More than ever before in modern U.S. history, one question looms over and shapes our arguments, relationships and individual values: “What does it mean to be an American?”
Bipartisan ideals of patriotism appear everywhere in our spheres of influence, and social media plays a key role in sifting out those we agree with and those we simply do not want to be associated with.
That being said, the hot take brings out the experts in all of us. We see a highly controversial issue trending, and we lash out with our most instinctual thoughts, blowing caution to the wind without filtering out our primal stereotypes.
This brings us to the case of Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who sat down during the national anthem at a home game on Aug. 26.
According to Kaepernick, it was in protest against racial discrimination in the U.S. He explained his intentions to NFL Media in an interview after the game.
“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 said. “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.”
Immediately, Kaepernick’s stand trended across social media where the inflammatory comments condemned him of being unpatriotic and disrespectful to the flag. Images surfaced of 49er fans burning Kaepernick’s jersey.
Even the New Orleans Saints’ quarterback, Drew Brees, chimed in with a white perspective on what a peaceful protest should look like during an interview with ESPN.
“He can speak out about a very important issue, but there’s plenty of other ways that you can do that in a peaceful manner that doesn’t involve being disrespectful to the American flag,” Brees said.
Brees, along with Giants running back Rashad Jennings, had especially pointed comments damning Kaepernick and framing him as a disrespectful American.
By all means, Kaepernick’s critics have every right to shun his protest. That’s the point.
The U.S. prides itself on being the Mecca of free speech. In fact, it’s the first bullet point in the U.S. Constitution — that we all have the freedom of speech — and if we aren’t happy with the country, we are protected by this document — as outdated as it is.
Just as Brees and Jennings have the right to be unhappy with a silent protest, Kaepernick can also be unhappy with the US.
The national anthem is a symbol, just as cheeseburgers and diabetes are a symbol. It merely represents the nation but on its own means nothing.
I side with Kaepernick because the U.S. has a very jaded past and present with systemic racism, but the big issue is that black Americans will be shut down however they protest.
Riots in the streets? White people cry out “Thugs!” and “Animals!”
Peaceful sitting? White people cry out “Disgraceful!” and “Ungrateful!”
Black Americans just can’t win. There have been hundreds of public displays of police brutality against black people, and it can’t be ignored any longer. Kaepernick is doing this for his fallen Americans, not just his fallen fellow black people.
For Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Philando Castile, the chance to protest was cut short due to reckless brutality. Kaepernick is their voice after death.
Our military service members have come out to support Kaepernick as well, saying they also protest the part of our country that sends its service members to be killed for senseless wars that the U.S. really shouldn’t be involved in.
Kaepernick has come out in a statement suggesting he fully supports our military, and the protest wasn’t about that. He even plans to donate $1 million to charities that help communities.
Military member David Meryhew sent a critical response to Fox News’ favorite white supremacist, Tomi Lahren, over Facebook, saying her comments that Kaepernick’s actions were “un-American” are similar to totalitarian North Korean ideals.
“I didn’t join the military for a song or a piece of cloth,” Meryhew said. “The foulness you just spewed is an insult to all true patriots and to the sacrifice that so many have made.”
You can view this incident in any way you want. It’s how the U.S. is structured. However, Kaepernick says he will continue protesting until he sees “meaningful change.” You may choose to protest his protest, but I will continue to sit with him.