I hereby decree…
Colin Kaepernick is an American hero.
So a few weeks ago, NFL owners banned players from kneeling or otherwise not overtly respecting the flag during the national anthem. Or they could just stay in the locker room during it. That way they are out of sight and their lack of participation in athletic patriotic theater doesn’t have to offend anyone. Any non-compliant players and their teams would be fined.
Now there’s a ton to unpack here. For one, how many of these players do we keep finding out have been beating women and children? Yet they just get to keep on playing as long as they stand for the flag.
Why do sporting events have these patriotic and military displays to begin with? What do they even have to do with each other? Well, it seems the Pentagon has been paying teams for these displays for a long time, although apparently they’ve finally stopped. It explains why the games have them, but there’s the other troubling question of why the Pentagon has been doing this in the first place. Perhaps the pageantry is supposed to inspire a feeling of blind loyalty?
That may be the case. After all, Kaepernick and all the others who have taken a knee are doing it because things within the country we love aren’t that great, namely, as these guys are about, police brutality and the racism that perpetuates it. They don’t hate the country itself. They hate something seriously wrong that is happening in it and are using their public platform to call attention to it.
But calling this attention to something wrong in the country ruffles a lot of feathers. For one, so many miss the important distinction between calling attention to a serious wrong in an otherwise loved country and hating the country. The message is supposed to be “please stop killing black people!” but some keep reading it as (or claiming to read it as) “I don’t support the troops!”
It’s a weird stretch to see a perceived lack of reverence for the flag and the national anthem as a slight against the military. Perhaps it’s mostly a guilt trip, that these soldiers went out and died for this country and that flag while not showing proper reverence for that flag somehow diminishes their sacrifice. It’s a bullshit guilt trip, of course. I mean, the Star Spangled Banner is literally about the flag surviving a war, but apparently it can’t survive a football player kneeling?
It’s also bullshit because the point is to silence the kneelers’ message. I mean, I get being indignant when it seems like someone is raining on your celebration, where you want to enjoy the bit of tacky showy patriotism, only for someone to be like “okay, but a lot of bad shit is happening”. We’re all permitted our escapism, and watching football is most definitely that. But the military promotion is kind of in and of itself flying in the face of that, because it’s like we all just want to chill and watch a game, and there they are being like “but don’t forget, war is a thing!”
You know, they go on about the sacrifices these soldiers have made and celebrate them and the country, but gloss over any justification for why those soldiers were wherever they were in the first place, why they had to die, or, which would drive their point home more but they nonetheless avoid it, how mind-blowingly horrifying war is. But of course that’s how they sell it. They want more people to sign up and keep promoting doing so as something heroic and glorious, and a lot of us eat it up. I mean, if it were always just causes, sure, but the reality has a lot more shades of grey.
Maybe this is why it ruffles so many feathers to see a black man kneeling instead of saluting, calling attention to the senseless murders of other black people in a society that sees only white people as important or worthwhile. They don’t want their attention called to serious problems within the country these soldiers are making the ultimate sacrifice for (and they certainly don’t like a black person calling attention to a failing of white society). They don’t like this perceived slight against heroes.
But then again, Colin Kaepernick is himself heroic. I mean, he’s not at a literal war, true, but he’s speaking out about an important issue at great personal risk.
I’ve mentioned before about the difference in perception of members of the military and social activists, where the former are considered heroic and deserving of unquestionable praise while the latter are troublemakers who should sit down and shut up, something that is clearly playing out here. But the social activists need to be recognized as the heroes they are, because what they work on are internal threats, which are often even more dangerous than anything from the outside.
For example, September 11th was touted by some as an attack on our freedom. But what ended up happening was we curtailed our own freedom in response. The horrific attacks happened but alone did nothing to change how free we were or weren’t. Everything from reduced civil liberties to Islamophobia we did on our own. None of that could be fixed by sending troops to Afghanistan. These were at home internal threats that domestic activists had to rectify, knowing it would destroy us to let them go unabated, all the while being called unAmerican.
Let me say this again. These internal threats would destroy us. Racism is destroying this country, as are sexism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and the rest. These are not mere inconveniences for certain affected populations, but a serious problem that can and will destroy us. After all, those affected populations are just as American, and more importantly just as human. This country belongs to them at least as much as to any privileged white people who get to debate this as a distant rhetorical game rather than live it on a daily basis. When you truly understand that, then you’ll understand how urgent the problem is, and how much deep shit we’re in as a nation when we not only don’t effectively address it but mock and vilify those who do. And you’ll understand it’s nothing you can point the military at. It’s all within.
I’d like to point out also that I do like our flag and our national anthem. I can feel that way while recognizing how dangerous it is to make them mandatory.
This has been Day 22 of the 100 Days of Summer, Round 18.