By Nico Morgan
Whether or not you’re an avid social media or TV news follower, you’ve heard about this “scandal.” This controversy surrounding the “taking a knee” movement throughout the NFL in recent months — though it’s really taken off in most recent weeks.
It all began with Colin Kaepernick, who before regularly taking a knee during the national anthem played before every NFL game, remained seated before games on Aug. 14th and 18th — and it wasn’t until the third sitting on Aug 26th that people finally started to take notice. In a media interview on the 28th after blowback, he was quoted saying:
“This stand wasn’t for me. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.”
Stated from the very beginning was the point he was trying to make: his sitting during the national anthem and presentation of the flag had nothing to do with disrespect or some kind of showing disdain for the country — no, it was about bringing attention to the massive, pervasive issue of violence and unfair treatment of minorities, specifically African Americans. With the onslaught of police violence against black citizens, sparking the pivotal #blacklivesmatter movement, Kaepernick knew that as a black man in a position of celebrity and limelight, he could bring more attention to the issue in an effort to influence discussion.
But unfortunately, as people do, many took it the wrong way. Instead of opening the discussion on police violence and the treatment of black citizens in this country, they accused him of being anti-patriotic. They accused him of being disrespectful, particularly toward the flag and veterans who fought and died for it, despite his Aug. 28th statement specifically addressing this issue:
“I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening.
People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they fought have for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.”
As a black man in a position of authority regularly covered by the media, he still faces scrutiny because of the color of his skin, despite being lauded as a talented football player. In a sport where black players still have to fight to play certain team positions, a sport where racial diversity is still a trial faced from college and onwards (don’t even get me started on the way women are excluded from professional sports), it’s understandable that even this man, with his attained wealth and fame, is familiar with hardships faced by African Americans and other POCs in this country.
Wealth does not set him apart, popularity and celebrity status doesn’t mean he’s treated any differently from those of a lower socioeconomic class — but he knows that it does mean he’s better equipped to bring attention to these issues.
On Sept. 1, 2016, Kaepernick was joined by Eric Reid in kneeling during the presentation of the flag, immediately thrusting themselves both into the spotlight. To quote Eric Reid, (emphasis bolded):
“In early 2016, I began paying attention to reports about the incredible number of unarmed black people being killed by the police. The posts on social media deeply disturbed me, but one in particular brought me to tears: the killing of Alton Sterling in my hometown Baton Rouge, La. This could have happened to any of my family members who still live in the area. I felt furious, hurt and hopeless. I wanted to do something, but didn’t know what or how to do it. All I knew for sure is that I wanted it to be as respectful as possible.
It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.”
One detail most people probably don’t know is that the idea to kneel rather than just sit to make a point was suggested by Nate Boyer, a former NFL player and retired veteran. He explained that soldiers kneel in respect before a fallen soldier’s grave, and by mimicking the pose, they would be sending a much stronger message.
Trevor Noah, host of the Daily Show, goes into more detail. His comments including Nate Boyer begin around the 7:00 minute mark, though I highly recommend watching the entire video for an overall summary of everything going on (especially if you need some good, cynical laughter in your life).
Trevor Noah’s points mostly surround the comments made by Donald Trump on the issue, which are, as expected, ignorant and infuriating.
Now, I don’t really want to get into the issue of what’s considered respectful/disrespectful in terms of the American flag (many, many people have already made valid and satisfying points, including this Twitter thread that had me both laughing and feeling frustrated at the hypocrisy in this country), but what I do want to get into is this sudden, vocal white-knighting of the American flag.
In reference to the connection between kneeling and disrespecting veterans, along with the conflated patriotic standards placed on the flag during sports games, Bob Costas’ statement during an interview on CNN sums it up beautifully:
Bob Costas NAILED this. Patriotism comes in many forms, but it’s been conflated w/ bumper sticker flag waving & “military only.” ? pic.twitter.com/2R5z00btfU
— Josh Sánchez (@jnsanchez) September 25, 2017
He reminds the hosts that Martin Luther King Jr. was a patriot, Susan B. Anthony was a patriot, and what Kaepernick is doing now makes him a patriot.
