Taking a knee is just as American as standing for the anthem

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Controversy surrounding the “Take a Knee” protest movement, started by NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016, has dominated the conversation around the NFL’s ongoing 2017 season. While NFL’s ratings are lower than last year due to a myriad reasons, The U.S.’s favorite sport is, as of right now, all about that moment before the game even begins, when the “Star-Spangled Banner” is played.

Criticism of protests

Since the nation first noticed Kaepernick’s protests back in 2016, the ongoing series of quiet protests has gained the attention of President Trump, seemingly culminating in a statement, when he advised NFL team owners to deal with protesting players by saying, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired.” Trump’s administration has continued to reinforce its views of the movement, as Vice President Mike Pence recently walked out of an NFL game after seeing players protest during the anthem.

While some of Kaepernick’s critics, such as Trump, have questioned the original purpose of the protests—systemic racism toward black Americans and police brutality—others among the movement’s opposition claim they have no problem with the message, but the fact that it’s done during the anthem crosses the line. However, these critics are missing the point. Both in terms of exposure and potency, this small moment before the starting whistle is an ideal time for these athletes to make their voices heard. And as much as some don’t like to see it, advocating for black Americans to be able to live better lives exemplifies what patriotism ought to be in the first place.

A break from politics

In order to unpack that statement, let’s take a closer look at the idea that these protesting players should take their politics elsewhere. One of the biggest flaws within this argument is that it fails to recognize that our lives are inherently political. Governmental and societal constructs affect our everyday lives, our art and, yes, our sports and entertainment. Addressing these subjects within these mediums is part of what it means to be an engaged citizen. The inescapability of politics exists especially so for less privileged Americans in the U.S., such as those in racial minority groups.

Insisting we all put these things aside for a day for the comfort of the viewers is simply not a luxury many Americans can afford. For many young black students, studies have shown sports can be seen as one of their few options to be successful. Military recruitment programs have also targeted minority communities as well. These issues are not ones we can afford to “take a break” from, as they reflect the realities of many who are living in our country. There is a level of disruption required in protest, and this is as fair game as any.

Respecting the armed forces

One must also address what is perhaps the most prominent accusations of the protest—the idea that kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful to our troops. This assertion relies on a number of assumptions. First, not all veterans disapprove of what Kaepernick and others are doing. Granted, just because some members of a group go against the norm, that doesn’t necessarily mean certain things aren’t disrespectful. However, the act of kneeling as opposed to sitting down during the anthem was decided upon as a way to express their personal respect for those in the military, while still maintaining protest.

Taking the stance that those who don’t follow normal protocol around the flag and anthem don’t respect the military makes flawed assumptions about to whom those symbols belong. As symbols of our country, they are not owned by the institution of the military, but rather, by the people. Just as members of the armed forces and their loves ones use the flag as a reminder of their sacrifice, these players can use this opportunity to address the injustices we see every day at home. Doing so doesn’t make them any less American than those who stand and put their hands over their hearts.

Kaepernick and others have made it very clear that they are trying to speak out for the people who live here, and who are being oppressed. At the end of the day, whether through the military, activism or our daily lives, it is ultimately the American people to whom we must pledge our allegiance. Being willing to criticize one’s home is a form of investment, not rejection. For those kneeling on the sidelines, patriotism comes in many more varieties than what we typically perceive.

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About Author

Brandon is a senior studying English with an emphasis in rhetorical writing. As editor-in-chief of The Arbiter, Brandon hopes to assist the staff of Student Media in achieving their goals of engaging and informing the student body by encouraging discourse and striving for excellence in journalism ethics and content. When not in the office, Brandon enjoys reading, playing music and serves as president of the Creative Outlet Writing Club (or COW Club) on campus.

2 Comments

  1. I am confused on your statement about the military targeting blacks. First of all, blacks only make up about 13% of the military, so your comment is just factually incorrect. The increase in minorities in the military came about as a result of social justice warriors wanting to create more equality within the services. Service academies such as the Naval Academy have greatly increased their numbers of women and minorities in order to provide those minorities more opportunities in the world. Implying that the military is somehow “targeting” blacks is misguided at best, flat-out stupid at worst. Your statement also implies that joining the military is somehow an injustice that blacks have to endure on a level that no other race has to- how exactly is that even remotely true? How is the opprtunity to serve your country and earn a college education an injustice?

    Secondly, you implied that blacks are only capable of becoming successful if they play sports like football or basketball etc. This is a borderline racist sentiment. You are literally saying that studies have shown that the only thing blacks are good at is sports. Your statement suggests that blacks and other minorities are incapable of becoming successful any other way. In my mind, you are disrespecting, not helping, minorities with statements like that.

    • “First of all, blacks only make up about 13% of the military, so your comment is just factually incorrect.” Where are getting your stats from? In Fiscal Year 2015 black men made up ~30% of all active enlisted men and black women 17%. Hispanic men and women were also ~14% each. Source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/214869/share-of-active-duty-enlisted-women-and-men-in-the-us-military/

      For the US 2015 Census blacks were about 12% of the population and Hispanics 18%. So while enlisted Hispanics make up ~78% of their population demographics, active blacks is about 2x that of their population. That is notably statistically significant for blacks.

      “Your statement also implies that joining the military is somehow an injustice that blacks have to endure on a level that no other race has to- how exactly is that even remotely true? How is the opprtunity to serve your country and earn a college education an injustice?”

      Except that there is historical precedent for racism across the ages in the US military for example:

      “From 1965 to 1967 blacks represented only 11 percent of the U.S. population but roughly 23 percent of the war’s combat casualties. That number dropped to about 18 and finally to 14 percent as the war expanded, but the death rate for blacks was still disproportionately high.

      How about racism on the battlefield?

      The Marines say there’s only one color and that’s Marine Corps green. But if you’d been there you’d know there were light green and dark green Marines. Blacks were the last to get medals, get promoted and get assigned to the safety of the rear. They faced cross burnings, Confederate flags, KKK costumes and racist graffiti like “I wouldn’t compare a gook to a nigger.” ” Source: http://people.com/archive/an-angry-vietnam-war-correspondent-charges-that-black-combat-soldiers-are-platoons-m-i-a-s-vol-27-no-16/

      Or the fact the GI Bill discriminated against blacks: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_Americans_and_the_G.I._Bill

      Or the recent racial slurs at the Air Force Academy this past month. I can go on and on.

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