I’m not sure if I’m reading “White Trash. The 400-Year Untold History of Class In America” by Nancy Isenberg for context or what.
I can tell you that I deliberated on Colin Kaepernick with utmost certainty, though.
One of the reasons I pressed “Pause” on it is because so many of the news readers and media pundits had such difficulty pronouncing this young man’s “adopted” last name. And, it wasn’t until the end of August that I even pondered placing Kaepernick (pronounced “KAP-er-nick”) on the cover.
I’d seen this type of ostracism before. In professional sports. From Muhammed Ali to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf to Carlos Delgado. At the urging of my man Tony McClean at Black Athlete Sports Network, I watched the entire Colin Kaepernick post-game interview.
Mind you, I lettered in football at the University of Detroit High School. I had even attended the University of Michigan Football Camp when former San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh was a ball boy while his father, Jack Harbaugh, ran the offensive drills through-out camp and kept a close eye on potential Wolverines for the legendary Bo Schembechler. (Of which, I was not.) Clearly, I’m in a space where I’m completely comfortable sharing this story with our MARQUEE readership.
Therefore, I am.
America’s fascination with the National Football League and patriotism is astounding. So much so, that an entire nation can turn on an individual player in a heartbeat at the slightest hint of dissension amongst the ranks.
That is exactly what happened on a Friday night in San Francisco.
A fellow Howard University alum, NFL Network’s Steve Wyche, spotted something unusual during a pre-season game against the Packers: 49ers backup QB Colin Kaepernick was sitting on the bench between two Gatorade cylinders.
Was Kaepernick hurt? Had he been secretly suspended for the proverbial “conduct detrimental to the team”? Was he miffed at new 49ers Head Coach Chip Kelly in any way?
I can only imagine what was going through Steve Wyche’s mind. But, he IS a seasoned reporter and his senses must’ve automatically kicked into gear, “Hey, we might be onto something here….”
I didn’t watch the game. I can only speculate. Nevertheless, a firestorm ensued.
While many in the media picked up on the piece immediately, I waited. There were a few reports on NBC News that I watched. And, I read a story in The Undefeated. That was pretty much it.
Granted, I don’t recall having seen Kaepernick play since the 49ers’ 34-29 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. I vaguely remember listening to KCOH’s Ralph Cooper discussing the Kaepernick contract status with his audience more recently, though.
It wasn’t MY contract situation. So, I kept it moving.
Then, I began to hear more about the role this young man’s parents had played in his life and how his biological mother had turned to the Lutheran Social Services in Wisconsin somewhere to give her baby boy a better life. And, I thought to myself:
“Here we go again. Another saga of redemption where some God-fearing white folks come to the rescue of another Black Boy and, through their moral turpitude and in-house family values, they manage to develop a superior athlete and outstanding symbol of their own righteous efforts. The credits will roll, some folks will leave the screening in tears, and the now-grown Black Boy will emerge as a class act. By all accounts.“
If you’re a sports fan, you have undoubtedly seen this script. If you haven’t, just think back to Sandra Bullock in “The Blindside”. Of course, I refused to even entertain the thought of watching that movie. That doesn’t mean YOU didn’t check it out, though.
Even during Kaepernick’s run with the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII, I’d considered him a brother. It wasn’t until delving more deeply into his background did I bother to care. Or, to question it.
I don’t know about you. But, I’m from Detroit. Growing up there, it wasn’t unusual to see light-skinned Black folks where the mothers of these children were white. Sure, the kids got teased and called “Half-breed” and whatnot.
Until they fought back.
Hell, I was called “Light, bright, and damn near white” until I was about 10 or 11. So, I know Kaepernick had to go through it. The difference is both my parents were called “Negro”. I still had to fight back.
As a matter of fact, I’ve been fighting back ever since.
Which brings me to my question:
“In this age of self-identification where you can be whatever you want to be, go into any bathroom you want to, allegedly, claim you’re biracial because race is a social construct, who is Colin Kaepernick’s father and what would the father say to his son?“
I know, I know. The storyline is Kaepernick’s mother, Heidi Russo, gave birth to her son in Milwaukee. The Kaepernicks adopted him from her at six months and he lived in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin until he was 4. Then, the Kaepernicks moved to Turlock, California where they groomed him through high school, 90 miles east of Oakland. From there, Colin Kaepernick went on to star at QB for the University of Nevada-Reno and, eventually, became the 49ers 2nd-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
I got all that.
Let’s take a step back for a moment, shall we? His maternal grandparents are the Zabranskys: James and Phyllis. I’m thinking the family is of German-Jewish descent. Maybe even Polish of some sort. If the Zabranskys lived in Milwaukee while their daughter, Heidi, was in high school, do you think they would allow any of their three daughters to hang out with Black athletes?
I sure as hell don’t.
Now, what about the adoptive Kaepernick clan? Have you seen some of the bowl cuts this kid had to endure when there HAD to be a Black barbershop somewhere between the house and 90 miles west toward Oakland?
The point I’m making is I don’t believe ANY White couple can raise a Black Boy into a Black Man. Neither can these “2 Moms” households. Particularly when every stop along said Black Boy’s developmental path, the Black population in these chosen residential outposts is less than 2%.
Then, your “son” is launching his professional career in San Francisco? One of the, if not THE, most liberal cities in the country? Man, please. If you cain’t do your thang in the Bay Area, why does everybody ELSE get to?
This whole drama about the National Anthem is what it is. While you have this uproar from the right ready to wage war as an exercise in their OWN patriotism, where are the upstanding folks who give a damn about helping this young man identify his father?
Time and again, you see featured stories of families reuniting with long-lost loved ones. And, there’s a collective “Awwww….” until the newscast breaks to commercial.
Why not do the same thang for this young Black Man? In lieu of this long occurrence, I will, officially, offer what any Black Man, coach, mentor or wino would do in this situation were any of them from Detroit: I’d tell young Mr. Kaepernick, “Stand your ground, Son.”
Otherwise, you’re just listening to the strains of white trash. And, 400 years worth of it.
Editor’s Note: If you’re old enough to have worn a ‘fro, then you’re old enough to remember Brothers Johnson.
If you’re old enough to remember the Brothers Johnson AND played football at any point in the ‘70s, you wanted your ‘fro to come out the back of your helmet like Gene Washington, former 49ers wide receiver and former Director of Football Operations for the NFL.
BTW, I wonder what Gene Washington is thinking now that Colin Kaepernick has re-claimed his Black Man status.