Sunday, August 28, 2016

Right or Wrong? - Colin Kaepernick not standing for the anthem

Well, that exploded quickly into a shitstorm, didn't it?  Many, if not most, comments I've seen in social media have interpreted CK's sitting down during the playing of the national anthem at a football game as disrespect for the nation and especially for those who have sacrificed so much for American freedoms.  The ones who wear their patriotism on their sleeves are all incensed about this form of personal protest over the oppression of blacks and other minorities in this nation.  Interestingly, even some of my acquaintances who are usually firm advocates of free speech see CK's actions as those of a "thoroughly disgraceful, propagandized, naive, horrendously ill-informed, dangerous and ignorant mentality".  Most, if not all, of such commentary is coming from white Americans who live in a bubble of white privilege, seeing the painfully slow progress of equality for minorities in the USA as having already all but vanquished the oppression of black people in the USA.  "America!  Love it or leave it!" they say to CK, as if freedom of speech - one of the most important freedoms in the panoply of constitutional guarantees - only applies to those who only sing hymns of praise for what is happening in this great, but sometimes flawed, nation.  They're saying if you find any flaw in the USA's failure to live up to its own ideals, you should get out and seek to find a better nation.  As if any protest about what is happening in America deserves only vitriol and hatred in response.  If someone's right to free speech offends you, then the offenders should leave and never return, it seems.  I'm not buying this perspective - patriotism isn't measured by the overt practices associated with symbols of America, but rather by the effort to make this nation live up to its ideals, including being equally benevolent to all people pursuing life, liberty, and happiness.

Let's get something straight, here.  Like the American flag, the national anthem (including the "rule" that people stand during its performance) is a symbol for the real substance of the ideals providing the foundation for this nation.  It's not the real substance itself!  Freedom of expression is one of those ideals and CK has exercised that freedom with his symbolic act.  However offensive it might seem, there's no law against non-military personal sitting during the performance of the national anthem, nor should there be any such law!  Pseudo-patriotism is embodied in the phrase "America - Right or Wrong!"  I remember this sentiment repeated loudly and often by the so-called "silent majority" during the Vietnam War years.  The same goes for  the sentiment of "America!  Love It or Leave It!"  Time has suggested the protests against the Vietnam war were about valid concerns and most people now seem to recognize that we shouldn't have been involved in that mess in the first place.  I prefer this statement, attributed to Carl Schurz:
“My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

When my draft notice arrived in 1969, I was convinced already that the Vietnam war was unjustified by any threat to American freedoms - it was a proxy battle in the Cold War.  [We won the Cold War because Communist dictatorships are fatally flawed and the Soviet Union collapsed of its own doing.]  I had three choices:  Serve in the military, go to jail, or leave the country.  I chose to serve for primarily selfish reasons.  I now have mixed feelings about my military service (in the Army, plus a hitch in the Naval Reserve).  I'm proud of having served when my country called, but in many ways, I wish I had not served the cause of an unjustified war that resulted in so many American and Vietnamese casualties for no good reason.  I served but I never accepted the notion that the decisions of our government (at all levels) are always correct.  To speak out against injustice in America is consistent with the highest ideals of America. It's not even close to a matter of disrespect for those ideals!  Quite the opposite, in fact.

The continuing oppression of African-Americans (and others) remains an ugly stain on the fabric of our national ideals.  Many people (white and black) have died as a result of that oppression throughout our nation's history.  People of color continue to die as a result of that oppression, including victims of discriminatory violence by law enforcement officers, as pointed out by CK.  I'm not a "blanket" cop-hater but I believe some police have committed unnecessarily violent acts in a discriminatory way - the evidence for that is plain for all to see.  And during an "investigation" of each incident of officer violence, they generally get a paid vacation before they're absolved of any responsibility for wrongful violence, with the implicit support of many of their fellow officers, some of who even lie to maintain solidarity with the "thin blue line".  Whistleblowers in law enforcement often lose their jobs and may even experience violence from other officers! The victims of this violence typically are blamed for what happens to them - that might sometimes be true, but there are many cases where the victim is subjected to excessive force for no good reason.  For calling attention to the issue of unnecessary violence by law enforcement, I've been labeled a "cop hater" - the fact is, the only cops I hate are those who commit unnecessary violence, and those who implicitly support such behavior by not preventing it, not reporting it, or committing perjury to absolve other law enforcement officers.  Cops need to uphold high moral standards of service in the performance of their duties - they should not be above the law!

It's very difficult for most white people to appreciate the fact of their white privilege - it surrounds them in a cushion of protection from inequities visited on non-whites.  They don't experience the pre-judging, so to them it just doesn't exist.  Discrimination against blacks continues in many ways (some subtle, and others not so subtle) and we need to have a national "conversation" about this to seek solutions to the evil of unequal treatment.  We shouldn't be condemning someone who has the courage to force us all to consider what is going on and to challenge us to take actions to stop it once and forever.  We should be following Carl Schurz and seeking to set right any perceived wrongs in America!  That should be the duty of all Americans.