When the National Football League player, Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers, first dropped to one knee when the National Anthem rang out at the start of a professional football game, I noted the debate that erupted regarding his actions and found it mildly interesting.
Kaepernick, like many others in the African-American community – including yours truly, had become increasingly frustrated by the seeming unending instances of police officers going too far, either killing or maiming African-Americans who, for whatever reason, they deemed to be criminal suspects. His kneeling amounted to a silent protest of these actions that he felt were unwarranted and ultimately, un-repented. Kaepernick, a quarterback for the 49ers, put his hard-won celebrity on the line for what he believed to be a worthy cause. Right or wrong, this was why he began to “take a knee” whenever he heard the nation’s anthem.
Many people, seeing nothing to object to in Kaepernick protesting the racial inequities that he perceived, seized instead on the way in which the football player sought to bring attention to his cause. They quickly condemned his kneeling, calling the act disrespectful to the nation’s flag and to the men and women who are serving and have served in the military. They also labeled Kaepernick as being unpatriotic. After all, kneeling had to be disrespectful, since we, Americans, customarily stand to show our respect and allegiance to our country when the anthem is played?
Wait a minute!
How did we go from seeing one minor sports celebrity protesting racial inequality and police brutality to engaging in a virulent debate over that same act is a show of disrespect for the flag and the country for which it stands?
Let me tell you how. It’s something I see happening a lot lately.
African-Americans raise their voices to protest racial injustices in the 21st Century America. Other Americans, most often but not always whites, who are frustrated by the many problems they believe are plaguing our country today, view these protests as unwarranted complaining by a vocal minority group that our federal government has pampered and coddled for the past 50 years.
These people, however, can find little to object to about peaceful civil protest. So instead, they choose to view the protest through the lens of symbolism and deem it offensive.
By seizing upon something objectionable about the form of the protest; in this case, the kneeling, the vocal critics of the protesters did what I see happening again and again when minority groups protest in this country.
The majority changes the conversation.
I saw it happen with the “Black Lives Matter” movement, when African-Americans raised their voices in protest of the way police officers seemed to regard African-American citizens as being expendable in the way they stopped, detained, questioned and arrested members of this minority group.
Next thing I knew, European-Americans had shifted the debate to a discussion of whether African-American lives were more important than other lives. No thinking person could or would suggest such a thing, but here the nation was, engaging in a silly debate over the matter.
These days, we are no longer debating alleged injustices perpetrated by our law enforcement officers against African-Americans. Instead, we are engaging in heated discussions of the propriety of “kneeling” for the National Anthem!
It doesn’t matter one lick that the last thing on Kaepernick’s mind, or on the minds of the other National Football League players who have joined him in the protests, was the sanctity of the flag or active members of the military.
Further, it doesn’t help matters that opportunistic politicians are lining up all the way to the Oval Office to express outrage over the “kneeling,” and have even attempted to coerce or intimidate the employers of the protesting football players.
In response, many Americans, including members of the military, have spoken out in support of the right of Kaepernick and everyone else to protest in any way they choose, if their actions are peaceful and harm no one.
Still, the “Take A Knee” protest is condemned by many as being an affront to our national pride.
But here again, I find myself asking the question: “Says who?”
Since when is kneeling offensive?
A quick survey of history suggests quite the opposite. Kneeling throughout the ages has been viewed as a symbol of obeisance and submissiveness. One kneels to one’s king, emperor or overlord in almost every part of the world and in nearly every culture. If anything, kneeling is a truer sign of respect than standing.
Moreover, do we not teach our children to get down on their knees to pray to their “Heavenly Father?” If kneeling is so disrespectful, why do we not have our children stand to attention when they pray for blessings from on high.
Lately, I’ve noticed a rash of slogans, reading, “I stand for my flag; but I kneel for God.” So, apparently the very folks who are outraged by people kneeling for the National Anthem recognize the double standard in their reasoning and are acting quickly to shore up the leaky logic.
As the controversy rages on, more and more people from all walks of life and every ethnic group are beginning to kneel for the National Anthem in a show of solidarity and support for Kaepernick and the others’ right to protest in this manner.
They recognize that, like Kaepernick, any of us could and should seek ways to show our outrage and concern over perceived injustices and the abuse of authority we see being enacted by law enforcement officers across the nation.
So, the next time I hear the venerable strains of the National Anthem, do not be surprised to see me “take a knee,” if these old knees will bend.
By Rose Ragsdale, a retired journalist who admires the community of Edgefield, S. C. and its many fine citizens.
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