Even people who don’t follow football heard about Colin Kaepernick the first time he took a knee during the American anthem at an NFL game in 2016. I believe he will go down in history alongside Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as one of the courageous few who changed the conversation around racism. I think he’s a frigging hero off the field. Unfortunately, that’s where he’s been: off the football field. Taking a stand for what’s right came at a high price. But now he’s on Netflix and his show is fascinating, difficult, beautifully crafted, and important.
Kaepernick narrates the six-episode series, but not just in voice-over. He appears on screen and his presence is charismatic and captivating. The limited series tells the story of Kaepernick’s childhood and how he worked toward the level of quarterback in the NFL. Football wasn’t his best sport. Scouts pursued and wooed him, but not for football. And we’re along for the challenges of his young life. Among them: everyone tries to push him in another direction but all he wants is to be a quarterback.
Colin’s adoptive parents are white and typify a middle-American, white-bread couple. They mostly mean well and they’re mostly sympathetic but they’re also clueless to what their son is going through and what he needs as a black youth. The racist micro-aggressions, a term we’ve all come to know, that occur on the regular. Their unwillingness to let him assimilate with other black kids as far as something as important to a kid as his hairstyle. As a teen, he’s a star athlete with no tether. Like a balloon shifting in the wind. He can’t figure out where he belongs and no one wants to help him do it. He isn’t afforded the white privilege of his adoptive family but he also doesn’t fit in with the kids of color – if he can even find any.
The first episode has a jarring scene that compares football tryouts to slavery. It’s rattles us. It’s a clear signal that this isn’t a sitcom. And it advises that and it won’t be holding back or always making nice. The series made me squirm at times as it forced me to confront white privilege. It’s a difficult prospect for any good, kind, non-racist, white person. But it’s there and it needs to be acknowledged. It’s like any scientific fact. Even if you choose to ignore it, it’s still true. I want to learn it all, as uncomfortable as it is. Because I spent too much of my life in ignorance that it existed. “I’m not racist. I believe we’re all equal. That’s good enough right?” Now I know it’s not, by a long shot.
The series is amplifying Kaepernick’s voice and it’s a welcome addition to the conversation. Last week, white teen Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted after he traveled with an AR-15 style assault rifle to a Black Lives Matter demonstration and killed two men and wounded a third.
There’s more to Colin in Black and White than issues of race. It has loads of charm and warmth and that’s mostly due to the wonderful actor who plays Colin – Jaden Michael. We feel his angst before he asks a girl out. It has moments of lightness that give it layers and depth.
Mostly, it’s the story of a man who fulfilled his dreams – for a time – and what it took for him to get there. But racism is at its heart because, frankly, it’s in America’s heart. It’s still mind-blowing to me that the President of the US (at the time), a wealthy, white piece of human trash with the emotional intelligence of a hamster (sorry hamsters!) publicly declared that this football player should be fired. There’s a man who will never acknowledge his white privilege. He claims to be smarter than the rest. In truth, he faced almost no barriers to whatever he accomplished. In fact, deked past all obstacles because of his whiteness and his family’s money.
Colin Kaepernick faced barriers that would convince most men to give up or change course. And he still got to his destination. That’s a man worth learning about and hearing from.