Right now there is a heated and ongoing debate raging in America around kneeling during the singing of the national anthem during sporting events. The debate has entered into a new phase in the NFL thanks in part to the inflaming words of Donald Trump, who referred to players who kneel as “sons of b*tches” and implied they needed to be fired. Many have noted his clear scorn for players of color compared to his apologetic tone for white supremacists in Charlottesville who echoed Nazi chants and carried tiki torches reminiscent of KKK rallies.
A little over a year ago, I wrote an article for Atlanta Black Star entitled, “Colin Kaepernick is Right: The Problem with Saluting the American Flag.” Back then, the protest was merely in its infancy and little did we know how large it would become and that going into the following season we’d still be talking about it, but with even more passion than we were at the time. However, now that the debate has moved into a new phase, I’ve been pondering evermore on the inconvenient relationship between blackness and patriotism.
It is true that blacks have fought in every major war in U.S. history. Our claim to this land is rock solid and cannot be challenged. The blood, sweat, and tears of our ancestors who were enslaved and played a critical role in America’s long-term viability are not up for debate. It was the wealth they generated that provided the capital necessary to wage war. It was their bloody backs and powerful arms that held this land upon their shoulders like the Titan named Atlas from Greek mythology. Truly, America would not be the country it is today without black people. So then, therefore, why is our patriotism so easily challenged by so many in this country? Herein lies the inconvenience of blackness mixed with hyper-patriotism, because while we have fought and died in wars and honored the Constitution just as much as other Americans, our Constitutional rights as Americans have always been under attack!
Kaepernick and others like him, such as Martellus Bennett, have been clear about why they do what they do. It is the propagandistic Right in America that seeks to hijack the narrative and turn what is really a patriotic act of non-violent protest into an “attack on the flag.” To many, patriotism isn’t simply about fighting for what America stands for – it’s about being blindly loyal to a piece of cloth. It’s about turning off your mind and covering your eyes to consistent and inconvenient forms of injustice that continue to be perpetuated in America. Forms of injustice such as various acts of state-sanctioned violence against Americans. The poisoning of water in Flint, Michigan, which has led to an increase in fetal deaths and miscarriages – and they are still without clean water! Historic economic inequality so massive that it’s said the average black family would need 228 years to build the wealth white families have today! This isn’t including recent reports that have shown that the median wealth of black Americans will plummet to zero by 2053! To say athletes in America don’t have something to kneel for is to be oblivious to the plight of your fellow Americans.
This is the inconvenient relationship some black people have with patriotism or, put better, not so much patriotism, but jingoistic patriotism – hyper-patriotism. Black people should be patriotic in the sense that we should advocate for the ideals laid out in the Constitution. It is my belief that black people, however, should not be jingoists – and there is a very clear difference between the two. Some may find that statement controversial; well I have 241 years of American history to base my opinions on. What white America wants are black jingoists, not simply patriots. They want flag wavers and kool-aid drinkers who won’t question injustice in America and will just bow their heads in fealty.
Blind patriotic loyalty to a flag, and not to the ideals of democracy and freedom, is not convenient for black people. It just isn’t; it’s in fact very inconvenient. It forces you to say “yeah but” regarding the relationship our people have had with this country since slavery. Yeah but what? Yea but…’Murica! I’m sorry, simply saying “America! F*ck yyeah” just to sleep better at night isn’t bringing Philando Castile back. It’s not solving the problems of state protectionism of violent actors within law enforcement who abuse their power – intentionally or unintentionally. It’s not preventing another Tamir Rice or Sandra Bland either. You see that’s what jingoism does, it blinds you to the reality of your present situation. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines jingoism as, “extreme chauvinism or nationalism marked especially by a belligerent foreign policy.” However, it can also be marked by a belligerent domestic policy too…such as mass incarceration and the War on Drugs.
It should be noted that lost in this discussion about the national anthem is the reality of the racist third stanza that celebrates the institution of slavery! The third stanza is consistently left out of the song when the anthem is sung and this is again why black Americans should reject jingoism or extreme patriotism. I advocate for “common sense patriotism” backed by our beliefs in liberty and constitutional rights and, most importantly, the ability to agree to disagree without being silenced and/or killed for your beliefs. Written in the very song we hear all the time are the lines:
No refuge could save the hireling and slave,
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
It just so happens that the Star-Spangled Banner was written during the War of 1812 in Baltimore, Maryland where I was born in 1987. The most important song in American history, written in the city I was born in…has increasingly made me numb.
Before I end this article, I also want to inform readers to be mindful of our nation’s ever so slight slip into neo-fascism. Another reason black Americans should avoid jingoistic (or extreme) patriotism is that we want to avoid being unwitting accomplices in what the Holocaust Museum regards as the “14 Early Warning Signs of Fascism” of which “Powerful and Continuing Nationalism” ranks in as the first one mentioned. This is just another way of saying “jingoistic patriotism” and “extreme patriotism.” Donald Trump has tapped into hyper-nationalist sentiment with his “sons of b*tches” comment and the doubling down that has occurred afterward.
Speaking as a black man, I will continue to push a narrative that I believe is most convenient and beneficial for black people and all victims of state violence. I reject the attempt to silence our voices and redirect the narrative around kneeling during the national anthem. I reject it not because I am un-American. I reject it because I am pro-America and pro-Constitution and will not be silenced by jingoistic attempts to whitewash what happens to my people from coast to coast on a daily basis.
Kneeling is an act of pro-Constitutional defiance against unconstitutional brutality and lawlessness. It is as American as apple pie, as the saying goes. So let’s not stand for inconvenient half-truths and lies, let’s kneel for a more convenient reality based in true justice and accountability throughout all levels of American society for our cause has always been valiant and true.
This article was originally posted on Medium.