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Don’t Equate Protest With Disrespect

President Donald Trump catapulted the issue of growing numbers of athletes opting to “take a knee” during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner before their contests further into the limelight this past weekend, jumping in on the side of the hyper-patriotic conservative reactionaries who have been, predictably, popping gaskets over this form of protest since former San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick first decided to sit out the anthem around this time last year. Trump spewed a typically vindictive, smirking and self-satisfied incitement, urging NFL owners to respond to protests by terminating any player who dares to take a knee.

“Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired,'” Trump said. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”

The president doubled down on Twitter Saturday afternoon.

“If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect. … our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”

I wanted to write about this, but where to start? A sitting President who, already widely accused of white nationalist proclivities, profanely demands the revocation of fundamental rights for a prominent group of predominantly black young men who dare to speak up for a righteous cause? The now-customary Trump tactic of purposefully throwing a polarizing, divisive tantrum on the heels a a particularly bad news week? The pride-inspiring response of the NFL which, from top to bottom, demonstrated an admirable front of solidarity?

No, what gets me is the cheap rhetorical trick of equating the flag with veterans, and common protest with disrespect for veterans–a false equivalency that trivializes both the symbol of our nation and the men and women who have stood up to defend it or, too often, project its ideological will.

If one insists on waxing symbolic over the stars and stripes, it is compulsory to understand that the flag stands for so much more than military service, representing the core values–the unrealized ideals–upon which this nation was founded. Not just what we are, but what we purport to be, what we must aspire to be. Chief among these is free speech, particularly free speech in dissent.

The glory of the flag is that even the most disrespectful act against it as a symbol and, by extension, the institutions it represents, is turned into a sign of the strength. A protester burning a flag is at once showing her anger and disappointment while simultaneously demonstrating the freedoms the flag represents. In burning the flag, one proves its inviolability. You can’t really destroy the flag–burning its fibers only proves what it is supposed to stand for.

The flag does not need defense against committed young men who kneel before it to express their legitimate frustration and discontent in an inherently gentle act. Indeed, the flag protects them like a shield. In the same way, our veterans do not need to be protected from peaceful citizens who clasp hands, take a knee, and bow their heads quietly. Those veterans fought to preserve the right for these men to do so and, what’s more, both flag and fighting men and women are stronger than an imagined insult.

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Kaepernick Castigated–Revised and Updated

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It seems like I’m writing about jocks a lot of late, but what’s a guy to do? Colin Kaepernick, the once beloved, now beleaguered quarterback from the San Francisco 49ers, hit the news with a big old bang by sitting out the national anthem before his premier appearance in a pre-season NFL game last night. When the expected, foaming-mouthed outcries exploded across the inter-webs, Kaepernick doubled down with a now-removed tweet, that read “The fact that you really believe that there is difference in these flags means that your [sic] ignoring history.”

Oh, Colin. I hope you know what you’re doing.

It seems that he might because, where there’s a bunch of this kind of asshattery:
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from people who don’t really get what liberty and free speech means, he’s also getting a tremendous amount of support for the personal risk he’s taken in speaking his mind. The blathering choruses of “if he doesn’t like America, he should leave” along with various threats and, most interestingly, the declarations that because of his own, hard-won successes he doesn’t deserve to speak out on social issues are almost as bemusing—and certainly as predictable—as they are disappointing.

I was pleased and surprised to see any support after all the overwrought reaction to Gabby Douglas’s distracted forgetting to place her hand on her heart during her Olympic medal ceremony. Douglas made a mistake, but Kaepernick made a political statement, and frankly I expected that Twitter would be burning up with demands for his literal crucifixion. I did see some burning effigies, wild accusations of Muslim extremism (because everything bad in America is related to Islam, somehow, it seems), but mostly just tired calls to shut up and get out.

I realized that this isn’t really about Kaepernick at all—it’s about people using him as an excuse to exhibit their own, superior nationalist fervor. Indeed, it’s like there’s a contest for people to compete against each other to prove who’s the most awesomest best damn American ever.

We are officially a nation of Eighth Graders.

What Kaepernick did is not something that I would do, even though I passionately and aggressively support the right of anyone to express dissent. I must admit to considerable ambivalence about the sanctity of the national anthem. Don’t get me wrong, I like the anthem—at least the first two verses of it. That bit in the third stanza, No refuge could save the hireling and slave, From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave… that curses runaway slaves to death is a little iffy, but put me in a stadium with just the first, common verse and I like hearing it, I respect the tradition, and I respect those for whom the ritual holds great reverence. I participate in it even though I hate the sheep-like feeling of everyone standing up and fawning over a symbol-whether that symbol is a flag or a song. But I’m not fond of mass oaths and that sort of stuff in general. In church, growing up, the droning Lord’s Prayer and the responsive readings made me uncomfortable. I’ve just never been much of a joiner.

