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Why do people kneel during the national anthem

| Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A lot of my peers and national figures (notably, the president) have immediately criticized the idea of protesting something deemed so sacred by the United States. Personally, I think they’re not putting enough thought into their criticism.

Don’t forget, you can criticize the protest of the national anthem. Feel free to critique it. Question its validity. My request is that, before you do those things, you do some research on the reason behind the protest.

Let’s talk about symbols. A lot of the criticism of the protest isn’t about what the protest means but about the symbol it’s protesting. There’s concern about the protest in that the flag takes on so many meanings. Many would consider the protest inherently provocative, and frankly offensive, to those that have laid their lives down to the flag. I get it. Kneeling at the flag signals a rejection of the freedoms that the disenfranchised do have in the United States, and it calls attention to the kneelers’ discontent rather than at the country at large.

The thing is, that’s the exact point: to give attention to people that have been ignored for far too long in the United States. Kneeling is supposed to be “offensive” to call attention to something far more offensive: marginalization. To many, the American flag sometimes carries a symbol of entrapment rather than freedom, a painful reminder of their displacement. In its inception, the flag was not meant for “all,” but instead a small sample of elites. This country’s history is fraught with oppressive laws and culture, and for many, the flag is merely a visual reminder of all that America has not yet done to serve them, as well as what it has.

The protest isn’t about the flag, or about veterans. In its initial outset, the protest was due to the poor treatment of African Americans in the United States. To folks like Colin Kaepernick, kneeling represents a dissatisfaction with the country to which they’re supposed to pledge. To assume that it’s merely about the flag would be akin to assuming that suffragettes ran hunger strikes to protest food. It’s reductive and is often done to benefit an opposition argument rather than to gain true understanding.

Those that use this argument to discourage the protests forget that those within this country are allowed to use their voices as they see fit. Those veterans that are brought up fought specifically for the freedom to disobey the flag. With the first amendment comes the ability to express political beliefs, whether they appear on a local or a national scale. Even though the NFL is privately owned, it has released statements that allow its players to protest as they see fit.

Critics also argue that this kneeling won’t benefit anyone, and if Kaepernick truly wanted change, he would put his more time into charity than kneeling. While Kaepernick actually has been rather active in pursuing a better racial environment, the protest was still effective because it brought attention to both him and his goal. Kaepernick specifically chose both a controversial symbol and a well-publicized venue so that eyes would be on the action itself and not just him. As a professional football player, Kaepernick already had national attention, so through his protest, he could force publicity on the issue. If he chooses to use his fame to bring attention to this American problem, to something that he believes is bigger than himself, he’s constitutionally free to do so.

As I mentioned before, if you’re going to critique the NFL protests, don’t do so without full knowledge of the intent behind them. As of the most recent NFL games, what was a practice exhibited by a few football players has spread to multiple athletes, coaches and owners on teams across the country. Regardless of my own personal opinion on the protests, I can recognize that perhaps this new influx of protests might not be about disenfranchised blacks but rather about the president and his tweets. There’s also a concern coaches are doing this as a marketing tactic rather than out of sincerity: If there is a sincere national kneeling movement, why is Kaepernick still unemployed? Has the protest merely become something popular rather than a statement about racism? If kneeling loses its initial focus, it loses its power and whitewashes its goal.

Those are the real critiques of the movement, critiques that add to the conversation rather than shutting it down. If we want to learn anything from this, it’s important that we discuss it as it is and not in reductive arguments that ignore the argument’s complexity.

So go ahead and criticize the protests. Just read a little before you do it.

Delaney Roberts is a sophomore marketing major living in Pasquerilla West. The viewpoints expressed in this column are those of the individual and not necessarily those of BridgeND as an organization.


The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About BridgeND

BridgeND is a bipartisan student political organization that brings together Democrats, Republicans, and all those in between to discuss public policy issues of national importance. They meet Tuesday nights (starting Sept.8) from 8-9pm in the McNeil room of LaFortune. They can be reached at [email protected] or by following them on Twitter @bridge_ND

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