With Friends Like These. . . Nate Boyer's Memorial Day Column and Tweet Reflect Faux-Allyship

Photo Credit: Cheryle Rivas, Public Domain

Sigh.  Where to begin.  This piece that Nate Boyer penned for USAToday.com is disturbing in its arrogance, paternalism, and white entitlement.  Furthermore, Boyer also published a tweet that reflected his true disdain for the national anthem protests against racism.

Upon initially hearing of Boyer’s involvement in the discourse surrounding the national anthem protests against racism, which consisted of his Army Times open letter and a subsequent meeting at a pre-season game with Colin Kaepernick, it seemed as though Boyer’s interests were sincere.  For example, in the open letter, Boyer appeared to be genuinely attempting to balance his perspective regarding the national anthem and the flag with the differing perspectives of Kaepernick and others.  And while Boyer’s veteran-focused analysis was misguided since one’s status as a veteran is not intrinsically tied to the national anthem or the flag, but instead the protection and defense of the Constitution, Boyer’s approach presented as mature and introspective.  However, a review of the USA Today Memorial Day piece and his related tweet expose his earlier efforts as a façade. Boyer’s arrogance and entitlement are first evident in his own account of the initial engagement with Kaepernick, which took place, at Kaepernick’s invitation, shortly before the San Francisco 49ers’ September 1, 2016 preseason game against the San Diego Chargers.

Boyer states that he’d informed Kaepernick how the decision to remain seated during the national anthem was being perceived by “the public;” and that he’d shown Kaepernick emails and text messages from ex-military friends who disagreed vehemently with the national anthem protests, including a veteran mourning the recent death of a Special Forces Soldier.  It must be asked for what “public” was Boyer purportedly speaking?  Surveys have repeatedly shown that the overwhelming majority of Black Americans agree with Kaepernick’s protests; thus, it appears that Boyer determined that the views shared by him, his friends, and many white Americans were the only relevant representations of “the public,” and did not hesitate to so inform Kaepernick.  This kind of arrogance among whites is not uncommon.  As noted by scholar Robin Di Angelo, “[w]hites are taught to see their perspectives as objective and representative of reality (McIntosh, 1988). The belief in objectivity, coupled with positioning white people as outside of culture (and thus the norm for humanity), allows whites to view themselves as universal humans who can represent all of human experience.”  Additionally, Boyer’s use of the death of a Black Soldier in the tweet to bolster an argument to counter a peaceful protest against racism is emotionally manipulative.  Unfortunately, this would not be the last time Boyer would exhibit such inappropriate behavior.

On Memorial Day, Boyer sent a tweet which stated “if you took a knee this football season, maybe take a knee today for those that fought and died defending your right to do so.”  The tweet also featured a photograph of a Black Soldier kneeling and crying in front of a memorial to the Fallen Soldier.  Boyer was rightly taken to task for his disgraceful attempt to shame and malign those who participated in the national anthem protests, as well as his exploitation of the pain and suffering of the Black Soldier in the photograph who served as an unwitting prop for Boyer’s careless and offensive missive.

Ironically, Boyer declares himself one of the rare, objective voices in the national anthem protest discussion, and castigates everyone else, including Kaepernick’s supporters, as people who “simply took to the internet and shouted.”  Besides the fact that this is just not true as hundreds of Kaepernick’s supporters, unlike Boyer, themselves also engaged in national anthem protests against racism and did not merely “[take] to the internet and shout,” an even cursory analysis of Boyer’s actions reveals that he is far from objective. And that he, in fact, shares the same biases as many of his fellow white Americans who object to the national anthem protests.

Boyer also displays prototypical white savior syndrome by noting that Colin’s decision to kneel instead of remaining seated during the national anthem made Boyer “proud of [Kaepernick],” and demonstrated that Kaepernick was “willing to listen.”  Such language reflects a patronizing and condescending attitude towards Kaepernick, as if Kaepernick was a child in need of Boyer’s approval.  It also posits Boyer as an authority figure whose opinion on the conduct and method of Kaepernick’s protest is of great significance or import, despite Boyer’s relative national obscurity prior to the advent of his limited involvement with Kaepernick.  Furthermore, Boyer’s claim that he is responsible for Kaepernick’s decision to change his protest method from remaining seated to kneeling during the national anthem is a contestable one.

In this detailed article by ESPN’s Nick Wagoner, it is reported that, while Boyer was indeed involved in the collaborative discussion regarding the protest and the best way to facilitate its execution, it was Kaepernick’s fellow San Francisco 49ers teammate, safety Eric Reid, who in fact suggested kneeling.  This is significant because Boyer has made this noteworthy aspect of the national anthem protest discourse—switching from sitting to kneeling—the primary basis of his relevance related thereto.

Later on in the USA Today column, Boyer asserts that “[n]othing hurts more than fighting for your country overseas and returning home to division.” Perhaps Mr. Boyer is unaware of Black veterans who returned from fighting for their country overseas to face—not the trivial sadness that Mr. Boyer purportedly feels as a result of tension and division in the country—but lynchings, murder, the denial of employment opportunities and benefits available to white veterans, and the inability to avail themselves of the very freedoms for which they fought, to name but a few disgraceful and abhorrent realities which awaited their return.

Finally, Boyer has employed a classic white American tactic of using Black American pain and suffering as a buoy for his own personal aggrandizement.  Boyer has produced a short documentary for Sundance Now called Take a Knee (which he plugs at the end of the USA Today article), and is featured in a short film produced by National Football League Films about the national anthem protests.  Thus, Boyer, a white man, has used the courageous, historic, and powerful protest of Kaepernick and the myriad of others who are almost entirely Black—protests which are a direct response to racism against Blacks in America—for his own personal gain.  This is so despite the contestable nature of his doubtful influence on Kaepernick’s decision to kneel which he touts in Take a Knee and the NFL film; the fact that there is no evidence that Boyer has himself participated in a single national anthem protest; and his callous and exploitative tweet reflecting his contempt for the protests.

As an aside, Boyer’s entry into this entire national anthem discussion is quite curious to begin with.  According to Boyer, the Army Times reached out to him to provide an article on Kaepernick’s national anthem protest.  On the surface, putting aside the argument that the national anthem ≠ veteran, it appears to make sense to obtain the perspective of someone who was both a U.S. Army veteran and an NFL player, a unique combination.  Except for one minor detail—Boyer did not actually play in a single regular season NFL game, having been cut after one appearance during a pre-season game with the Seattle Seahawks.  In contrast, Alejandro Villanueva, an offensive tackle with the Pittsburgh Steelers, is entering his third year in the NFL, is an Army veteran, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and a U.S. Army Ranger who was a member of the elite 75th Ranger Regiment and served multiple tours in Afghanistan.  Curious indeed.