Kneeling During the National Anthem

Is kneeling during the national anthem an acceptable form of protest for police brutality against people of color?

antipas2First of all, I ought to say that I have limited right to speak to this topic as a white man. However, I do support the issue they are protesting. I say that only because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have any right to speak to the topic. Polls asking the public what they think about the protest are unfair. Those who disagree with the object of the protest will of course disagree with the form. How many people disapproved of the 1963 March on Washington that culminated in MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech? 60 percent of Americans did, it turns out.

The primary objection to the kneeling protest is that it dishonors the American flag and the national anthem, and by inference, veterans. I think that these objections are a way, conscious or not, of diverting attention from the true subject.

They are calling America’s attention to the fact that the white stripes aren’t quite as pure and peaceful as they suggest, and the blue isn’t quite as just as it would like to be.

In reality, veterans are divided in their views of the protest. Many support it. And, as we now know, it’s an NFL veteran who changed Kaepernick’s protest from a sitting protest to a kneeling protest to show more respect. And moreover, it’s a little bit of a stretch to claim that there is a great dishonor to the flag or the anthem. The players are silent and respectful, just making a simple and unmistakable gesture. One could say that they are calling America’s attention to the fact that the white stripes aren’t quite as pure and peaceful as they suggest, and the blue isn’t quite as just as it would like to be.

A creative article in the NYT suggests that the form of the protest isn’t as effective as it could be, because it’s easily redirected. The author has an interesting point, but at the same time it’s possible that the outrage over it has amplified the message. The protest is now enormously more visible than it was before President Trump started making it a deal. The real danger is that it becomes a protest against Trump, rather than the single-issue protest it began as.

If Jesus isn’t with the victims of injustice, I’m not sure where he is.

This ought to be a cause that Christians support. One could say that Jesus was a friend to the marginalized, and that the Church has always been most at home on the margins of society. Jesus literally spoke about giving hope to the hopeless. If he isn’t with the victims of injustice, I’m not sure where he is. We ought to be very familiar with people speaking out for justice, and we ought to be listening. This is a key part of our calling on earth. Furthermore, as Christians we know that God’s banner is higher than our national patriotism. We ought not to elevate the American flag or national anthem above God or Christian values, one of which is justice. Thus we should feel compelled by Scripture to at least evaluate the subject of the protest before rejecting it outright.

As has been pointed out, it seems like virtually every form of protest that black people in this country take has been considered inappropriate. This is the most peaceful and least disruptive of any.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

Nice post, Antipas. I didn’t know that 60% of Americans disapproved of the 1963 March on Washington. That figure helps contextualize today’s protests. For example, 57% of Americans disapprove of the Black Lives Matter movement. I wouldn’t have thought that the Black Lives Matter movement has better approval ratings than the March on Washington.

You’re right that Jesus made a point to befriend the marginalized and the victims of injustice. That’s a big deal in Christian teachings and should be a larger part of this conversation.

You mentioned that Christian values supersede nationalism and the flag, but there’s a dangerous way to interpret that to elevate God’s word above the Constitution. The Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, Roy Moore, campaigned openly on his belief that the Christian God’s supremacy overrules all, and he has no hestitations disregarding constitutional laws that conflict with his beliefs. His lead over the Democratic candidate has narrowed, but I’m worried for the state of our country if he and others like him are elected while a good portion of the country is more offended than inspired by NFL players’ respectful protests.

 

aureliusYes. Kneeling during the national anthem is an acceptable form of protest for police brutality against people of color. It is not a sign of disrespect to the flag or to the military as the president and countless others have misperceived.

Those victims do not have a voice anymore. These NFL players are using their position and platform to give them one.

First, kneeling in silence is respectful. To mirror how service members kneel before the graves of their fallen comrades, Nate Boyer, a Green Beret and NFL veteran, convinced Colin Kaepernick to take a knee instead of a seat as a more respectful form of protest. When an NFL player kneels during the national anthem, it is in recognition of unarmed victims of police brutality. Those victims do not have a voice anymore. These NFL players are using their position and platform to give them one, and they are doing so in a thoughtful and respectful way.

Second, protesting injustices  is an appropriate use of an athlete’s platform. There is a long history of black athletes protesting injustices, which are largely viewed favorably in hindsight. Years from now we will look back at these kneeling NFL players much the same way that we currently look back at John Carlos and Tommie Smith in that 1968 Olympics award ceremony where they raised their fists in the air. They were protesting the same injustices the NFL players are currently protesting. It is the duty of a responsible citizen to  take a stand against injustices.

Third, the unsung verses of our national anthem are unintentionally fitting as a backdrop to protesting unequal treatment. The opening verse  of the Star-Spangled Banner that we commonly sing today is about unexpected victory against a relentless enemy. Those words alone are fitting for a protest when there are injustices to address. The other lesser-known verses highlight the freemen vs. slave context of our country’s early years. The third verse in particular has the line, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom 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.” Maybe not what you expected. The British gave American slaves the option of freedom in exchange for their support. This verse describes the flag gloriously flying over the land of the free while having just condemned slaves for choosing freedom. The values that we purport during the national anthem are silently countered by the conveniently-omitted verses.

When something is wrong, it is our responsibility to acknowledge it and do something about it.

Our society is far from perfect. When something is wrong, it is our responsibility to acknowledge it and do something about it. By taking a knee, NFL players respectfully invite conversation and action to make our society better and finally equal for all. If it makes you feel uncomfortable or even angry, then great, let’s talk about it.

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

A great statement, my dear Aurelius. It’s a fun feature of this blog that we write independently, and sometimes find similar reasoning.

I’ll play devil’s advocate briefly, however. Some have pointed out, rightly, that it doesn’t matter what you call something, only how people interpret it. If I give you the middle finger and say, “Oh don’t worry, I mean it nicely,” then you would be justified in saying that I had lost my mind. It may not matter how much the protestors argue that their protest is polite and respectful and not about veterans; if people choose to interpret it that way then there’s nothing the protestors can do about it.

It can be a shame, but the witnesses of a protest have the right to interpret it. The fact that they are mis-interpreting it is their fault, but it’s still their right. It’s sad that we have to wait for history to redeem people like John Carlos, Tommie Smith, Muhammad Ali, and even Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.

Today, American patriotism is like a religion (perplexingly strong among the actually religious), and those who show divergence from the mainstream can be harshly persecuted.

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