More than a year ago, former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and teammate Eric Reid chose to kneel during the national anthem in protest of police brutality against ethnic minorities and general racial inequalities within the country. Fans in the stadium booed the demonstration, and the validity of the act quickly became a popular topic for national debate. Since then, other members of professional sports teams across the nation have chosen to protest in the same way, showing varied opinions on the act. (Among the many are Von Miller of the Denver Broncos and Bruce Maxwell of the Oakland Athletics.)
It is all too easy to dismiss the act of kneeling during the national anthem as subversive and disrespectful, or even as a greater wedge between races in this increasingly tense political environment. It seems as if one is either against Trump and America or against racial inequality. Like most things in this world, the issue is not black and white (no pun intended). Causing a national discussion about race is instrumental to achieving progress.
Most popular forms of protest are looked down upon as extreme or ineffective. Marches and sit-ins of shopping centers or highways are too disruptive. Verbal and written opinions on social media are too invasive or biased. Talking about the nation’s lingering racism to politicians results in outrage and sometimes violence (as seen in more aggressive Trump rallies during the election). Activists and people of color seem to be running out of methods to make their voices heard. Kneeling is a respectable medium for protest; it is not too abrasive nor impolite. In an op-ed written by Reid for the New York Times, he explained his and Kaepernick’s reasoning behind the kneeling.
“We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.”
For those who focus on the “disrespect” of the flag itself, it should be noted that there are bountiful ways in which Americans technically disrespect the flag everyday. The American Legion flag code lists numerous conditions, and among them are: “The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.” and “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free.” But kneeling during the national anthem is not meant to antagonize the flag or the president or American ideals. It is an attempt to bring to light the inequality of opportunity in American society and the ways the ideas behind the literal flag, like liberty, justice, and democracy, are not represented by the current state of affairs in relation to ethnic minority groups. Skepticism and dissent of government are commonly thought of as improper or Un-American, but when analyzing American history, it is the skeptics and the dissenters who we remember as national beacons of righteousness. Kneeling is reminiscent of colonial revolutionaries and the civil rights activists of the mid 20th century (who also faced backlash from the majority at the time but are now revered for their efforts as a trademark of Americanism).
Racism cannot be eradicated in a matter of years, and while kneeling may not consequentially “solve” anything, it is instrumental to causing national discourse. We must unlearn the quiet ways we exhibit racism, like condemning a lesser-valued minority American for exercising their right to free speech and protest. We must continue to discuss underlying tensions and subtle racist tendencies left over from the Civil war and prior; mere conversation can lead to astounding progress. The culmination of these tensions will only push us to further greatness as a nation as we become more aware and sympathetic to the varied experiences of all kinds of Americans. A true American shows respect for our country by wanting to better it, to right generational wrongs, to validate foundational ideals like equality for all.