Of course I believe the flag and the national anthem deserve respect, they represent this country I live in, and while I don’t always love it, I want to be here to support her through the good and the bad. I think that’s fair to say for all American citizens.
However, what these knights fail to realize, is that kneeling before the flag is not “disrespecting the country,” let alone veterans. By stating it’s disrespectful for the veterans who fought for the country, people are eagerly forgetting (or just ignoring) the ideals veterans fight for in the first place. To quote the document many claim they would take a bullet for — literally, the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Trevor Noah makes equally powerful points on this topic, calling out some of the less-discussed racist comments and ideologies when it comes to black people and protesting, in a segment called, “When Is the Right Time for Black People to Protest?”
“…you think black people are free of the worry of being shot by agents of the state? That’s the whole thing they’re protesting in the first place!”
Kaepernick’s (amongst others joining to take a knee in recent weeks) is the most peaceable method protest to come out of this unrest. While marches for Black Lives Matter have always intended to be the same, and most were, it wasn’t unusual for a few to become violent — though all of that came on the backs of more and more police resistance, brutality, and the attempted silencing of marchers — only further proving their point, that the most police aren’t there to protect black lives and rights.
His taking a knee isn’t about the flag, just as how with Rosa Parks, it wasn’t about the bus. Hell, it isn’t even about veterans — it’s the right-wing media, voters, and politicians that are making it about all those things, rather than acknowledging its real purpose: to shine light on Kaepernick, an influential person with a wide social reach, and ergo shine light on the issues he’s trying to bring more attention to: the treatment of people of color in this country.
To shine light on police brutality, on the killing of young, innocent kids. It isn’t about Donald Trump, it isn’t about patriotism, it isn’t about starting a black vs. white race war — it’s about the unfair treatment of specific American citizens, founded only on the color of their skin. The skin they were born with, in a country to which their ancestors were either brought to be enslaved, or those who fled to in search of a better life.
From now on, rather than focusing on dispelling whether or not he’s a terrorist, disrespecting veterans, or protesting Trump, we need to be emphasizing the true meaning of what “taking a knee” stands for: speaking out against police brutality and the overall unjust treatment of POC, from both institutions and the privileged class.
That includes speaking out against the institutionalized racism that still runs rampant in this country, even if it isn’t as vocal as before the Civil Rights Movement.
- 45 percent of companies in the US have no minorities/POC on their executive teams.
- Flint, Michigan, a town made up of 60 percent poor African American citizens, hasn’t had lead-free water since February 2015, in a basic American infrastructure that will only continue to fail and harm similarly small and poor communities.
- In 2015, black men were nine times more likely to be killed by police than other Americans.
- All of this, the marches, the protests, coming on the backs of black victims like Trayvon Martin, Tyre King, Eric Garner, Jordan Edwards, Tamir Rice.
America is failing her people, forgetting the reason she fought for independence in the first place:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The unjust treatment of black and other POC in this country is undeniable. Privileged people will make excuses, will make justifications, but the fact of the matter is, people are still dying. Black people, young black children, at rates more rampant than their white counterparts — and anyone with open eyes knows why.
This country was built on racism. It was built on the backs of black slaves, and we still struggle to contain the ripples left behind on our culture. The fact is, the treatment of POC in this country won’t change until those in power — the wealthy, the privileged — take responsibility for the treatment of POC, and acknowledge the suffering. Publicly, indiscriminately, and without excuses.
It’s time for America to remember what she was built on, the ideals and dreams that came and contributed to her diverse culture. It’s time for her to take responsibility for her past atrocities, to make amends with the people she’s damaged, and only then can she move forward without stumbling.
Nico Morgan is a freelance writer from Idaho, where she spends most of her time writing, drawing, and plaiting tiny braids into the fur of long-haired cats. You can find more of her daily one-liners on twitter, @holobun.