Much has been made about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem prior to the start of their preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. Kaepernick cited the treatment of minorities in the U.S. for his refusal to take part in the pregame ceremony.
“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 asserted. “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.”
While many detractors have been quick to point out Kaepernick’s salary, “privilege”, and family upbringing (i.e., adopted by white parents), he never said he, himself, is oppressed. Since when did you have to be of the oppressed group to stand up for what you believe to be a social wrong? As an academic who has researched and written on this topic, I’ve always found it so interesting how we elevate athletes to “god-like” status, revering them even more so than teachers, doctors, fireman, etc., only to demonize them when they say something that goes against our personal beliefs. For instance, one 49ers fan hung Kaepernick’s jersey from a tree and burned it (oh, the irony in that). We tell them to “shut up and just play”, as if they are not allowed or capable of having an opinion. Do we tell “Bob” the plumber to just “shut up and plumb” whenever he voices his opinion on a certain social issue?
As I digress…
Predictably, this has created a steady flow of reactions, both opposing and affirming Kaepernick’s actions. Personally, as a first-generation American, I will always appreciate what this country has done for family. As a result, I choose to observe the flag as a thank you for the opportunity given to myself. I’m willing to bet the rest of my family would attest, as would various other immigrant families across the nation. However, I realize that my story is not reflective of everyone else’s story. I understand there are things I benefited from having that others may not, which makes it more difficult for them to realize “The American Dream.” Too often we see a success story and ask, “Well, if s/he can do it, why can’t _________ [person from same racial demographic]?” Hence, the president is black, so racism is dead, and since he was able to ascend to the presidency, oppression/discrimination/prejudice/racism doesn’t exist. Since when did an anomaly example become the case for everyone within that demographic? We are not all dealt the same cards and should recognize that our present is affected by our past.
Our unique background and stories is something I stressed in my last post. We all come from various backgrounds; as a result, we may see things from a different lens than our counterparts. So, while some may view the national anthem as an opportunity to pay respects and honor our freedoms, others hear it and are reminded of our nation’s dark past.
Now, why is this? Allow me to explain! If you recall, the Star-Spangled Banner was written during the “War of 1812” by Francis Scott Key. However, many do not know that what we sing today (i.e., the first stanza) actually omits the three other stanzas of the original song. In one of these stanzas, Key takes umbrage with the runaway slaves who joined the British forces (they were promised their freedom by the British):
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
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.
You may still not agree with Kaepernick’s actions after reading the third stanza. But can you begin to start to fathom the sense of pain this may bring some people given Key’s not so kind words for those who were looking to free themselves from slavery? So before we start with all the vitriol and demean someone for his or her God-given freewill choice, perhaps we should educate ourselves. Not to say this was behind Kaepernick’s choice to not stand for the anthem, but for many, this is the case.
My hope and prayer is that maybe, just maybe, you can begin to understand. In saying this, I am particularly speaking to my fellow Christian brothers and sisters who I’ve seen post, RT, “favorite” unsavory pieces of information on social media. One example is especially unpleasant, as it told Kaepernick (and those who agree with him) to leave the U.S. since they deem it to be so bad. I remind you, some of the people adhering to this thought are the same people gravitating toward the “Make America Great Again” slogan. Well, if that is the case, that is, that America is not great, would it be right for someone else to say, “If America isn’t great, why don’t you leave?” We (i.e., Christians), specifically, are called to have empathy, for empathy can be the key to unlocking the door to our understanding, compassion, and action. You should try it sometime, and I promise you won’t regret it.