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When Kneeling is Standing

There’s a difference between pledging allegiance and practicing it.
Sept. 29, 2017
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"Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act." – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Unless you've spent the last year or so on a rock in the Aleutians without Internet or cell coverage, you probably know that many NFL players and coaches have been kneeling for the national anthem instead of standing, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality and racial inequality in general. The protests began last year with Colin Kaepernick (then of the San Francisco 49'ers) and have since spread throughout the NFL. In a post-game interview prior to the regular 2016 NFL season, gave his reasons for protesting. "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," he said. "To 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." He followed through on that, not only by kneeling with his teammates during national anthems, but by donating the first $1 million of his 2016-2017 salary to organizations working to address racial and social inequality, and starting his own foundation and a youth camp to raise awareness about higher education, self-empowerment, and proper interaction with law enforcement in different scenarios (Wikipedia, 2017).

Naturally, CWA (Conservative White America) steered carefully around all of this, and angrily branded the protests "disrespectful" to the flag and America's armed forces. Our fearless dictator—who ain’t exactly known for his compassion and tolerance of ‘dem colored folk—referred to the protests as "a total disrespect of our heritage" (i.e. – his heritage) and threw yet another of the adolescent, reality-show tantrums that have always defined him… "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he's fired. He's fired!" (Griffiths & Jackson, 2017; Stelter, 2017). Kaepernick received numerous death threats. Fans boycotted games and went viral on social media with tweets, videos of people burning their NFL jerseys, and memes like the one below.

Why We Stand

Now I'm not much of a sports fan myself, but as a white Christian man (who unlike his fearless dictator, actually does care about black lives and racial injustice) I've watched all this unfold with feelings ranging from disappointment to disgust. I couldn't agree more with this meme in principle, and I understand the anger behind it. But it seems to me that it's thoroughly (not to mention conveniently) misplaced. This woman's loved one didn't die for the flag or the pledge of allegiance. He died for what they stand for... one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Note carefully that little word ALL folks... It matters. Last Fall the American people, through a combination of malice and/or neglect, gave the White House to a fascist, sociopath bully whose words, behaviors, and policies have been a lightning rod for flagrant misogyny, racial and religious hate, and fear-driven persecution... then sat back and watched as an army of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and countess other hatemongers emboldened by his attitudes and example swept the nation with an unprecedented epidemic of hate crimes against Muslims, people of color, and women (SPLC, 2016; 2016b)... and continued to support him when he defended them as "very fine people" defiantly insisting that there's "wrong on both sides".

When we the people & our elected Congress choose to be complicit in such things, we are no longer a nation under God, nor the Republic for which our flag and national anthem stand--a nation where people of color don't have to live in fear of cross burnings, knowing that their children are three to four times more likely to be gunned down unarmed than their white counterparts (Ross, 2015; Lowery, 2016)... where peaceful Muslim families don't have to live in fear of being assaulted, their mosques burned down, or being deported to war zones for their beliefs without due process... where women can go out in public without fear of being assaulted on college campuses by men claiming that it was now "legal to grab them by the p***y", or accosted in crosswalks by men shouting "Trump...! Trump...! Trump...!" (SPLC, 2016; 2016b).

In other words, we've become the very nation this man gave his life to SAVE us from becoming.

Maybe I'm missing something here, but it seems to me that if NFL players and others choose to kneel during our national anthem, it isn't because they disrespect the fallen soldier in this meme. Perhaps it's because they see little resemblance between the nation under God this soldier laid his life down for, and the one just described—the one their offended audiences saw fit to choose last fall and have remained complicit with ever since. Perhaps they're choosing to PRACTICE their allegiance to the former, instead of cheapening it by standing for the latter when it serves their interests to. That's not disrespect folks. It's having the courage of one's convictions, and it's the only kind of patriotism that has ever mattered.


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