Keep kneeling for the US anthem

If you’re angry that it “pops the sports bubble,” then you’re missing the point of protest

#TakeAKnee is trending with sports teams across America right now. It started with a move by Colin Kaepernick last year to protest racism and police violence in the US — and angry comments by the president have resurrected the movement with stunning voracity. Left and right, football teams are kneeling during the anthem in solidarity, and this is making quite a few people unhappy.

Of course, nobody is going to own up to passively letting racism continue unimpeded, so the anti-#TakeAKnee arguments operate in a more roundabout fashion. Rather than engaging with the actual subject matter of the protest — racially charged police brutality — they have chosen to criticize the way the protest is done, like a rapidly-swelling tumour of tone policing.

So let’s look at a few of the supposed “cons” of kneeling for the anthem, and see why they’re not too valid.

Chris Buskirk, editor of online publication American Greatness insists that, in the first place, the NFL should be staying out of politics and not “pop the sports bubble.” “Fans are leaving the NFL [because] of the players’ political activism that disrespects our country, its heritage, and its people,” he argues. “Sports have traditionally been a refuge from . . . political controversy where Americans. . . could check the cares of the world at the turnstile.”

Similarly, Laura Ingraham in Lifezette argues that standing for the US anthem does not signify that you agree with America’s government, president, or actions. It means only that you “love this country and wish it well.” Ingraham claims that “Americans have long believed that . . . it is important to have a ritual where we all express our shared patriotism.” She says that “someone needs to tell these young men that kneeling . . . is an extremely offensive attack on our country.”

Finally, many have claimed that to kneel during the anthem disrespects the American military. That military has been referred to as a core part of America’s national identity.

Everyone telling us to respect the flag is missing the entire point of protest. The reason you resort to protest as your genre is because your voice is not being heard via the ordinary channels. It is meant to be disruptive — yes, that includes disrupting your televised athletic bread-and-circuses. It is meant to make the dominant class uncomfortable.

Because when someone like, say, Fox & Friends panelist Lisa Giovinazzo asks why the athletes don’t just “vocally tell the public” what they’re protesting — well, they have. People have protested police brutality and racism long before Colin Kaepernick (who, incidentally, NFL teams still won’t touch despite their sudden shows of solidarity) first took a knee. Nobody listened.

In this case, I do not agree with Ingraham that kneeling for the anthem is an attack on America. As one clever Twitter user put it, Rosa Parks wasn’t protesting buses. But, for the sake of argument, let’s grant momentarily that the kneeling really does attack America as a country. That being the case: good.

How can you pressure America’s people to show patriotism for a country that commits lethal injustices on a daily basis? How can you think it right that people should have to wish well for a country that refuses to acknowledge or change its violent ways? America might give them a place to live, but what good is that when the country then abuses them at every turn?

To claim that America’s people must love America, unconditionally, would be similar to a battered spouse continuing to love their batterer. You cannot separate whether or not to ‘love America’ from its government, its president, or its systems, because the morality and success of the latter are preconditions for the former.

If athletes like Colin Kaepernick are willing to make that separation — as, in fact, Kaepernick has publicly stated — then that is above and beyond the expectations. But don’t you dare expect people to take systematic oppression lying down.

It has been argued that many of the athletes taking part in this protest are not themselves devoid of privilege, and that all of them make enough money that they can hardly act like champions of the underprivileged. Even aside from the simple fact that financial standing does not protect you from social prejudice, would you also fail to listen to those who speak on the behalf of people who suffered police brutality, because they themselves are not survivors of police brutality?

Aside from that, Ingraham claims that “no social conservative” could stand for the anthem if kneeling was a matter of disagreeing with the country, because the US Constitution has been ruled to protect abortion. Well . . . yeah, exactly.

Now, Ingraham’s argument here is already flawed, because abortion and police brutality are completely different issues, but let’s assume “abortion” is simply a stand-in for “a human right defended by the left-wing.”

The thing is, social conservatives don’t have to stand for the anthem. They totally could protest abortion in that way if they chose to do so. I don’t support the pro-life movement, but they, just like any liberal, have a right to peaceful protest.

Americans tend to believe in free speech, their First Amendment. That includes protest. I’ve long espoused that there are times where free speech is defended too strongly — like when people defend hate speech — but this is not one of those times.

If you hate #TakeAKnee because it attacks the country, and you think that attacking our country’s institution means attacking our military, then my question becomes, “Why does your national identity depend so heavily on violence?”

If that mindset is so sacred to America, then it’s no wonder that journalists and politicians keep springing to the defence of a country that does that violence to its own people. Whether or not you like how the message is being said, you need to listen to what the message is. If you can’t do that much, if you can’t understand that we need to do everything in our power to fight police brutality and racist institutions, then you don’t get to complain about how people talk to you.