CW: This post discusses racism, police brutality, the killing of People of Color by “law enforcement”.
Over the past few weeks, my social media feeds have been full of discussions about Colin Kaepernick and his choice to take a knee during the National Anthem as a form of protest against injustice, racism, and police brutality. I’ve seen a lot of people crying foul and complaining about how disrespectful he’s being to the flag, to the Anthem, to the United States of America, to USAmerican Servicemembers and veterans, etc. I’ve had some thoughts simmering about this topic and I want to share them, specifically for my fellow white people, especially those who feel like Kaepernick is being disrespectful. And please keep in mind, I say this as someone who is a veteran of the US Army, who is the spouse of a combat veteran who is in the process of transitioning out of the US Army, and who has a number of other relatives and close friends in various branches of the US military. I’ve spent a lot of time around the military, on installations, and thinking about what the military and our oaths as servicemembers stand for and about what constitutes respect and honor for the country and the flag. (I don’t think that makes me better than anyone, I just wanted to preemptively put that out there since people tend to assume I have no connections to the military and try to tell me “soldiers/vets/their spouses/families think/feel blah” as a way to try to shut me up.)
Personally, I don’t believe that Kaepernick is being disrespectful at all, he’s doing something that is totally in keeping with the very roots of the USA and with what the USA and the flag are supposed to stand for. The USA was founded out of the desire of white people to be free from tyranny, to be able to live their lives as they saw fit. The USA supposedly stands for democracy, freedom, and justice. Heck. The Pledge of Allegiance contains the phrase “With liberty and justice for all.” That’s what the flag is supposed to stand for. That’s what our country is supposed to stand for.
But. There’s a problem with that.
Liberty, justice, freedom, and democracy aren’t a reality for everyone in the USA.
What?!? What are you talking about?!?
I speak of the rampant and unchecked killing of People of Color (POC) by “law enforcement”, the justification and defense of it by far too many white people, and the fact that even when there are “investigations” and on the rare occasions when it gets prosecuted, no actual accountability comes from it.
How can we say the the flag and the Anthem and the USA stand for justice, democracy, and freedom for all when that really only applies to white people? There is no justice for Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Eric Harris, Michael Brown, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Rekia Boyd, and Freddie Gray. I don’t exactly hold out hope that there will be justice for Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Terence Crutcher, or Tyre King, or any of the other POC who have been or will be killed by LE. The system is rigged against it.
The USA was founded by (white) people who wanted the right to protest and speak out against injustice without fearing for their lives and well-being, without fearing repercussions like losing their livelihoods or having the King send his soldiers after them. Speaking up against injustice is one of the core things the USA is supposed to represent. To my way of thinking, Kaepernick taking a knee during the Anthem (a song with racist content and roots, but we’ll save that convo for a different day) to protest racism and police brutality – things which go against all this country is supposed to represent – is highly patriotic, not disrespectful.
What is disrespectful is that people who have sworn to protect and defend the public are allowed to go out and shoot that public, to kill people because of their skin color. Disrespectful is the fact that we allow the badge they wear to be a free pass. Disrespectful is allowing “law enforcement” to get away with taking the lives of POC. Disrespectful is the fact that someone taxpayers employ to keep the peace are allowed to do the very opposite with no accountability. Disrespectful is justifying and defending killings that we would demand a life sentence or the death penalty for if the people doing the killing didn’t wear a badge. Disrespectful is saying a CHILD deserved to be shot within seconds of the police pulling up. If it hadn’t been police, we would call what happened to Tamir Rice a “drive by shooting”. We decry these actions when they’re taken by gangs but then allow the police officers who do these things to keep collecting a salary. Disrespectful is Disrespectful is responding to posts about the injustice of a man with his hands up beside a broken down car being killed with “Well, he should have…” What’s disrespectful to the US flag and the USA is defending state sanctioned murder.
I wasn’t in the US Army for very long, due to a medical discharge, but when I enlisted a couple of years after 9/11, I swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution and my country. I may not have had a very long career, but I spent it trying to serve my country and fully intending to have a long career, even willing to give my life trying to save others as a Combat Medic. I hear people say “soldiers and veterans didn’t sign up so Kaepenick could diss the flag by taking a knee during the anthem.” Actually, I did. I joined the military wiling to defend his right to do what he’s doing without people saying he should be fired or arrested. You know what I did *not* join the military for? I sure as hell didn’t enlist so white people could get a job swearing a similar oath, promising to protect and defend the public paying their salary, and then take the lives of members of that public with black or brown skin. I did NOT enlist to defend systemic and institutional racism. I didn’t enlist so people could use me as a political token to excuse the silencing of POC speaking out against police brutality, inequality, and state sanctioned murder, all things that are in direct opposition to the Constitution I swore to uphold and defend.
I’d far rather see Kaepernick take a knee during the anthem in protest of police brutality than see “law enforcement” officers killing the people they’re supposed to serve. I’d rather see Kaepernick take a knee during the anthem to protest inequality in how POC are treated than see people defend and justify “law enforcement” officers killing POC in cold blood and doing so while flying the flag of the USA. I’d rather see Kaepernick take a knee during the anthem in protest of racism and injustice than see people defend and justify that racism and injustice in the name of the United States of America. I’d rather see every team in the NFL, NBA, WNBA, NHL, MLB, and every other sports association in this country take a knee during the Anthem than see white people continue to defend and justify acts that should never even happen and invoke me and my siblings-in-arms as the reason why.
There is indeed a great deal of disrespect to the United States of America, the flag, and servicemembers and veterans happening today… but Colin Kaepernick isn’t the culprit. Who’s really disrespecting the flag? The culprit is the “law enforcement” officers taking black and brown lives and the white people saying that it’s ok. Just think about that.
Note: I apologize for the oddities with paragraph spacing, my blog post editor window thingy is being… difficult… as is my internet.