Legendary singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte minced no words this week when asked about his reaction to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to stay seated during the National Anthem in his team’s pre-season games.
“To mute the slave has always been to the best interests of the slave owner,” Belafonte said, after TV One interviewer Roland Martin read comments from an NFL front office executive who called Kaepernick a “traitor” and threatened to quit if his owner asked him to sign the quarterback. “And I think that when a black voice is raised in protest to oppression those who are comfortable with our oppression are the first to criticize us for daring to speak out against it. I think that it’s a noble thing that he’s done.”
Kaepernick’s protest during his team’s games has resulted in an avalanche of negative reactions from everyone from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (who said Kaepernick should “find a country that works better for him”) to legendary 49ers receiver Jerry Rice (who said he respects Kaepernick’s choice, but asked him to not “disrespect the flag”), as well as wholehearted support from NBA icon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who called the act patriotic), Spike Lee (who compared Kaepernick to Muhammad Ali) and Public Enemy/Prophets of Rage rapper Chuck D (“@Kaepernick7 statement rings right now.”)
Belafonte said it’s a “righteous” thing to stand up (or in this case sit down) and make people think about paying homage to an anthem that “also has a constituency by the millions who suffer.” Calling Kaepernick “noble” and “courageous” for taking his stance, Belafonte, 89, noted that at the height of his fame in the 1950s, “the machinery of oppressions was always at work trying to discredit me, make me a Communist, make me un-patriotic, etc., etc., etc. It takes a lot of courage to stand up in the face of that onslaught, that reactive moment and not bend to the wind.”
Explaining his decision, Kaepernick told the NFL: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color… 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.”
Like the famous group of black athletes that rallied around Muhammad Ali during his fight with the American government over attempts to draft the championship boxer into the Army to fight in Vietnam, Belafonte said he’d like to see black athletes rally around Kaepernick. “As a matter of fact, the black community… no, let me go further than that. The American community, the citizens of this nation are beautifully enhanced by being exposed to the fact that there’s this dissatisfaction and that there’s something they can do about fixing it,” Belafonte said.
Watch the full interview: