Oh what controversy protesting during the National Anthem has been! Right now, it’s all we seem to talk about.
It all started in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick began protesting during the National Anthem at football games, as a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. In August of 2016 Kaepernick began protesting the systematic racial inequalities within the United States. Although, the initial protest by Kaepernick was to show his support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Many in the country were outraged and offended; calling him unpatriotic and disrespectful of the flag. The American flag is a symbol for our freedoms and rights as Americans. The hypocrisy lies when people use the flag as a patriotic symbol for freedom, yet tell NFL players to be quiet and not exercise their own freedom of speech. By quieting someone’s First Amendment rights, you are dishonoring those who fought for freedom of speech.
Recently the symbolism has been coopted by President Trump and much of the conservative base, when really it started as peaceful protest to raise awareness of the suffering of our fellow Americans. In this country, people of color are more likely to be stopped and killed by the police than their caucasian counterparts.* Racial biases and the systemic institutionalized racism within our justice system has existed since slavery was a legal component of public policy. Kaepernick was using his platform as a way to call attention to the atrocities and injustices that still occur in the United States, please read The New Jim Crow to learn more about how deep-rooted this racism still is.
He took a knee for Eric Garner, he took a knee for Michael Brown Jr, he took a knee for Tanisha Anderson, he took a knee for Tamir Rice, and he took a knee for the hundreds of innocent people who were victims of police violence.
Before I Go On…
Please spare me the argument that some of the people of color killed were dangerous criminals, because implicit bias exists which makes all people of color seem like they are “thugs” or dangerous individuals. In addition, most people of color killed by police brutality are innocent. It is called brutality because it is usually unwarranted. Statistically speaking, caucasian people commit close to the same percentage of crime that people of color commit. The difference is that a caucasian man is less likely to die from an arrest than a person of color. Furthermore, the data shows that black men are incarcerated at a higher rate than caucasian men, despite statistical data showing that the crime rate gap (between race) is not wide enough to warrant these findings. ** Meaning for example, if black people commit two percent more crime than caucasian people, but are arrested at rate that is 20% higher, this shows the racial discrimination by law enforcement and the justice system.
Critics of Kaepernick say that protesting during the National Anthem, at an “all-American” sporting event is not the way to go about voicing his grievances. They also say that protesting during that time is a disrespectful act toward those that have fought and died so bravely for the flag. The optics of protesting during the anthem, when the flag is present, is not great to some. I can understand why critics feel the way they feel. Can we try for a moment to see it from another perspective?
“I am proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m Free.”
That Lee Greenwood song we all hear on Independence Day, it really tugs at the heart strings. It reminds us how lucky we are to live in the United States, a democratic-republic that gives us the power of choice. It’s hard to be ungrateful when people have to live in parts of the world that are not free, where people are oppressed and forced to do things that they do not want to do… like saluting the flag of a dictator or forced into slavery. The wonder of this country starts with the Founding Fathers, who created a document that gave most people a voice and a choice. Granted, it took several Amendments later to actually include everyone, but those Amendments to the Constitution started with protest. Although we live in one of the greatest countries of all, it is still not perfect. Racial and ethnic biases and prejudices remain woven into the fabric of our government and society. Colin Kaepernick was using his platform to illuminate such imperfections to the public. Even if you disagree with his protesting method, respect it, because it is his FIRST AMENDMENT right and freedom to do so. A freedom that so many men and women fought bravely for!
The Right Time to Protest
Is there never a good time or a right place to peacefully protest? Protesting is supposed to make us think about what is really happening and maybe make us feel uncomfortable enough to ask why. Yet, by the responses of some it would seem that no matter where or when these protests are, they are criticized. Protest is meant to help the population, as a whole, see what they are not seeing. Without these forms of protest, women wouldn’t have received the right to vote when they did and African-Americans would still be sitting at the back of the bus. Did our sister suffragettes care that they were protesting a President during war time? Did Rosa Parks care that she was breaking a law? Did she care what most of the white population spoke about her, or spoke negatively? (Tweeting and Facebook weren’t a thing back then, I assume it was more of a verbal accost).
Laws are sometimes wrong and are meant to be peacefully challenged. Do you think that many folks were uncomfortable with Ezell A. Blair, Jr., Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond sitting at Woolworth’s Lunch Counter? They probably heard: “wow, that’s so disrespectful” and “those college students are breaking the law” and probably even spit on.
What if Colin Kaepernick is trying to bring attention to the injustices within the justice system? The mandatory minimum-sentencing laws, the racial profiling and brutality by law enforcement, the “war on drugs”, and the continued prejudices that a majority of the population have.
What would you do in his situation? Sport in the United States has been at the forefront of issues, from Jesse Owens to Jackie Robinson, and so forth. There was a reason that baseball was integrated in 1947 before the country as a whole in 1954.*** The platform is there, maybe it is about time we listen to athletes in contemporary society. The data clearly shows the inequities in our system. You don’t see it? Ever think that your prejudices are blinding you to it? Have the courage to challenge yourself.
It is easy to criticize behind the lights of your computer screen, as you sit comfortably in your privilege.
When we attack how a person protests, we’re trying to diminish them, which will then nullify their cause. Perhaps if we finally stop caring about how citizen’s peacefully assemble, government and society can address their grievances. Unless of course we don’t want to because it makes us uncomfortable and we just want to watch our game; then by all means let’s continue this charade and hide.
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