After more than a hundred NFL players chose to either take a knee or stay in the locker room during the Star Spangled Banner several weeks ago, people didn’t hesitate to share their feelings.
Dustin and I were taking about how one of the purposes of taking a knee was to generate a conversation about race, police brutality, white supremacy, etc., but the original point is often missed because of the national anthem and American patriotism.
Instead of having those conversations, we either yell at people on Facebook or we cocoon ourselves with people who agree with and think like us. As an alternative, we asked a few friends and family members to help us with that conversation. We may not agree, but the main rules were no name-calling and keep it clean.
As our friends thoughts roll in we’ll be sharing them here. If you missed the first post you can check it out here. Next up is our friend Megan. Honored to have her share her thoughts with you.
I have never considered myself particularly patriotic. My early memories about our country are more about disappointment in laws, policies, and wars than any real pride in being from a great place. When Texas passed a law in my sophomore year of high school that required we recite the US and Texas pledge every morning, I rolled my eyes and stood silently. I found overt displays of patriotism distasteful, and for a long time, I thought that meant I didn’t actually care very much about being American.
What I’ve found in the last year is that while I haven’t felt connected to the symbols of America that are touted as emblematic of our country and its values (e.g., the flag, the anthem, the pledge), I do have very emotional ties to physical acts of protecting and promoting equity for those who remain disadvantaged. Walking with thousands in the Women’s March in Kentucky. Listening to Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal (my senators who have been at the forefront of protecting Obamacare) speak at a healthcare rally at the Connecticut capital. Gathering with my small suburban community to hold a vigil for victims of white supremacy in the wake of Charlottesville. These are the moments where I’ve looked around and felt explicitly connected with the democratic ideals of this country—when I’ve actually felt patriotic.
Part of why protesting matters to me now is how much more tenuous democracy and freedom feel. Even though there were many reasons to protest before the election—particularly, police violence and rampant inequity for people of color—I felt like we were making strides in the right direction, which made it seem okay for me to support activism from afar without fully participating in it. In the wake of a what felt like a drastic backtracking to me (though many people of color have pointed out that the election and actions of the Trump presidency are not really a reversal, as they are clearly aligned with this country’s centuries-long history of white supremacy), I see now how necessary it is for me to be involved in protest and activism as a means of ensuring progress toward the vision of America I hope for.
So you can imagine how I feel about the fact that Colin Kaepernick still does not have a job and that the NFL is considering requiring all players to stand for the anthem.
As Kaepernick himself and many, many others have already said, NFL players are not kneeling to disrespect the flag or the troops or America in general. They are protesting the violent treatment of black and brown people at the hands of the justice systems in this country. Black and brown people are three times more likely to be killed by police and more likely to be unarmed when killed by police. In 2017, 931 people have been killed by police. Only six officers have been charged with a crime, which is about 1%, and historically, half of those charged will ever serve jail time. (Statistics from Pod Save the People and Mapping Police Violence). Again and again, they do not receive justice. That is why NFL players are kneeling during the national anthem.
I’ve heard that this doesn’t seem like an effective protest or that there is a better place or way to make their voices heard. But protests don’t happen to make you comfortable. They happen to raise questions and start conversations and incite action. For me, the election and especially the racial breakdown of who voted for Trump (63% of white men and 52% of white women) helped me realize that I needed to be more uncomfortable to fully realize the daily oppressions other Americans were facing. For others, maybe the NFL protests will be what eventually spurs them to action. But we probably won’t know for some time. Even though civil rights protestors are now viewed as national heroes, their actions were not popular in their time. In a 1966 poll, many Americans said they thought the Freedom Riders’ sit-ins or Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech were ineffective and inappropriate protests, but they were wrong. And as the work of Civil Rights activists started continues today, it remains unclear how history will view today’s protests.
In Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin writes, “I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” What I’ve learned in the last year is that loving America and feeling patriotic are not limited to how we feel about our country’s symbols. Fully reckoning with the contemporary challenges of justice for so many people in our country is an important part of loving this place too.
Kneeling during the national anthem is one in a long line of political acts that seeks to ensure greater equality, freedom, and liberty for people in our country. I understand that not everyone connects to patriotism in the same ways, but I would ask all of us to consider when we might be putting things above people. If we care more about flags and songs than the lives of people of color, then who exactly gets to be part of the land of the free?