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Why #VeteransForKaepernick matters.

The 49ers quarterback has been on the receiving end of an onslaught of criticism for his refusal to stand up during the playing of the national anthem at a preseason game. The backlash has predictably centered on Kaepernick’s lack of patriotism, the dominant theme being a perceived disrespect for the men and women of the armed forces. To this Kaepernick responded:

I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. ...I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up.

On Tuesday night, those who have fought both for our country and against racism stood up for Kaepernick’s right to protest, using the #VeteransForKaepernick hashtag on social media networks. The campaign is especially salient given the racial texture of the armed forces, a story that rarely gets attention. Proportionally speaking, blacks sign up more than any other demographic to die for the country that still fails on a daily basis to protect its minority citizens. Black servicemen had the dubious honor of having to fight for years to even join the army, and then they endured racism within it, both on and off the battlefield.

Walter Scott, who was a veteran of the Coast Guard, was killed by police brutality. Other black veterans are fighting for basic health care, or for an equal shot at employment. As in so many cases, the Kaepernick scandal shows that even concepts like “patriotism” are racially fraught, even if the country’s fiercest fans of “The Star Spangled Banner” aren’t aware of it.