“If peaceful protests did nothing, the powerful wouldn’t try so hard to silence them.” – NYCLU
Last year, NFL player Colin Kaepernick created a worldwide debate about what it means to be patriotic in one simple action: kneeling during the U.S national anthem.
Immediately, the public sphere was divided in their opinion of what Kaepernick intended by ‘Taking a knee’. Put simply, Kaepernick intended to do one thing, and one thing only: to draw attention to police brutality and racial inequality in America. However, the subsequent media frenzy painted his actions as anti-American, anti-military, and unpatriotic. But what people seem to forget is that peaceful protests are not a new thing in America’s history.
Taking a knee is reminiscent of pivotal moments during America’s civil rights movement, the most obvious being Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a bus in 1955 during racial segregation. Parks’ defiance marked a shift in the course of the civil-rights movement, paving the way for people such as the Freedom Riders to protest for what, quite simply, was right. These protests were nonviolent and peaceful, often involving sit-ins, or people of colour refusing to recognise segregated public areas and sitting in ‘white only’ spaces.
“Well, there comes a time when you believe in something that is so right, so good and so necessary, that you’re prepared to stand up and be willing to die for it. It’s just a matter of finding a way or making a way out of no way.” – Rep. John Lewis, Freedom Rider and Civil Rights activist.
Long before Colin Kaepernick, sports has been used as a platform to act out against systemic racial inequality in the U.S. In 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos made the Black Power salute during the Mexico City Olympics, and in 2014 St. Louis Rams players walked onto the field with their hands up, a nod to the ‘Hands up, Don’t shoot’ procedure. Kenny Britt wrote the names of murdered black teenagers such as Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin on his boots, and countless other athletes emblazoned their shirts with ‘I CAN’T BREATHE’ after a court ruled not to indict the police officer responsible for the murder of Eric Garner.
So why is it that Take a Knee, amongst all of these displays of defiance, has caused such an issue about what it means to be a patriot? Unfortunately, we have one man to thank – Donald Trump. Trump decided to voice his opinion on the matter after twenty-seven NFL players took a knee during a Ravens/Jaguar match held here in the UK:
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now”
Unsurprisingly, Trump’s rhetoric implied that black men exercising their constitutional right to freedom of expression was directly disrespecting America and it’s flag. But really, why should anyone pledge allegiance to a flag, or hold their hand over their heart and stand during the national anthem for a country which constantly, systematically, and brutally refuses to grant them safety and equality?
The pledge of allegiance states that America is a nation ‘…indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’ – but this is simply untrue. People like Colin Kaepernick should and will continue with their protests, in the hope that eventually America will wake up and make steps to put right the undeniable issue it has with police brutality, and racial inequality. This is not an issue of who is or isn’t patriotic, it instead perfectly demonstrates how America is currently failing miserably to live up to its promise of freedom and justice.
Until this claim is truly inclusive, I kneel with Colin Kaepernick.