Institute of American Indian Arts (Photo compliments of Moni)
Not everyone really appreciates just how powerful the ritual of standing for the National Anthem really can be. I got a real sense of this when I was 14. My Jr. rifle team won the Wyoming-state BB-Gun finals, which earned our way to the International BB-Gun Championship in Bowling Green, Kentucky. …on July 4th. As the child of a career military officer, I was always happy to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner or to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but standing there during the final ceremonies, the whole thing took on a whole new layer of meaning for me. That time, I had my heart in my throat. That time, the whole ritual moved me nearly to tears. I loved my country so much, and at that moment, putting my hand over my heart for that beautiful song was absolutely the most perfectly meaningful expression of that love I could possibly imagine doing.
There was something extra meaningful about the whole experience that came with doing it in the context of a sporting event. Granted the International BB-Gun Championships were really more of a national context with Mexico and Canada thrown into the bargain, but being 14 and all, I was happy to go along with the rationale. In some sense, I was representing the country whose National Anthem we stood for. That gave the whole thing so much more power. The ritual lent extra meaning to the contest, and the contest gave more meaning to the ritual. On that day, for me anyway, the National Anthem was a deeply spiritual act. So, I can definitely understand the power that ritual must carry for many as it is done in sporting events all across the nation.
I can only imagine what the Anthem must mean for professional athletes who stand for the anthem before great audiences in the course of their career, but I do imagine the sense must be a little bit like the one I had at 14. I really cannot imagine what it must mean for servicemen who stand for the Anthem in the service of our country. Full stop. I really cannot imagine what it must mean to them. It must be a very powerful experience. What could one possibly do that would express their love of country more than standing for the Anthem?
…except perhaps taking a knee for it instead.
Seriously! Is it just me? Am I the only one who finds the whole protest oddly dignified, almost deliberate in its respect? Taking a knee could as easily be a gesture of fealty as one of protest. I can think of way more vile ways to disrespect the flag than kneeling respectfully and waiting patiently for the the completion of the Anthem. This protest almost seems like a gesture of respect in itself. Watching Colin Kaepernick and the others take a knee instead of standing, I always get strange sense that this supposedly anti-American gesture of contempt for America is at least a little bit like a gesture of love in itself.
But that’s just my sense of the gesture. Neither the iconography of the protest, nor the love of country are really the point of course, but the real point is hardly one that ought to threaten anyone’s sense of patriotism. Hell, I don’t see any reason why those standing with their hands over their hearts should be the least bit ashamed to do so beside someone who was taking a knee.
Unless of course they chose to ignore the reasons for taking a knee in the first place.
It’s not as though Kaepernick has been silent about his reasons for doing this. It’s not as though, he has been just trolling the nation along with those who love it. I don’t see the man laughing at our collective discomfort. This same is true of others who’ve taken up the practice in his absence.
This protest was always about police violence, about the unnecessary deaths of black men at the hands of police, and that’s as good a reason to protest as any that I can think of. It’s the sort of thing people ought to care about, and those who choose to ignore it are far from proving their patriotism. With or without a hand over their hearts, those who insist we ignore the issue demonstrate little love for their nation at all.
It’s important to realize that those who insist on treating the protest as an insult to the nation are far from showing healthy love for it themselves. The likes of Tomi Lahren or the Manchurian Cheeto castigating the protesters for disrespecting the country do little but show how easily love can be confused with abuse. Right wing nationalists love their country in much the same way that an abusive husband loves his wife. Their professions of love always come in the form of demands, demands that others do their bidding. Those talking about how ungrateful (black) celebrities are when they protest demonstrate little but their contempt for the actual successful of African-Americans who have worked every bit as hard for that success as anyone else. And there is something perfectly appropriate about the pledge as they understand it. It is an obligation to the underprivileged among us to shut up and love the nation without complaint. This is not patriotism. It is abuse.
And abuse wrapped in a flag is still abuse.
I am well aware that folks have good reason to be skeptical of those who’ve brought the issue of police violence against minorities to public attention in recent years. Some terrible things have been done in the name of Black Lives Matter and other left wing protesters. I also expect that some of the cases of alleged police abuse reflect instances in which the police in question were doing their job as best they can, their very difficult and very dangerous job. I can definitely understand a desire to support police against undue attacks from radical protests. And yet, I keep coming back to this one question; with all the footage and news reports of various cop shootings, beatings, etc., are there none that merit genuine concern? Are there no instances in which the actions of the police seem excessive? Even when the decision to pull the trigger seems justified in the heat of the moment, are there no questions about how it got to that point? Are none of these worthy of reconsideration? No police practices or policies worthy of reconsideration?
I expect most of us can think of at least a few instances in which the actions of police officers on the street or correctional officers in the prison system are indeed questionable. It is precisely those instances which the right wing response to Black Lives Matter and/or protests like that of Colin Kaepernick are intended to keep from public scrutiny. Th right wing leaders are not saying that we should take care to distinguish actual police abuse from sensationalized instances of cops doing what cops do. What the right wing echo chamber has consistently done throughout the media curve on this issue is to demonize the protesters and insist that we support the police, categorically, across the board, with no damned exceptions. In effect, the likes of Sheriff Clark, Joe Arpaio, or the pathetic traitor who now disrespects the White House with his every breath are demanding that we refuse to distinguish actual police violence from proper execution of the job. These people are not defending good cops. They are defending bad cops. And they have been doing everything in their power to make sure that the rest of us cannot tell the difference.
It’s not a coincidence that the same people who don’t want us to put much scrutiny into the actions of cops on the beat are also big fans of civil asset forfeiture and private prisons. By means of the first, police steal from private citizens. Let me repeat that, by means of civil asset forfeiture, the police steal from private citizens. By means of the second, government cronies steal from the rest of us to line the pockets of those manning these prisons, the same prisons holding countless people on unnecessary drug offenses. Hell, these are the same people who want to arm more of the police with military grade weapons. This too costs money, money spent on both serious crime and frivolous crime (which are often much easier to prosecute). The police state is big business. And Americas right wing hacks do NOT want the rest of us messing that business up. They don’t want the public to sort their crimes from the actions of law enforcement genuinely serving the public interests. They want the public to buy their policies and fund their budgets in the heat of a fever, Hell-bent on getting more law-enforcement, law-enforcement of any kind.
This is why the right wing wants to silence the protesters. This is why the wanna-be dictator in chief is demanding the NFL do something about those taking a knee. It isn’t because those taking a knee at a ball game are unpatriotic. It’s because those demanding their silence are themselves without a public conscience. It is because they are working very hard to make this country more dangerous for all of us, starting those of darker skin.
The right wing response to these protests has been a calculated attempt to turn those standing with their hands over their hearts against those taking a knee. They want those feeling the surge of straight-laced patriotism in all it’s apple-pie glory to mistake public conscience of those those taking a knee for something sinister and disloyal. It is a perversely ironic response to the protests. It simply isn’t those taking a knee here that betray their country.
Quite the contrary!