The national flag of the United States of America is a symbol of freedom, liberty and human rights. It is a symbol of hope and all that we believe in as Americans. It is a symbol that some men rally behind, whether on our shores or in foreign territories. The stars on the flag represent the 50 states of the United States of America, and the stripes represent the 13 British colonies that declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain, and became the first states in the U.S.
The U.S. flag—The Stars and Stripes, Old Glory, and even The Star-Spangled Banner as it is nicknamed—is considered sacred by some; which will explain why the desecration of the flag is considered a public outrage, but remains protected as freedom of speech. Scholars have noted the irony that "the flag is so revered because it represents the land of the free, and that freedom includes the ability to use or abuse that flag in protest". Yet, there are those who say the flag holds no value for them at all and believe it’s nothing more than a symbol of a broken country.
For those who hold the flag in high esteem, it is about the beauty of living in America and enjoying the rights associated with our free democracy; those that has been paid for by blood, sweat, limbs, and even lives. It is because of this, that those who oppose issues in America and protest by burning the flag or kneeling during the National Anthem—the song associated with salute to the flag—are deemed unpatriotic or simply, “disrespectful”.
Over the last few years, this country has seen a public outcry over the increasing numbers of police brutality, especially in disproportionate numbers against African Americans. We’ve seen the likes of Travon Martin, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, and many more killed in controversial confrontations by law enforcement officers only to have all of them adjudicated with no convictions.
It was Sunday, August 14, 2016 when San Francisco’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick, an African American, sat during the playing of the National Anthem before a pre-season game. Initially, he went unnoticed because he wasn’t in uniform and did not play because of an injury. By August 26, he made national headlines for again, sitting during the playing of the National Anthem.
Kaepernick told the media after the game he sat because of the oppression of people of color and ongoing issues with police brutality.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color," Kaepernick said, via NFL.com. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
When interviewed, Kaepernick said, “I'm going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there's significant change and I feel that flag represents what it's supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it's supposed to, I'll stand."
Unlike what some in the media, NFL and President Donald Trump has proclaimed, for Kaepernick, his position to not stand during the playing of the National Anthem was not about failing to appreciate those who have suffered greatly in respect of the flag. In fact, he said, “I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family…I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they fought have for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.”
So, did Colin Kaepernick “Dis” the flag by not standing and by kneeling down? Many have decided to register their opposition to policies and laws that are unjust in this country by sitting, kneeling and taking a stand. Whenever those who were bold enough to show their opposition did so, they too have been called wrong, ungrateful and disrespectful.
Recently, President Trump said while campaigning in Alabama, “Wouldn’t you like to see one of our NFL owners, when somebody disrespects the flag, say, ‘Get that son-of-a-bitch off the field.’”
“Disrespects the flag…” What does it mean to “Dis” the flag? President Trump also said on his infamous Twitter account, “Burning a flag is a peaceful and respectful way for citizens of this great country to voice their displeasure. Very powerful.”
H’mmmm…Let’s get this straight: Kneeling down silently during the raising of the flag is disrespectful, but burning the flag is respectful? Again, I say, “To Dis or Not to Dis the Flag?” Maybe it is who is doing the “Dissing”.
Perhaps Tommie Smith (Gold) and John Carlos (Bronze) were being disrespectful in 1968 at the Mexico City Olympics when they raised their fists in salute to Black power during the playing of the U.S. National Anthem as they received their medals. Perhaps Rosie Parks in 1955 was being disrespectful when she had had enough and decided to sit in the “Whites Only” section of the bus while she paid the same fare as Whites but was told to sit in the back of the bus or go to jail. She chose the latter.
In 2017, if one decides to kneel down during the playing of the National Anthem they too are not only being “disrespectful” but “sons-of-bitches”. If history has taught us anything, it’s that today’s “sons-of-bitches” are tomorrow’s heroes.
In good ol’ Mr. Charlie type vernacular, Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys said regarding the recent stance by NFL members to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem: “You are all simply paid performers on a stage and that field is my stage! You will stand, with your hand over your heart and with respect, when our country’s National Anthem is being played or you will no longer be a Dallas Cowboy, a coach for the Dallas Cowboys, or have any association with the Dallas Cowboy organization! I will fire you, no matter who you are!”
Again, I say, “To Dis or to Not Dis the Flag”? The question has been, is taking a knee during the National Anthem being disrespectful? The real question is, what will taking-a-knee during the National Anthem cost those who will do it or what is the cost of silence? Does the beauty of the flag and the song cover up the injustices that started this entire stance in the first place?
R&B singer Erykah Badu says in lyric fashion, “Take a Knee”.
We are all watching to see
who will take a knee
We say if it were me
It would be so easy
But when you’ve suffered
Misery and have worked
To be what they call free
And are conditioned to
Believe what they say on TV
It’s hard to see the history
You are comfortably numb
To the indignity
Suffered by the collective WE
You watched mama struggle years
Social Media in your ears
And now the moment that you feared
All suited up you swallow tears
So though your legs are wobbly
You can’t go back to poverty…
We can ill afford to allow Colin Kaepernick’s original intent—that this country must do better in the disproportional injustice of police brutality against African Americans. We cannot allow those who would rather sweep the obvious under the rug and say this is disrespectful to the flag to call this protest disrespectful. No, kneeling stands for the very thing the flag represents to our country. We’re the ‘land of the free’ but every citizen hasn’t been made to feel truly free. Why does it still seem like there are different rules for drivers based on the color of one’s skin?
To Dis or Not to Dis the flag? We would be disrespecting the flag if we said nothing and did nothing about the racial injustices that African Americans face for still far too long in this country. We would be disrespecting the flag if the NFL players stopped their protests because of fear of their jobs. It cost Colin Kaepernick a job but we will look back on this time and say, it cost Colin but it paid dividends for others. We would be disrespecting the flag if you and I only allow the NFL players to partake in this stand. We must kneel with them in some form or the other. History would shame us if we allow them to stand alone. It would be a disrespect to them and to our forefathers who stood, walked, sat, drenched by water hoses and chased by dogs. Perhaps it is good to be disrespectful when being disrespectful is speaking up for those who cannot speak up for themselves. Don’t stop! Be “Disrespectful” in the dignity of right and justice. Shall we stand in shame or kneel in dignity? Again, I say, “To Dis or Not to Dis the Flag.”