I will admit that when I first heard about Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem before one of the 49ers footballs games, I didn’t quite get it. Part of the reason for this is the way the media and everyone else was phrasing it. Kaepernick didn’t stand for the national anthem. Can you believe it? Does this guy hate America or what?
As I heard more about his actions, I began to understand that Kaepernick was doing it as a protest against racism in America. An understandable action for sure. But during the national anthem? That is a pretty sensitive moment for most Americans. A moment for national pride and respect.
And then I went to a USA Women’s soccer game in Atlanta. On the ride up my daughter, her friend, and I were all taking about our favorite players and how we couldn’t wait to see them in action. My daughter’s friend told me how her favorite player was Megan Rapinoe. She went on to say how she was worried about not getting to see Rapinoe play as Rapinoe had been taking a knee during the national anthem and her coaches weren’t pleased. Just to clarify I asked her, “Why is Rapinoe taking a knee?” Our friend replied, “Oh you know because of all the racism in this country. All the bad stuff happening to black people. She wanted to support Kaepernick in his protest of all that is going on.”
We went on to talk about a girl in her class who is taking a knee during the pledge of allegiance every school day because there isn’t actually “liberty and justice for all” right now. Apparently her teacher is not impressed.
We went on to talk about the Constitution and its Bill of Rights and specifically our First Amendment right to peaceful protest. We talked about our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, what it means to be the land of the free and the home of the brave, and other such things.
And then we got to the game and I forgot all about our conversation. We were so excited to be in the Georgia Dome and see our women play! And then the national anthem was playing. And there before my eyes was Megan Rapinoe silently, humbly, bowing down on one knee while the national anthem was sung.
And I don’t know it if was because she was a white woman or because she was on a soccer field or what, but suddenly I got it.
You see my kids play soccer. My son started when he was quite young. At that age kids often got hurt and fell down. Maybe they tripped or got tripped or were hit by the ball. This happened so much in the game with little kids dropping like flies that the league had a certain practice. When one kid saw that another player was down they immediately took a knee. One benefit of this practice was to alert the ref that there was a hurt player on the field (after all there are ten little kids running constantly, it is hard for one ref to keep track of them all.) Also, it helped to keep any other the other kids from accidentally running over the hurt kid and making things worse (they were little kids, these things happen).
So when I saw Megan Rapinoe taking a knee that night it all clicked.
She was taking a knee to alert those in charge that there were people in her country, on HER TEAM so to say, that were injured and hurting.
She was letting everyone know that it was time to stop the game, check on the hurt person, and see what was needed to be done to heal their injury. Because we need them to be strong and well. Because they are a part of OUR TEAM and we need all our team healthy and strong to play the best game.
It turns out Rapinoe did play that night. She came in during the second half. And the boos raised the roof of the dome. And the girls got sooo upset. I told them to calm down as Megan had thought through what she was doing and surely knew there would be consequences. She just believed in what she was doing enough to face those consequences. Those are the ropes of social protest. And so they cheered for her throughout the game as loud as they could to counteract all the repeated boos.
Flash forward two weeks later and we are at a high school football game in another town as a part of my husband’s high school reunion. As the national anthem played two things happened. My son put my hand over my heart (To be honest I never quite know what to do during the anthem. I grew up standing at attention to the flag and singing along. I guess things have changed). One second later my daughter turns to me and says, “Should I take a knee?” I looked at her with big eyes and said, “Do what you think is right baby.” I watched as she slowly lowered half way down, panicked, and then stood back up again.
We all talked about the anthem moment in the car later. It turns out my husband was thinking the same thing as my daughter but backed out too. My daughter’s reason was this: She was already in a place where no one knew her or her heart. She already thought she stood out in a sea of pretty conservative white people (she is Chinese adopted and a socially liberal 13 year old). “I think they would have just ended up hating me and not understood what I was trying to do,” she said.” She obviously remembered the boos from the GA Dome. I talked about how I was again surprised it was time for the anthem to play (I really don’t get out enough) and hadn’t had time to think things through.
And such is the dilemma of social protest. Will people understand what you are doing? Will you change the way people see things or will they just hate you?
I guess that is why most social protests are planned well in advance with a lot of thought and with preparation to face the consequences.
So, Now that I have had a few hours to mull things over, I have made up my mind and am prepared to face the consequences.
Here is me belatedly taking a knee.
And it is not because I hate America, or because I don’t respect our veterans or troops.
I love my country. My Dad is a Vietnam vet. Half my friends are either vets or active duty military wives (we live in an Air Force town) and I respect and support them to no end.
I am not taking a knee because I hate America. I love my country. If I hated it I would just leave.
But I love my country and all of its people so much that I know we can do better. We HAVE to do better.
I believe in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution and our National Anthem so much I want them to ring true for all our fine citizens.
And the hard truth is right now they don’t. Some of my fellow Americans are hurting right now.
And it is not just the police shootings. (By the way I don’t hate police either. My most beloved friend is in law enforcement so I get it is a hard, hard job. Cops have my respect, love, and support too.) The shootings of late are the tip of an iceberg of institutional racism in our country. Racism that manifests itself in many different forms but boils down to the fact that many white people see and treat black people as “other”rather than “neighbor” or “team mate” or “friend.”
I truly believe we can stop the game for a minute to look at the hurts of our black brothers and sisters and then try to all heal the hurts together. I truly believe things can be better if we ALL roll up our sleeves, join together, and do the hard work of trying.
We have done it before. We ended slavery. We stopped many ingrained racist practices in the 60s like segregation and Jim Crow laws. We just need to try again and change the hurts that are happening today.
I believe in our country and I believe in its people and I know we can do better . We MUST do better to be who we say we are.
So here I am down on one knee with my hand over my heart, singing about the land of the free and the home of the brave, hoping, striving for it to be true for all Americans.
Will you join me?
After a year of conversations with folks about this post I have come to realize that the national anthem means something different to some folks than it does to me. I respect the national anthem as a symbol of our country, but for some of my friends who fought in wars on behalf of our country, it is a powerful, emotional symbol that holds more pain and pride than I can imagine. Interestingly, other veteran friends think the right to protesting during the national is exactly one of the freedoms they fought for. I would love to talk with my vet friends more about their military experiences and what the national anthem means to them.
But the long and the short is that I get why some folks say, “Yes protest, but not during them anthem.” I still go round and round on what would be the best way. Wear a black arm band with BLM embroidered on it? (Okay maybe the BLM folks aren’t as into embroidering initials as southern women). Maybe kneeling during another major moment? I don’t have all the answers, but I think we do need to keep talking to one another and talking about racism and being open to listen to what people on other sides of an issue might be saying and more importantly FEELING.
Much love to all my friends of color who have suffered the injustice of an oppression I have never experienced and much love to all my friends who fought in wars and suffered trauma that I can only imagine. Let us keep reaching out to one another and remembering we are on the SAME TEAM.