My monumental moment in activism came after watching Fruitvale Station. The movie roughly follows the last day of Oscar Grant’s life. Grant was a Black man who was shot and killed by a BART Police officer on New Year’s Day, 2009. After this story, my heart sank. I was saddened at how his life was cut so tragically short, and how his family would be left to deal with the aftermath. I was disgusted seeing how he was treated like a meager mutt. I was body slammed by a bout of hopelessness as I watched his life fade, the grainy pop! of a gunshot made my ears ring. I was enraged after learning that Grant’s murderer walked free after serving only eleven months in jail. Most of all, I realized that racism wasn’t something that ended with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death. I realized just how vilipend Black life was in the justice system, and the eyes of those who are supposed to uphold it.
Needless to say I haven’t said the Pledge of Allegiance since, exempting the few times I did while smugly adding “for some” to the end. I refused to hold my hand to my heart, look to the American flag with pride, and recite the false promise of being “one nation under God,” or the utter lie of having “liberty and justice for all.” I began to feel uncomfortable when in a crowd of people with the Anthem blaring in the background, and being the only one sitting stoically with my mouth closed. I began to feel like a target during the morning announcements, teachers calling me rude and give threats of a trip to the office for being noncompliant in their requests that I stand.
“I was actually sent to the principal’s office because I wouldn’t stand for the Pledge,” one my friends said when I asked her how she felt about it. “I chose not to because what I’m pledging to is a lie. We are not one nation under God. We are not one. We are separated and ununited, we’re not equal to each other, and liberty/justice is not served, not given, to everyone as it should be.”
Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Fransisco 49’ers, has become a hot topic within the last week, but not for his athletic ability. He is has been shoved under the microscope after deciding to remain seated during the National Anthem at a game last Friday. After the game, Kaepernick spoke to NFL Media to explain his decision. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. 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.”
Kaepernick has received a lot of negative responses following his demonstration, from our favorite presidential candidate saying to “find a country that works better for him” (how are you doing with that Black vote, Trump?), to NFL executives calling him a traitor, to an NBC football analyst denying him of being a Black male, to having his estranged biological mother telling him to protest respectfully in a Twitter rant.
The overarching theme of these criticisms goes to the idea that Kaepernick is unpatriotic and displays a lack of respect for those who fight to defend the country’s freedom, a theme that often comes to light when a prominent public figure speaks against race relations in the country. This is similarly demonstrated when Beyoncé was deemed anti-cop for her “Formation” video and performances, or when Gabby Douglas was dragged because she didn’t put her hand over her heart during the Anthem at the Olympics. Although critics of these believe they are advocating for their country, it is ultimately a contradiction when presented as an argument.
The America we know today was founded as an act of political protest. The irony is that the same people who use the “if you have a problem with how things are here, leave” philosophy are the same people who say the United States is a “free country,” and complain about their freedom of speech being silenced. In a video talking about this very point, YouTuber and activist Kat Blaque gave us a question to ponder on:
What’s more patriotic? Kneeling down to authority and tradition or holding the country you love to a higher standard?
If you love someone, wouldn’t you want to see them grow to become a better person? Of course you would. So why is the country held to the same standard? Why do the flag-bearing, eagle-tatted, ’Merica-loving patriots turn a blind eye to the blemishes in the nation that need to be corrected, the racism, the prejudice, the hatred? Are we not a part of the country you say you love to death?
As Black people in America, we live under a system that doesn’t carise about us as much as it should. The proof lies in today’s race relations. Statistically, a Black person is more likely to be shot and killed by a police officer than any other racial group in America. Unemployment rates among Black Americans are two times higher than that of white Americans. One in three Black men can expect to be incarcerated in their lifetime; when convicted, they will often be more harshly sentenced, with an example being how Black youth are more likely to be sentenced time in adult prisons. Everyone loves to take part in Black culture by wearing our hairstyles, creating our music, and artificially getting our “look” but wouldn’t dare speak about our issues. These are only a few examples, and doesn’t even get started on the oppression of other minorities in America.
When I heard about Colin Kaepernick’s remarks about and demonstration of this subject, I was ecstatic. For him to make such a simple but bold move in the eyes of millions meant a lot. America is not perfect, and to condone the prominent oppression of others for the sake of tradition will do nothing but restrain this country from reaching its potential. We do not protest, create hashtags, and call the system out because we hate America and want to see it fall to ruins. We do not do it because we hate cops. We do not do it because we hate white people. It’s the complete opposite. We do it because we love the ideals of freedom, equality, and justice in which this nation was said to be built on, and want to see them become real rather than dreams. We don’t want the Pledge to be a monotonous recitation, and “The Star Spangled Banner” shouldn’t be a bunch of rhyming words without meaning.
Me, my friend, and a huge amount of others sit with Kaepernick because we want America to truly live up to what it claims to be: one nation, under God (of course, if that’s your belief), indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Sometimes you don’t have to stand up to make a statement; it appears sitting down can generate a conversation just fine.