We Can Talk About Puerto Rico *and* Kaepernick: On The Tactics of Empire
I don’t love this movement that says we shouldn’t talk about Kaepernick/Take A Knee because of what’s happening in Puerto Rico: our political imagination must be bigger.
The argument goes that because Puerto Rico is facing a humanitarian crisis after Hurricane Maria, talking about NFL protests is a distraction. Put differently, many are *rightfully* frustrated that while it looks like a bomb went off in Puerto Rico (as some have described it) NFL protests are receiving a large portion of the media coverage. But is that the fault of NFL players protesting police brutality, or of a system that benefits from ignoring Puerto Rico while centering *one* call for justice? Because that tactic from *the system* isn’t new.
In 1954—the same year Brown v. Board of Education hit the Supreme Court, marking a significant moment for the Civil Rights Movement—Puerto Rican Nationalists fired guns into the House of Representatives chamber at the Capital building. Through this action they sought to bring attention to the movement for Puerto Rican independence that US media/congress had largely ignored. For those who engaged in this action—among them the famous Lolita Lebrón—their enemy was not the budding Civil Rights Movement but the colonial system. Amidst the radical nature of this action, media attention was relatively minimal, over swept by other coverage. Within three years when the Civil Rights Movement really took off, the Puerto Rican Independence movement was largely forgotten in US Media (that is, until the rise of FALN and the Young Lords).
I raise this *not* because people in the 1950s were making the argument that US media was paying attention to the Civil Rights Movement and not Puerto Rico. I honestly don’t have that information. Rather, I raise this to make the point that historically US government/media emphasizes US Civil Rights while ignoring Puerto Rico. AND in doing so they create conditions for Puerto Ricans to direct their frustration against Civil Rights and not against the system that attacks *both* Puerto Ricans and minoritized people in the United States. The reality is that the system which Kaepernick and others are protesting is *the same system* that maintains Puerto Rico as a colonial possession. Imperial logics that use police in the US to control minoritized (particularly Black) populations also uses military to do the same in Puerto Rico. (Remember that in 1950 US military dropped bombs in Jayuya and Utuado, Puerto Rico to quell independence movements, all while using Vieques for military training). Thus while I’m glad so many are now paying attention to Puerto Rico, attacking Take A Knee for the lack of media coverage seems (historically) misplaced.
We need to expand our political imagination to see how various movements for justice are interconnected. That is to say our political imagination must be able to hold multiple things simultaneously. Otherwise, we’ll keep spinning our wheels and falling into supremacist tactics of divide-and-conquer. When we do that all we do is fight for crumbs falling off the dinner table...