FIRE UP THE GRYLLS: Growing up ‘white’ doesn’t mean Kaepernick isn’t brown

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick scrambles against the San Diego Chargers in the second quarter during a preseason game on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. (K.C. Alfred/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick scrambles against the San Diego Chargers in the second quarter during a preseason game on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. (K.C. Alfred/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

Colin Grylls is a senior journalism major who writes "Fire up the Grylls" for the Daily News. His views do not necessarily agree with those of the newspaper. Write to Colin at crgylls@bsu.edu.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s jersey sales have skyrocketed since he started sitting during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racial relations in the U.S.

President Obama has even stood up for him.

But among a (hopefully) small segment of his opponents, there is a troubling narrative that keeps being repeated — the mixed-race quarterback was raised by a white family, so he has no right to protest.

Even former NFL safety Rodney Harrison cited that argument.

“I tell you this, I’m a black man. And Colin Kaepernick — he’s not black,” Harrison said in a radio interview. “He cannot understand what I face and what other young black men and black people face, or people of color face, on an every single [day] basis.”

Harrison has since apologized via Twitter, but the fact is, he’s wrong. Strangers don’t know where someone was raised or what they’ve been through. They only see the superficial qualities on the outside.

I know this because Kaepernick is not the only mixed-race Colin that was raised in white neighborhoods.

Most of the time there isn’t a huge issue. It’s funny sometimes to see people’s confused look when a vaguely Midwestern accent sneaks out of my brown face. Other times I’ll be meeting someone for the first time and they’ll be surprised when a dark-skinned guy approaches.

When I was in Brazil with Ball State at the Games last month, the waiters would bring all of my white classmates the English menu, then give me the Portuguese menu assuming I was their translator.

But then there are the experiences that the average white person doesn’t have to worry about.

When I lived in California, I was once stopped by the Border Patrol for making a “suspicious U-turn.” I’ve been pulled over by the police when I was with some baseball teammates (we were all brown with matching hats) despite not breaking any rules of the road. But worst of all was Argentina.

Colin Grylls

My dad, who is white, worked with Jeep International and was tapped to help run a factory in Córdoba, Argentina, when I was just entering kindergarten. We were enrolled in a private school where some of the local higher-ups sent their kids. Somewhere in my grandma’s house there’s a picture of my first day there. In the background someone’s bodyguard is surveying the crowd, making sure everyone who is there is supposed to be there.

Argentina’s population is 97 percent white. My mom, who is of Mexican descent, my brother and I stood out.

After the first day, my younger brother and I took the bus to school, which quickly devolved into the worst part of our days. I used to have to lean over my brother to shield him from the spit. I got in a few fights.

We were the new kids, brown and American. The bullying was probably a result of all three, but we were moved to a public school after a few months. There, my classmates warmed up to me after I joined them on the soccer field. We moved back to the United States after a couple of years.

After Argentina I lived in a suburb of Toledo, Ohio, for nine years. There, it felt like my family was the Mexican population. Still, I grew into the culture. I listened to country music, watched hockey and switched from soccer to football and baseball.

My brother was also best friends with the police chief's son.

I'll be the first to admit — clearly I don't know what it's like to live in the inner city. And while I've faced discrimination from the police, I've never been afraid of being shot.

But my outwardly stereotypical white upbringing didn’t shield me from racism because racism doesn’t take the time to learn about me or anyone else that doesn’t fit the pre-existing stereotype.

So while it’s fair to argue the merits of Kaepernick's argument, don’t discount him because of his upbringing or that of any person of mixed race. Just because we weren’t raised in the inner-city doesn’t mean we aren’t still brown.

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