What happens when we regard more highly the symbols of freedom than those freedoms they represent; when our democratic ideologies erode into religious dogma; when a flag becomes an icon and standing a sacrament? Our liberties are built on a foundation of parchment, not of bedrock, and every equivocation or qualification of one of them threatens all of them.
You say you support a person’s right to protest? Then do so resolutely, and with conviction; not weakly and with qualification. And when someone exercises a right in a way that strains your delicate sensibilities, support them with vigor! For it is at these times when defending those rights matters most.
And what of these protests? Do you, Mr. Southern, stand at home in your living room when the National Anthem is played during Monday Night Football? If not, surely you can be forgiven. Why then are we so offended?
Is our patriotism so fragile, so externally derived, that it can be shattered simply by the sight of a black man kneeling before the flag? Or perhaps we are uncomfortable in ways we cannot say or will not admit to and so we drum up images of our troops, of Francis Scott Key, and of bombs bursting in air; a non-falsifiable star-spangled justification of our discomfort at such an unobtrusive act.
This is about race. It has been about race for 400 hundred years and it will continue to be about race until intellectual honesty wins the day; until the self-righteous sacrifice their manufactured moral high ground and yield to their better angels in the name of compassion for our fellow man.
We are upset that millionaire black football players are demonstrating an apparent ungratefulness for what they have been given by America generally and white America specifically. If we cannot talk about that, then this debate is fair-ground spectacle masquerading as thoughtful discourse. And with regard to the original intent of these kneel-ins?
Perhaps James Baldwin said it best: “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
Alexander J. Wagner