For days I have been quietly (and not so quietly) watching as millions of Americans have weighed in with their thoughts on Colin Kaepernick’s actions in regards to sitting during the National Anthem. An action that he took in protest of the treatment of African-Americans in America. The National Anthem is a symbol. To understand why I have pointed that out specifically you need to know the definition of “symbol.” It is “an action, object, event, etc., that expresses or represents a particular idea or quality.” For some Americans the National Anthem is the representation of our brave men and women who serve in our military. For others it represents a country that claims to be for justice, equality, and freedom of speech, but on a lot of occasions is not.
Here’s what it symbolizes to me.
Even before I weighed in with my opinion in regards to his actions I did my research. I like to have all my facts straight before I offer my thoughts simply because there is always two sides to every story. There is also always an untold story that no one has ever heard. I like to know those stories. I, like many Americans did not know the true history behind the National Anthem. I wasn’t aware that Francis Scott Key, a known slave-owner and anti-abolitionist, was the writer of the National Anthem. I was not aware that there were four verses to the National Anthem and that the third verse explicitly references slavery,
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.
and celebrates the killing of African-Americans. Now I have never been a fan of the National Anthem even before I learned of this third verse. You see, I believe in context. I know the National Anthem was written at a time where our country was not the land of the “free”, not for all. I know it was written during the time of slavery and when African-Americans were seen as property. That’s enough for me. Enough for me to not feel pride in the National Anthem. It is not a symbol for me of freedom and bravery. It is a constant reminder that those who were believed to be “free” were not individuals who look like me. I don’t believe you can rewrite historical context. You can’t make Francis Scott Key NOT a slave-owner, you can’t OMIT an entire verse or verses as if that erases the mindset in which this was written, and you can’t IGNORE that “free” was not meant for African-Americans. This was written from a viewpoint of oppression. It’s that simple. And to continue to try to force people to honor a symbol that represents oppression is, in my opinion, morally questionable.
For the most part many Americans have evolved. We have come a long way from the years of slavery and segregation. And yet we still have much more to do. But if we are as evolved as we like to believe then why have our national symbols not evolved with us. Why do we fervently hold on to symbols of oppression? It has been two hundred and two years since the National Anthem was written. It no longer fits the narrative of the America that many people believe in. If you stand for the National Anthem because you honor those who have fought and died for us then you are standing for an ideal and not a symbol. Because if you are standing for what the National Anthem in history truly represented than you are standing with oppression. It was not written in the context and at a time when all men were “free”. So why can we not change the symbol?
I respect, appreciate, and am grateful to the men and women of this country who have sacrificed for my rights. I support our troops every chance I am able to, but that does not mean I can’t condone the injustices that are happening in our country. They are fighting for my right to stand up or sit down and say “America we need to do better.” If we begin to silence each other because we don’t agree with one another’s perspective than we are no better than the countries and leaders that our troops are fighting against. America is made up of varying viewpoints, cultures, traditions, and people. Those differences are what makes America great. But what truly makes us free is that we are able to express ourselves through our freedom of speech in a way that we see fit. Does that mean that there won’t be any consequences. No. Kaepernick is very aware of the consequences, but it is still his right.
Colin Kaepernick, in my opinion, was not disrespectful. He did not walk out. He did not turn his back. He simply sat down. Which he had been doing consequently for the pre-season games as well. This was not a new stance. This was not the first time. It was simply the first time that the media cared. And if we are going to speak on him then we need to be truly honest with ourselves as a nation. He is not the only person to do this during the National Anthem. I have been to many sporting events. I have seen numerous people remain seated, or talking on their phone, or just plain goofing off when the National Anthem is playing. If Americans are going to crucify him for his actions then there is probably someone you know that you should throw into the same boat. But maybe just maybe it’s not about what he did, but about why he did it?
Because somewhere in this whole ordeal the narrative changed. It became more about the symbol instead of the message. People became more outraged about his actions than they are about the injustices he is speaking to. The defense of an object became more important than the lives of individuals. Once again America proved how divided it truly is by what it chose to hear and see. Some saw a man disrespecting our troops. Others saw a man using his rights as an American, rights that troops fight for every day, to bring awareness to problems within our country that not only affect other Americans, but some members of our troops who come home. Let me make this clear for you. Colin Kaepernick was speaking to the latter. He is fighting for our humanity as a country in the only way he believes he can. Sometimes moments of great change only come about when an individual makes a statement that is outside the box. That is questionable. That is uncomfortable. Rosa Parks simply sat down on a bus, but that triggered a nation of African-Americans to decide that they should be able to sit down. That they had that right to. And what you are seeing now, generations later, are individuals who are simply asking America to do better. To BE better. To live up to it’s creed. And shouldn’t we all want that?
So to those who have said that “this is bigger than him” in reference to the disrespect they feel he showed to our troops, you are absolutely right, it is bigger than him. This is bigger than our troops. It’s a human and moral issue that anyone with any ounce of humanity and empathy should see, understand, and feel. An injustice to one is an injustice to all. You see, it may be bigger than him, but he has chosen to make it start with him.