Saturday, October 30, 2021

Colin Kaepernick on Netflix

 He's the tall, slim, graceful man in black. A Black man in black. The episode opens with him, in tight close-up and with his full moon-sized Afro, speaking directly to us. He talks about football and race. He knows what he's talking about. He's NFL veteran Colin Kaepernick and this is the first episode of the Netflix drama series, COLIN IN BLACK & WHITE. Not only does he introduce this personal look at race, class and culture, he narrates it and watches his young self portrayed terrifically by a charismatic and talented newcomer named Jaden Michael. Watching Jaden Michael, as teen Kaepernick, try to negotiate embracing his Blackness in the racial politics of hair care with his white adopted parents is memorable. The scene is strong and real and you cannot take your eyes off this impressive new talent. Kaepernick, whose birth father was Black, was placed up for adoption when he was baby. In the series, we seen teen Kaepernick interact with other Black kids in school and on the sports playing field. However, the inside of his home is devoid of any sense of Black culture when you look around it. 

There is a "power dynamic," as adult Kaepernick says, in professional sports. There's also one at play in his home with his parents, although he doesn't realize it at first. He's the gifted Black teen dealing with White parents and White coaches. "You have to play by the rules, Colin," he's told.

When young Kaepernick's mother finally gives in and takes her teen son to a Black-owned barber shop staffed with Black employees, it's like Colin leaves dry, colorless Kansas and steps into the Emerald City. He's with his people. Colin Kaepernick co-created this series with the innovative, influential director, Ava DuVernay. She directed the first episode.

The second episode looks at the disparity between the races in wealth, access and opportunities. Colin Kaepernick mentions that we Black often need the "White men stamp of approval." This I know all too well from my career. The dramatic series is true and compelling. In looking at the early years of the athlete/activist being portrayed, I thought back to my own early years dealing with race, class and culture while growing up in South Central Los Angeles during the racially turbulent 1960s.

Colin Kaepernick became controversial and criticized when he took a knee on the NFL playing field to bring attention to racial bigotry and inequality in America. I agreed with the position he took. I am positive that millions of people assumed the playing field was now level because the country put a Black man in the White House for two terms. They felt it was disrespectful and unnecessary for Kaepernick to take a knee before he entertained them on the football field. One of the things Kaepernick protested was the national rash of unarmed Black men being shot multiple times and killed by Caucasian cops who said that they fired because they feared for their lives.

Then a White police officer in Minneapolis took a knee on the neck of unarmed George Floyd and killed him as Floyd wailed "I can't breathe." There was a Black Lives Matter awakening that went global. Here's a trailer for Kaepernick's Netflix series. with Jaden Michael as young Kaepernick.


You need to see COLIN IN BLACK & WHITE. See it and talk about it. If you're White, have Black friends and never discussed race with them -- if you ever said "I don't think of you as Black because I don't see race" and you thought that was a compliment -- you need to see it. If you thought the playing field was level, you need to see it and have some conversations. Bravo Colin Kaepernick and Jaden Michael.


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