September 26, 2017

Of Anthems and "Taking a Knee"

I've struggled to find the words to express how I feel about the #TakeAKnee protest, but I came across this and it summarized perfectly my own take on it. The author's name is Mike Wiley, and I will include a link to the original post when I am able to track it down.

"No one has asked my opinion on the #TakeAKnee protest in the NFL, but since it seems to be setting Facebook on fire, I guess I’ll weigh in. We are constantly being told we must come together and get along. I agree with that, so that means we must try to understand people we don’t agree with. So I made an attempt to do just that. Here’s what I found:

Why is Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem? This protest has been going on for a year. It was in support of the Black Lives Matter protest. Here is Kaepernick’s reasoning on his protest:

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color…[T]o me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder…[T]his is not something that I am going to run by anybody ... I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. ... If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right."

So Kaepernick sees a perceived injustice in society and he’s using his Constitutional right to peacefully protest that injustice. Is he the first athlete to do so? No. Muhammad Ali protested being drafted into the military and took his protest all the way to the United States Supreme Court. All 50 states denied Ali a boxing license from 1967 until 1970 and his passport was revoked. Ali’s age at this time was between 25-29, prime earning years. He lost millions to stand up for what he believed was right.

Here’s what Ali’s said about the draft: "Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?"

Ali was despised by people at the time for not being patriotic. Yet somehow in his later years, he was held in high esteem, not only in this country, but around the world.

Some of you from the older generation might remember the 1968 Olympics and the Black Power protest of Tommie Smith and John Carlos. During the National Anthem they raised a black-gloved fist and put their heads down. Their statement on their protest was "for those individuals that were lynched, or killed, and that no one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the Middle Passage."

Smith went on to say, “We were concerned about the lack of black assistant coaches. About how Muhammad Ali got stripped of his title. About the lack of access to good housing and our kids not being able to attend the top colleges.” Smith and Carlos were suspended from the Olympics and told to leave the village immediately. They, and their families, received death threats when they returned to the U.S.

(An interesting side note: The IOC President who suspended Carlos and Smith, had no problem with the Nazi salute given by athletes in 1936 when he was also the IOC President).

If we move from politics, of course Martin Luther King, Jr.’s protests come to mind. King believed in non-violent protest, but his non-violent protests often led to violence from the other side. King’s protests were met w/ fire hoses, police dogs, and beatings.

King was considered a rabble rouser, unpatriotic, communist, and of course, all sorts of slang terms used for African Americans. He was spied upon by his own government. Yet somehow today we revere the work that he did. He has his own holiday to celebrate his efforts.

There’s one final person I’d like to mention and that’s Rosa Parks. When Rosa Parks was asked to give up her seat to a white man by the bus driver, she refused. But she didn’t violate some longstanding custom, she broke the law and was arrested.

Of course, all she had to do was give up her seat on the bus like the three other African Americans did when the driver directed them to do so. But she decided “The time had just come when I had been pushed as far as I could stand to be pushed, I suppose. I had decided that I would have to know, once and for all, what rights I had as a human being, and a citizen.”

Parks wasn’t idolized at that time; she was seen as a law-breaker because she refused to follow what was considered “normal” at that time. And of course, in the South at that time, she didn’t “know her place.”

So I bring up these other four famous protests or protesters to prove a point: They were the Colin Kaepernick of their times. Their protests were denigrated, and deemed disrespectful, un-American, and unpatriotic. They were called all sorts of names and they just didn’t appreciate what they were given. Yet somehow, all these years later, we’ve deemed these protesters worthy of our admiration.
Protest isn’t supposed to feel good. It’s not a warm-fuzzy moment. It’s meant to make you feel uncomfortable and angry. It’s to bring to your attention, something someone perceives as an injustice. You may not agree with their perception, but you have a responsibility as an American to at least hear them out and do a little research before you call them some name that belittles their belief.

Do I think people should stand for the National Anthem? Yes. Do I think people have a right to protest the National Anthem with a peaceful protest? Also yes.

We have a serious racial problem in this country and it did not end with the election of a black President in 2008. We can either stand and shout at each other, or we can try and hear each other out. Calling Colin Kaepernick a “spoiled whiny baby” and then promising to boycott the NFL isn’t the American thing to do.

And stop playing the “he’s-being-disrespectful-to-the-military” card. This has nothing to do with the military, and when you say that, you only hope to shut down any debate. Our Armed Forces didn’t fight so we could sing a song to the flag; they fought for every principle and ideal the flag stands for ... one of which is the right to protest."

Edited to Add:
Personally, I choose to stand for the playing of the national anthem. But I do so under the protection of the Constitution, which also protects those who choose differently. I support their rights, as well.