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Scholar David Leonard Responds to Racist Article Written about 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick

Dear Mr. Whitley:

I recently decided to take a break from public writing; I needed to catch my breath, to catch up on life, work, and recharge. Yet, after reading your most recent piece about Colin Kaepernick, I found myself unable to shake my anger; your words had gotten under my skin.

From the first sentence in your column — “San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick is going to be a big-time NFL quarterback. That must make the guys in San Quentin happy” — to your description of people with tattoos as looking as though they are on parole, you make clear that you see a tattooed body as a criminal body. You question Colin Kaepernick because he looks “like a criminal.” This makes me wonder if you think he looks like a criminal because he has tattoos or because he has tattoos and he is black. To me, he looks like a chefa college studenta soldier, or one of the many professors that I know who are covered with tattoos. He looks like many of the 20-30 percent of Americans who currently sport ink.

And so what if he looks like someone locked up in one of America’s many prisons? I know the extent of your knowledge of the criminal justice system begins with Cops and ends with Lockout, but did you know that the vast majority of America’s incarcerated are nonviolent drug offenders? Did you know or care that they are people — mothers and fathers; sons and daughters; brothers and sisters. Why is looking like someone who has gone to prison such a bad thing in your mind? Your comfort in imagining those locked up as violent criminals, as “tatted thugs,” gives me pause. I mean your entire argument is premised on fact that “criminals” have tattoos and therefore why would any person want to have a tattoo. Maybe you should do some research about the millions of incarcerated people, and those on probation and parole; hopefully that would lead you to be a little less callous. To lament Kaepernick’s inked arms by demonizing incarcerated people is reprehensible.

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