True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else – Clarence Darrow
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick recently decided not to stand during the singing of the American national anthem and this small gesture has caused quite the controversy. Kaepernick did this in silent protest, he says, of the injustices faced by people of color in his country. Some have offered their support for his controversial actions; others have decried him unpatriotic or worse. A few have gone as far as to burn his jersey.
I, on the other hand, am simply surprised this sort of rebellion hasn’t happened more often.
Incarceration rates overall in the US are 700% higher than the closest developed nation, and within that obscene number of jailed citizens black Americans get imprisoned at rates 6 times greater than their white countrymen. Black men make up only 6 percent of the US population, yet accounted for 40 percent of unarmed men shot to death by police in 2015. Over the last few years there has been a steady stream of disturbing videos showing minorities being gunned down by the people meant to protect them, most without any sort of criminal consequences for the shooter. Add all this to the horrible history of racism in America and it’s no wonder that someone from that community would want to take a stand.
Yet it happens so rarely.
From an outside perspective, I have always wondered – facetiously yet also kinda super seriously – why a wider social revolt has not happened in America. Tens of millions of people a doctor’s visit away from bankruptcy; racism still ingrained in the culture; gun violence and mass shootings at levels unseen in any other developed nation; a political system so stuffed with toxic partisanship and outside money that it literally cannot function; entire communities stunted and left to rot by extreme social and economic segregation – yet besides some grandiose political campaigning that disappears once the cameras are gone, there’s barely a peep in protest.
So rare is the discontent that when a mid-level football star sits quietly down in peaceful protest the country collectively loses its shit.
Part of the answer can be found, perhaps, in the reactions to Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the national anthem.
“This country that he doesn’t respect by sitting during the national anthem has afforded him an opportunity in life that I don’t know many other countries that would.” – Former football star Joe Theismann.
“… you should have some (expletive) respect for people who served, especially people that lost their life to protect our freedom.” – Kaepenick’s former teammate Alex Boone.
“Don’t disrespect the flag.” – Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice.
And Stephen A. Smith, a well-known African American sports commentator who largely backed Kaepernick’s actions still could not help but preempt his support by saying several times that “this is the greatest country in the world” and that “in no other country could a black man get paid millions of dollars to play football”. This disturbingly instinctive footnoting of America’s greatness slipped out whenever there was a pause in his support of Colin’s criticism of the US.
It seems that the reason there are not more protests is the same reason why people are very angry at this one solitary resistance.
America is the best.
A lifetime of God Bless America and American Exceptionalism and Leader of the Free World, a media and culture forever sprinkled with Freedom and Liberty, with waving flags and flying jets and geocentric self-regard. So much fuck-yeah awesome propaganda that they cannot even fathom the thought that they may be anything but the best.
Those living in privilege have little experience with introspection or admitting faults (why would you when you’re so fucking amazing) and so they default to stale credos when faced with difficult questions. Those living off of the shorter end of the stick, living with inequalities that should provoke revolt, have for so long been told that this is it, this is just how things are, in the greatest country in the world.
But my friends, there are other places, other ways. There are dozens of countries with your freedom, with your liberty, with your opportunity. Heck, we even pay our black people lots of money to play sports too.
And so if you will beat patriotism’s easy drum instead of dealing with the issues driving the dissent, it might do well to ask what is the truer measure of a patriot? One who will gloss over their nation’s ills and pay it obligatory honor, sanctioning and thus supporting its less than ideal elevation; or one who will stand (sit) before it and say, no, this is not good enough, we can do better.