Being a 25-and-a-half-year veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces, I felt a certain duty to speak out when Colin Kaepernick first knelt during the national anthem. From the beginning, I defended his first amendment right to do so. In fact, I agreed with his message, just not his method. I have since changed my stance. The fact that his actions have caused such discussion and debate on a national level, in my opinion, is a great thing. I initially made the same argument I continue to hear others make. “People fought and died defending the flag.” But we need to change that narrative. People (including blacks) actually fought and died defending what the flag is supposed to represent.
The last line of the national anthem includes the words, “land of the free.” When the Star Spangled Banner became the official national anthem in 1931, Jim Crow laws were still pervasive in this country. Therefore, blacks were not truly free. Also, Francis Scott Key was a slave owner, so I’m thinking he probably didn’t have blacks in mind when he inked “land of the free.” The pledge of allegiance is no different, having been written in 1892. The pledge ends with, “... one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Indivisible means unable to be divided or separated. Yet blacks were segregated at the time (and in some ways, still are). As for liberty and justice, blacks were fighting in wars for this country, and for the symbolism of the flag. However, they were coming home to a country that treated them like second-class citizens. In fact, a lot of black veterans survived World War II and came home to be killed by white supremacists. Fast-forward to all of these senseless killings of unarmed blacks at the hands of police officers. To add insult to injury, officers who kill blacks continue to be acquitted, even with video evidence of their heinous crimes. That tells me there is still a severe lack of justice (and plenty of institutional/systemic racism) in this country.
The flag is a symbol of a country that has never lived up to the verbiage accompanying the symbol. And so many are upset by the so-called disrespect of the symbol, yet remain silent on the issues that caused the “disrespect.” The worst argument is, “if you hate this country so much, leave.” Since when does a silent and peaceful protest indicate hate for one’s country? The second worst argument is, “athletes should stick to sports”. There is a quote that says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Kaepernick put everything at risk to speak for those who did not, do not, and will not be given voice. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad stated, “No one man can rise above the condition of his people.” So regardless of his status or income, Kaepernick had the awareness to realize that. Also, no one told a billionaire celebrity with no political background to stick to real estate. Instead, his rhetoric and vitriol has led to his residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. But that’s another topic for another day.
Yet another awful argument against protesting NFL players says “it’s unpatriotic to kneel during the national anthem.” Who are you to tell me how I should define patriotism? What patriotism looks like to you does not dictate how I view it. I understand (much like patriotism) everyone views Kaepernick’s actions through their own lens. Therefore, try for a moment to view these issues through the lens of a people who continue to try to get America to live up to its potential... to live up to its promises. As a parent, I do all I can to get my child to keep her promises and live up to her potential. I get frustrated and upset when she does not put forth the appropriate effort to do so. And sometimes I have to let her learn valuable lessons the hard way. She doesn’t always like or appreciate it, but it’s made her a better person. And through all of it, my love for her has been and will always be unwavering. Just because someone protests or challenges the injustices that take place in this country, does not mean they do not love their country. In fact, I would wager to say it’s quite the opposite. While I have no interest in kneeling during the national anthem (which is a personal choice), I wholly support those who do. I’ll end with this. Conversations about race related issues are much like overcoming fear. You have to become comfortable being uncomfortable if anything is going to change. So if you’re uncomfortable with Colin Kaepernick’s actions, ask yourself if you’re more uncomfortable with his reasoning. If so, good.