Look. Everyone has an opinion about this. Everyone wants some homogenized deference to a symbol. But there’s a root cause to this entire argument that no one is even listening to. We can’t even agree on what that symbol means!
It’s both as simple and complex as a wedding ring. Everyone knows it’s supposed to represents a promise made to your spouse. But what happens when that promise is repeatedly broken? How much do you value, honor, and respect that symbol when it no longer holds the same meaning?
Here’s the thing. When it comes to kneeling or standing during the national anthem, there are some major issues with the conversation.
The first issue is: it’s the wrong conversation.
Kaepernick originally knelt to bring awareness to disproportionate punishment for and police brutality against people of color. Why did the voices become so loud when they were protecting the flag and not the people it’s said to represent? Why are we so passionate about the symbols and not what they symbolize? We’ve become a country of politics over people and flags over feelings. That’s the conversation that needs to be had.
It’s like going to church, listening to the pastor pray, and being mad he didn’t clasp his hands together. Did it really matter that his hands were together or open? Or does it matter that he declared Jesus as his savior? That’s the starting point.
The second issue is: these symbols don’t represent the same thing for everyone. Let’s start with the irony of people yelling, “This represents the men and women who died for your right to kneel in this country.” Well, if that’s true, doesn’t that mean I get to choose to kneel?
Furthermore, the flag and anthem represent our military…to you. Not to me. You want me to deny my feelings for the sake of yours? Let’s turn this around.
What if people yelled back, “You should kneel! That flag represents an untruth. It represents the good in this country that isn’t happening! How dare you stand during a song that celebrates the victory of a country that continued to sell humans, ignore the poor, and exploit women. How dare you admire a song that praises the hopes and dreams of only white men? Hundreds of thousands of brown people died for your right to stand during that song.” If that were yelled at you, would you feel comfortable and proud standing?
Those who are kneeling aren’t berating others who choose to stand. They’re not even asking they kneel with them. They’re simply requesting that you consider their reality and your role in changing it. And we can’t even agree on that!
When it comes down to it, the main problem is that many people don’t think there’s a problem. People think that the race issue was created by the previous president and/or people who want to continue to play the victim. But just like many claim the election of the current president emboldened racists to openly be racist, perhaps the election of the previous president emboldened those who suffer at the hand of discrimination to fight back. Just because you don’t experience racism doesn’t mean no one does. Just because you think you don’t say/do racist things, doesn’t mean no one does.
At the end of the day, the flag and the anthem represent different things to different people. And for anyone to require that I stand for their idea of truth at the expense of mine is to say that their truth matters more. That, to me, is “All Lives Matter” all over again. It’s requiring that I be silent in my pain in deference to your truth and comfort.
I have mixed feelings about the NFL’s protest. After the president’s name calling, the protest became about politics and ego. It seemed like a big “EFF YOU” to president for trying to tell them what to do with their business and their bodies. And while I believe the NFL’s show of solidarity had nothing to do with Kaepernick’s original protest, I find it revealing that even though the Dallas Cowboys chose to acquiesce to the claims of disrespect of the flag/anthem by standing during the anthem, there were still complaints. So, is it possible the anthem/flag aren’t the argument?
I grew up knowing two anthems: "The National Anthem"(Also known as: “The Star Spangled Banner”) and “The Negro National Anthem” (Also known as: "Lift Every Voice"). The latter is the anthem that many black Americans know. This anthem is about unity. It’s about acknowledging the horrible past we share and the victory of overcoming it. It’s about strength. It’s about liberty for everyone. Nowhere does it mention “not saving the slaves” or rockets and ramparts or war. (Click the links for lyrics)
What I mean to say is, to me, “The Star Spangled Banner” and flag do not represent our troops or their sacrifice or the greatness of our country. “The Negro National Anthem” does. The U.S. service uniform and the men and women themselves represent our country’s greatness.
“The Star Spangled Banner” represents victory in war. And, unfortunately, I feel like people who look like me are still engaged in that war. The flag represents hope. It represents the good that our country could be but still isn’t. The flag represents an idea of true freedom for all.
What you’re demanding is that I stand for your idea. And what I’m choosing is to kneel because of my reality. And, if you really want people to stop kneeling during the anthem and keep standing during the pledge to the flag, make a reality of the ideas they are supposed to symbolize.