I have written a few articles and opinion papers on community violence. Most recently, I have written on the impact of the shooting of unarmed Black men and brutality by police officers. This brutality and abuse has been headline news for some time. It permeates the lives of our families and neighbors. Most Black parents know the anxiety of wanting to make sure our children know how to respond if confronted by the police. I have told my children, their job is to make it home. It is not right! It is unfair! We know however that we have to teach our children because, a wrong step, move or word could mean their arrest or worse, injury or death.
When Colin Kapernick began his protest of the oppression of Black people and other people of color by not standing for the national anthem. I was proud of him. He was using his platform to make a statement. Before 2009, when the anthem was played, athletes were not required to stand or even suit up. Some are saying that he is disrespecting the flag or the military and that he, and any that do not stand, lack loyalty. “Where is the loyalty to the Black men and women who supported a country that would not support them? The paradox of loyalty is that African American people love a country that does not love us. We pledge (to) the flag, drenched in blood, because we want something better” (https://newpittsburghcourieronline.com/2017/10/05/this-flag-is-drenched-in-blood/). And some, despite the history, still think better is possible here.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. there are bodies in the street and people…are getting away with murder.” – Colin Kaepernick
While Mr. Kapernick has sacrificed his career and relationships, his protest is bigger. He is standing for what he believes, his principles! His protest has made others take a stand against the injustice in America. The media and politicians can try to make this about something else, but WE know it is about inhumane treatment and continued inequalities in our communities.
After 300+ years, the national anthem continues to not be for us. In 1814, the song was written after a bloody battle at Fort McHenry when the British offered refuge and freedom to slaves who joined them. The British and those who joined them were defeated. Francis Scott key, upon seeing the flag still waving the next morning was inspired to write including the verse we don’t sing-
“No refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight or the doom of the grave. And the star spangled banner in triumph doth wave. O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
So where does that leave us today?
I have traveled enough to know that I don’t want to give up the distinction of being an American citizen. However, this country has continuously and consistently made it clear that basic rights afforded to some in this country are not afforded to all. Frederick Douglas said, “Power concedes nothing without demand”. Our constitution gives us the right to demand justice. Mr. Kapernick’s protest is the beginning of a demand.
His protest makes people uncomfortable. Talking about race in America makes people, particularly White people, uncomfortable. We should talk anyway. We can’t change the past, but we need to acknowledge its existence, make amends if possible and ensure the past is not repeated.
#45 continues to tug at the societal and cultural fault lines in America and politics. He dog whistles with comments that incite white supremacists and their sympathizers. We have to recognize the dog whistle and decide we are not going to let that derail or distract us from our mission. it is our right to protest. It is our responsibility to stand for social justice and against inequality. it is not only the right and responsibility of people of color, it is the responsibility of all good people to stand against evil. If standing means sitting during the anthem to call attention to injustices, then I, too, will take a knee.
“The greatest tragedy in life is not the deeds of evil men, the greatest tragedy is the silence of good ones”, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.