During the homecoming pep fest at St. Paul Harding this year, the student flag staff held the American flag in the gymnasium while the national anthem was played by the school band. Everyone was expected to stand, but a group of students took it upon themselves to use this time to raise awareness.
They left their seats to kneel directly on the gym floor, in front of the students holding the flag, and they held posters, one reading, “I will not stand for a flag that does not stand for me.” Some students criticized them – mostly on social media.
Those who were upset felt the protesters were disrespecting the United States while kneeling. I do not think the students’ intentions were to show disrespect, but rather to bring attention to issues that have been overlooked.
This form of protest drew national attention when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat through the national anthem during NFL preseason games in August. He said he was sitting to protest the oppression of people of color and police brutality. He told the media: “This stand wasn’t for me. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.”
Throughout the fall, Kaepernick’s protest continued—he started kneel- ing in September – and spread to other sports, with athletes kneeling, locking arms or raising their fists.
Eventually, it made its way to my high school gym.
One of the reasons students, athletes and others decide to take a knee during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” is because of racist suggestions in one of the three verses that are not sung out loud. The only verse that is sung at events is the first, and there are four verses in total.
In the third verse, the lyrics “No refuge could save the hireling and slave/From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave” have been interpreted by some as a celebration of the death of black slaves who were hired to fight for the British in the War of 1812.
What about the claim that not standing for the anthem is disrespectful to the veterans and soldiers who have lost their lives fighting for this country? Those veterans have been from a variety of racial back- grounds, and people fail to realize (or were never taught in a social studies class) that many minorities were exploited during wars.
I have heard stories from Hmong students whose fathers were offered citizenship if they fought with the Army in the Vietnam war. There were also African-American, Hispanic, Native American and poor soldiers who were sent out to fight in U.S. conflicts before the richer white men were sent.
Some soldiers of color who fought and died for their country were exploited by it. In my mind, the flag does not represent their service, but their oppression.
Some say it was not the time and place to protest. Whether it’s a nationally televised sporting event or a high school pep fest, people feel like the protest ruins the mood and makes them uncomfortable. The discomfort shows that the message those who kneel are trying to send is working.
It frustrates me when people say, “If you don’t like America, then leave.” In America, people have the right to kneel, wave, dance, do cartwheels, salute or express themselves in other legal ways during the national anthem. People who kneel during the national anthem are exercising their right of free speech and freedom of expression.
Kneeling is a form of protest, not a form of disrespect. If people truly wanted to disrespect the flag, they would damage it. They wouldn’t peacefully kneel for a minute.
Protesting mistreatment of minorities and ignorance to history is not a form of disrespect.