There seems be no stretch of the imagination too far to explain how Colin Kaepernick–inspired protests have everything to do with anything but what he’s protesting: racism.
The latest comes from Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who asserts that Kaepernick, a player for the San Francisco 49ers, protested racism because his girlfriend, MTV’s Nessa Diab, is a Muslim during a Monday interview on the conservative talk show The Steve Malzberg Show, Salon reported.
The conversation was primed for problems from the beginning. Malzberg wrongfully said that Kaepernick didn’t have the constitutional right to protest in uniform. (As PolitiFact reported, the NFL doesn’t "grant permission for any club or player to wear, display, or otherwise convey messages ... which relate to political activities or causes." But this has largely been applied to physical items.)
King then responded that he’d fire Kaepernick for "undermining patriotism" by exploiting his professional platform for his political statement, but then also suggested that Diab is at fault for Kaepernick’s statement.
"I understand that he has an Islamic girlfriend that is his fiancée, and that this has changed him, and he has taken on some different political views along the way," King said.
He added, "This is activism that’s sympathetic to ISIS."
So far, Kaepernick has been called ungrateful for protesting racism while rich. He’s been discredited for being a biracial adoptee who was raised in a white family. The Santa Clara Police Union threatened to stop offering voluntary security at 49ers games because union members and leaders found Kaepernick’s protest "insulting." Kaepernick has also been accused of dishonoring veterans and military members for exercising the First Amendment right that service members serve to protect.
Now King echoed the false Muslim-contagion theory that’s been circulating among the far right following Kaepernick’s protest. None of these statements are true. Each of them is based on a false equivalence.
Kaepernick did address the discussion over his girlfriend’s religious affiliation last week.
"This is an open discussion that I have with many people, not just my woman," Kaepernick told USA Today. "She is Muslim, her family is Muslim. I have great respect for them. I have great respect for people’s right to believe what they want to believe. And I don’t think anybody should be prosecuted or judged based on what their beliefs are."
Islam is a religion, not a virus. Islam also isn’t synonymous with anti-Americanism, as King’s statement implies.
An estimated 40,000 Muslims were counted among African slaves who came to America against their will. According to the Pew Research Center, 3 million Americans identified as Muslim in 2015, and the American Muslim population is projected to include 8.1 million people by 2050.
The recent wave of Islamophobia since the 9/11 terrorist attacks by Islamist extremists has tried to distort the fact that Muslims have long been an integral part of American society. That doesn’t make it true. Nor does it make it okay to use Islamophobia to distract from the protest against police brutality that disproportionately impacts the third of American Muslims who are also black.
"People are getting lost in what the true message is," Kaepernick said, "and that’s really the problem."
Racism can’t be rectified if people act like it doesn’t exist. And using Islamophobia to skirt Kaepernick’s point only makes his protest that much more necessary.