I do not stand for the national anthem; I have not done so since I was a teenager.
It is easy for me to not stand; when I remain seated I am simply a man who is not standing, at least to those around me. If they secretly grumble I will never know about it. It is not so easy for Colin Kaepernick; he makes that stand, or not-stand, knowing full will that it is likely to have negative implications on his life, career, and future. Some of that is because he is so visible while I am not, but so much more than that it is because he is a black man.
The flag is not simply a symbol of a land-mass cobbled together through accident and theft. It is a symbol of the ideals of a nation, promises that remain as yet unfulfilled. It is a symbol of high ideals, the promise that, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among them are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
It symbolizes a pledge that, “We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”
Those were problematic words when they were written, in the midst of state-sanctions slavery, and they remain problematic words in the face of institution and pervasive bigotry. I will stand for the national anthem when the promises of those words is fulfilled.
Furthermore, I find the response to the growing protest among prominent athletes to be deeply disturbing; the notion that protest is unpatriotic is absurd, especially when one remembers that this country was founded through protest and uprising. But the critique of Colin Kaepernick is not about protest; it is about race, and it is the absurd notion that patriotism can lead nowhere but to the words, “America, love it or leave it.”
I can think of very few words more disturbing than those; it contains deeply troubling implications. It equates dissent with attack, carries the implication that America need not reflect on its failings, that it must be accepted as it is. To those who would say those words, carry signs or shout the words “America, love it or leave it” I have two questions.
What side of history would you have been on in 1861? Would you have stood in the way of millions of enslaved men, women, and children? Would you have confronted abolitionists with threats and vitriol?
What side of history would you have been on in 1963? 1964? 1965? As the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were winding their way through Congress would you have stood in opposition? Would you have joined in with police forces, with your neighbors in suppressing the voices of demonstrators? Would you have joined in with baseball bats and fire hoses, released dogs to attack those marching? Would you have joined in the violence?
Because that is what it comes down to. If you believe America must be accepted just as it is, if patriotism demands blind faith, then you are aligning yourself with that legacy. You may not realize it, but that truth cannot be avoided. The good of this country has come from protest, through the refusal to accept the status quo, the rejecting the chants of “love it or leave it.” It is only through protest that slavery was ended, that Jim Crow laws were repealed, that women were allowed to vote, that Child Labor laws were passed.
Look at your life, at the things around you. Almost everything you interact with each day was made better through protest, through questioning rather than blindly accepting. Every woman in America owes a debt to those who have fought for the right to vote, for property and maternal rights. Every child in school instead of a factory owes a debt to those who have fought. Every single one of owes a debt to the legacy of those who have protested and demanded that we strive for a more perfect union.
And now ask yourself today, right now, which side of history do you want to be on…