in our neighborhoods.
We remember Rekia Boyd, a Black woman shot in the back of the head in Chicago by an off-duty police officer while she was walking with a companion and holding a cell phone. Since the cop who murdered her assumed that Black people are criminals, it did not occur to him that the victim he pictured pointing a gun at him could have instead been making a phone call. And again, we witnessed the justification of Black death and state murder, when the police officer got away with it.
We remember the case of another Chicagoan, Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times by a Chicago cop. Police were charged with numerous counts of conspiracy for tampering with the evidence, writing false reports and lying to cover up the murder. This so-called “code of silence” has been challenged for years by Black people who didn’t need webcams and a nearly-two-year investigation to confirm what ended up being true again: The officer created a false narrative of a violent, knife-wielding, Black, dangerous, teenaged McDonald.
Assata’s Daughters was part of the struggle to win justice for Laquan McDonald while successfully pushing for the ousting of former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who was instrumental to the cover-up.
Our present-day abolitionist struggle continues to oppose the police and a widespread form of captivity—incarceration. After all, if we studied the history of policing as well in the United States, we would eventually learn that the police were originally white vigilante groups that evolved into “Indian Patrols” and fugitive slave catchers—all necessary to control and profit off of the criminalization of Black and Brown captives of the past, as well as the present.
While Black people comprise just 13 percent of the U.S. population, we comprise 40 percent of the incarcerated population. We are entangled and brutalized in a legal system more likely to wrongfully convict and imprison us than any other group. This is the same system that criminalized Assata Shakur, Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks.
My 11-year-old niece does not learn in her classroom the lessons she learns in the after-school program provided by Assata’s Daughters. This organization shows her what it feels like when a community of Black people vows to fight for freedom in the tradition of Assata Shakur, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Jacobs, Queen Nanny, Nana Yaa Asantewaa and many others who have taught us how to win.
It is no surprise that Black resistance to white supremacy will be, and always has been, considered “inappropriate” in this country. This is just one of many attacks Kaepernick has endured, including the blowback to his decision to reject anti-Blackness by symbolically taking a knee during the United States National Anthem. The “alt-right” does not think it is his right, or the right of any Black person, to be “ungrateful” to a country that has made great strides. But they fail to realize it was our Black freedom fighters, in solidarity with others, who fought for and won such strides.
The story of Black resistance is tucked away, like the hardly-ever-sung, racist third verse of the National Anthem, which celebrates the deaths of Black people, the Colonial Marines, who were audacious enough to fight against their own enslavement on the side of the British in an 1814 attack on the White House. (To be clear, the British also engaged in slavery at this time.)
Why should a Black person be expected to side with a U.S. government that legally rendered their ancestors property and celebrated their deaths as they struggled to free themselves?
As this latest racist onslaught against us shows, Black people do not have the right to liberty and resistance in 2017 either. Athletes like Kaepernick are expected to suspend their First Amendment rights, be grateful and pretend that verse doesn’t explicitly shame his ancestors for resisting their own enslavement. We all are expected to stand and sing the Anthem with pride as if our babies don’t know that third verse.
And this is exactly why we have the audacity to resist and the audacity to name our own heroes.