Tomi Lahren isn’t right on race

Shavez Rosenthal

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The decision Colin Kaepernick recently made to not stand up for the national anthem has landed him in the unenviable position of widespread public scrutiny. Receiving criticism from NFL owners to cable news political contributors to police unions, Kaepernick has found himself in a position where no NFL player seeking to sustain his career would want to be.

Critics like Tomi Lahren, conservative television host for TheBlaze, took exception to Kaepernick’s decision. In an attempt to rebut Kaepernick, Lahren put out a viral rant that garnered more than a million views on YouTube. In the video, Lahren argues that Kaepernick is essentially a “whiny, indulgent, attention-seeking crybaby” whose argument has no merit. Due to the vast amount of attention the video has obtained, it is important to not get caught up in the seemingly politically incorrect language that Lahren uses but to address the arguments actually put forth.

Before addressing any arguments put forth by Lahren or Kaepernick, it is essential to understand that Kaepernick’s actions, from his speech to his refusal to stand, are entirely within the realm of his constitutional rights. One of the most respected principles of this country is the ability to freely express oneself, to certain extents, without fear of government-sanctioned punishment for those expressions. It is worth noting that Lahren correctly cites this principle before starting her argument. However, this may be the only point made by Lahren that is worth praising.

Lahren initially proceeds with the point that the National Anthem is inherently void of any partiality towards any racial demographic in the United States of America. In fact, she states that “The National Anthem … (is not a symbol) of black America, white America, brown America or purple America.”

A prima facie analysis of this claim would yield a falsity. The creation of the National Anthem itself rests in the context of a country that enslaved 20 million people who at the time were degraded to the level of property. Francis Scott Key, the author of the poem, later turned anthem, was a man against the very idea of abolition. An anti-abolitionist who had no problem articulating his feelings in what we now hold as our most patriotic poem ever written. In the midst of writing his poem that applauded the severity of damage hailed against the British, Key inserts a few lines degrading those former slaves who fought for the British in exchange for their freedom. Key writes, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.” In other words, slaves who dared to fight for their freedom in this sense were worthy of death. Fundamentally, a rudimental reading of history shows that the National Anthem may not be a symbol of “white America” but is at the very least a symbol of anti-blackness.

Lahren also presents the question that finally addresses Kaepernick’s actual argument: “Who’s getting away with murder?” Lahren said. “I’d like to see some evidence to back that up because that’s a pretty strong claim.”

At this point, it is crucial to remind the reader that Kaepernick’s argument is rooted in a larger on-going national dialogue in a conversation about police brutality. Unbeknownst to Tomi Lahren, there is considerable evidence that police brutality not only exists, but there are racial implications in the data collected. Whether it is the widely publicized MXGM study which suggested that a black person is killed every 28 hours by extrajudicial police force, the 990 people shot dead by police (44 percent being Black or Hispanic) in 2015 according to The Washington Post, the study by the American Psychological Association which found that black boys are more likely to be viewed as older and less innocent or the dozens of other studies published around policing, it is undeniable that everyday Americans are being subjected to unjust police force.

It is even more undeniable to suggest that race does play apart in this.  Kaepernick’s disdain with American policing is the idea that there is barely any policing accountability when it comes to police misconduct. According to the Huffington Post, there were zero police officers convicted on murder or manslaughter charges in 2015 for fatally shooting civilians. While there may not be any studies to suggest that police are fulfilling the statutory intentional component of murder in the process of killing American citizens, there are at least studies to suggest that misconduct occurs and there are no serious ramifications for the unjust actions of police officers.

The most troubling part about Tomi Lahren’s rant is when she issues an ultimatum to Colin Kaepernick. In the midst of her rant, Lahren’s exclaims to Kaepernick the following: “If this country disgusts you, leave.”

In other words, the seemingly lack of patriotism on Kaepernick’s behalf warrants his departure from the United States of America. While it is meritorious that Lahren’s arguments are predicated on ideas that have been scientifically denied, her aforementioned comment is the most problematic when placed in the lens of history. When one accounts for race and history, African Americans have always had a very unique relationship with this country. In fact, the American Constitution itself attempts to reconcile the idea pronounced in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” with the contradicting institution of slavery.

When slavery ended, African Americans subsequently joined the military, ran for public office and participated in the workforce. Those same people who were devastatingly plundered and exploited by a country decided to be a part of that same country in hopes of encouraging it to live up to its own promises and principles. Great men and women, from Ida B. Wells to Thurgood Marshall to Martin Luther King, Jr., continued this tradition to remind America of its promises and contradictions. Similarly, it is undeniable that phenomenal achievements have been made in this tradition from desegregation to voting legislation to black public officials.

However, an attempt to erase this great African American tradition using patriotism as a pretext has been the prevailing response to it. The idea that criticizing a country is tantamount to not exhibiting patriotism is absurd. In fact, it was James Baldwin, African American novelist, who said, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” Lahren’s comments are dangerous in the sense that they seek to eradicate an American tradition of the very self-reflection that enables this country to be the democracy that it seeks to be and thus deserves to be criticized.

The actions of Colin Kaepernick are very much in-line with an African American tradition of remembering our principles and reevaluating who we are as a country that continues to this very day. Tomi Lahren’s comments are worth reflecting due to their popularity and their resonance in today’s conversation about police accountability.

Succinctly put, Lahren’s comments are historically inaccurate, empirically invalid and simply dangerous in the context of this much-needed larger conversation. She reduces a critique of the state to the act of “blaming white people.” She reduces 400-plus years of exploitation and subjugation to the administration of a black president, which lasted eight years. She puts the onus on black communities to remedy themselves out of situation created by public policy.

Lahren’s comments do little to advance the broader conversation about the thousands of lives lost to police misconduct. In fact, her comments are counterproductive in the sense that they engage in what Ta-nehisi Coates, MacArthur “Genius” Award winning journalist, calls the act of “forgetting.” Coates states that the act of “(f)orgetting is habit … They have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world.”

In other words, in a world where Colin Kaepernick is engaging in a practice of remembering, Tomi Lahren is trying her best to forget.

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