To some, there is nothing that defines America more than the Star-Spangled Banner. Serving as our National Anthem, the tune strikes a patriotic chord with every citizen from coast-to-coast, apathetic to party lines. Whenever the opening verse is sung ever-so-softly, it’s as if the world slows its rotation. A haunting hush sweeps across all men, women and children as they all stand at attention with hands covering hearts, yearning to fill his or her ear drums with more beautiful sound. As the song reaches its conclusion, crossing a wide variety of notes both low and high, tears everywhere are shed. The trials and tribulations of a nation that has overcome copious amounts of hurdles are recognized in just two minutes of harmonic and melodic bliss. The National Anthem IS America.
But as I have previously written, this nation’s faith in symbolic gestures often goes too far. The lines between patriotism and jingoism are blurred, and we suddenly forget what it means to possess freedom; that rights to or to not participate in an action are well within the confines of said freedom. It was not until former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick remained on the bench for the duration of the National Anthem that I began realizing how conflated we have allowed our love for country to become.
While speaking on behalf of a republican candidate for an Alabama senate seat, Donald Trump did what Donald Trump does best, and opened his mouth. Taking his speech from Main Street to Middle-of-Nowheresville, the President stumbled onto the subject of football, as the state he was in is most widely-known for producing a plethora of football talent (much to the dismay of this Florida State University fan). He began presenting his opinions on the National Football League. After a short rant on how the league’s lack of hard hits is ruining the game, the freshman politician focused his tirade directly toward the players. Stated the President:
But you know what’s hurting the game more than that? When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they are playing our great national anthem. The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium, I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore anyway…Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’
That the President used an expletive phrase whilst describing a group of U.S. citizens is in itself atrocious, but most disturbingly, he out-rightly suggested that a football player (this was directed at Kaepernick) be fired for taking advantage of the platform available to him to make a difference and spur change. The attack on the NFL triggered responses from every direction, as athletes of different sports, politicians, political pundits, coaches and even owners all had something to say.
Come Sunday, all eyes were focused on players of the NFL, awaiting a reaction to the President’s comments. Around the league, teammates knelt, stood together, linked arms or, in the case of the Pittsburgh Steelers (with the exception of one player), remained in the tunnel while the Anthem played.
After Trump again doubled down on his original remarks, he stated that protests are not race-related, but only bring disrespect to the country, and our “great” flag. Up until that point, however, the majority of those kneeling or sitting had been African-American. After his “good people on both sides” remark of Nazis gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, it became astoundingly clear that it was neither about the flag or the country for Trump. It is about race. Because it always has been.
These protests, which were an obvious rebuking of comments threatening the first amendment, once again sparked debate among an already-embattled nation. Gridlocked in eternal disagreement are those who agree with what took place Sunday, believing one’s first amendment rights come first, and opposite are those that feel that kneeling or not standing with one’s hand over one’s heart blatantly disrespects our flag, its meaning and what our veterans have fought and died to protect and establish.
Now, it is not too often that I struggle with writing something, as the abilities to turn a phrase or form coherent sentences out of a nebulous thought process are traits on which I pride myself. This, however, was difficult to write, as there are not two sides present to argue.
Colin Kaepernick began his quest for change in August of 2016, wanting to shift his focus toward systemic racial injustices taking place all around the country. White cops taking innocent, mostly-unarmed African-American lives and facing no punishment had become an epidemic, and Kaepernick stated he could not stand for the Anthem, as he did not agree with what the flag had then stood for. Almost immediately, his actions were met with backlash. Some called him an over-privileged millionaire, others shouted that he hated the country, and there were even the few that suggested he live somewhere else if he does not agree with what we stand for…A black man, saying nothing, and sticking up for what he believed to be morally good, infuriated white Americans everywhere. And that trend is shadowed today by the man we call President of the United States.
Our President does not care about America, he does not care about the flag, and he surely does not care for the National Anthem. And as I have learned, neither do those who oppose the efforts to bring race relations to the forefront of discussion.
White people are born with rose-colored glasses attached to their faces; for us, the United States IS the land of opportunity; the National Anthem IS beautiful. Our veterans ARE the bravest humans here. But for those not born white, bravery is waking up every day and living in a world where some of your fellow human beings see you as a subservient species for no other reason than the color of your skin. Where a failure to use your turn signal will land you in prison, ultimately putting an end to your life. This is reality, and to blame it on lack of love for one’s country is both a disservice to the progression of this country, and blatant disrespect to those who have literally sacrificed their lives to get here today.
America has become a nation of flag-waiving hypocrites, dressed to the nines in red, white and blue, too vacuous to understand that love for country does not allow for hatred of others. If showing respect towards a piece of cloth, or listening intently to a song is patriotic, but being black, having opinions and working towards a better future for those that live here are not, please, do not call yourself a patriotic American. Call yourself a racist piece of shit with an American flag.