But do we want to live in a country where standing up and saluting the symbols of the motherland is compulsory? We’ve seen that sort of thing before and it never works out real well.

“But do we want to live in a country where standing up and saluting the symbols of the motherland is compulsory? We’ve seen that sort of thing before and it never works out real well.”

Interestingly, at least to me, when I sat down to write this, I had it in my mind that I wanted to talk about the futility of controversial statements and actions and the tendency of those things to do little more than stir up knee-jerk reactionaries who tend to equate dissatisfaction with the state and subsequent expressions of free speech as disrespect for God, Jesus, and the sacrifices of our brave veterans. I’ve covered this ground previously, in regard to flag-burning, which I’ve always considered a wasteful and counter-productive act because the right to burn a flag means that in destroying it one actually enforces the ideals behind it. Like Jesus forgiving from the cross, or Obi-Wan Kenobi saying “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can imagine.” And that’s a beautiful thing.

As I wrote, I lost just about any impulse to condemn the San Francisco quarterback, mostly in response to Mr. Kaepernick’s explanation of his position. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” he told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game against Green Bay. “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.”

It seems a little crass to suggest that Kaepernick is a bad person whose wealth disqualifies him from speaking about what he sees. I would be remiss if I failed to point out that we’re in the middle of an ugly Presidential election in which one candidate’s entire platform is based on the fact that America sucks. Every day, his ads tell us we’re not great, we’re awful, we’re losers. Every word that oozes out of his thin, gelatinous lips tells us how  awful and low we are, how terrible the country is, and yet he is beloved by legions of flag-waving yahoos who brag about wanting to lynch black men by their penises. (Yes, apparently that is a thing.) Here’s a rich guy running for President who actually called our military  “a disaster” and who jokingly compared what soldiers endured in Viet Nam to his fight not to catch a venereal disease while sitting out due to one of his four deferments. On a personal note, I didn’t know my father until I was three years old because Appalachian farm boys didn’t get deferments for bone spurs so they could stay home, play squash and baseball in the day, and fight desperately against the scourge of gonorrhea by night.

“Here’s a rich guy running for President who actually called our military  “a disaster” and who jokingly compared what soldiers endured in Viet Nam to his fight not to catch a venereal disease while sitting out due to one of his four deferments”

Should Trump keep his mouth shut because America has been good to him? Is he too rich to have the right to stick his foot in his mouth? I wish, but the answer is no. Indeed, I’m a working class white guy–nobody is oppressing me–does that mean I don’t have the right to speak out about perceived injustices? Because I haven’t experienced them personally? Does Mr. Kaepernick’s wealth negate his right to free expression any more of less than Mr. Trump’s?

So, what would I say to Mr. Kaepernick, if I had the chance? Well, I disagree with the idea that the confederate battle flag and the American Flag are no different from each other—but let’s take into account that, as a mature white guy, the America I experience on a daily basis is very different from the world even my most educated, articulate, and prosperous black friends experience. My pretty blonde wife got pulled over for a burned out tail-light the other day. She never worried about whether that traffic stop would end her life, and the officer didn’t even run her license. “I just wanted to let you know to get that fixed as soon as you can. Have a nice day.”

From where I stand the rebel flag is an overt assertion that both glorifies and threatens oppression, racial supremacy, and exploitation. It is also the flag of traitors. The American flag, in my mind, does not symbolize our failures–of which there are so very many–as a nation and a society so much as it does the higher ideals and possibilities to which we should and often do aspire. Equating the American flag with the southern hate rag means surrendering to cynicism and abandoning hope, two things I refuse to do, however tempted I might be from time to time. The stars and stripes represent the dream of what we could be, at our best. That doesn’t mean that I don’t admire Mr. Kaepernick for the personal risk he is taking in speaking up for what is right. Perhaps my entitlement has allowed me just enough hope that I’m either unwilling to surrender the American flag to the blathering simpletons of the Redneck Right, which is what I’d feel like I was doing.

In trying to understand Mr. Kaepernick’s perspective, something his critics have clearly not bothered to do, it is vital to remember that he’s a kid, still ingrained with the idealism I mentioned above, and probably more than a little feisty in the way most exceptional athletes are—confident and inclined towards action.

Who can’t remember being angry at unfairness—a complaint every kid makes. It’s not fair. I can clearly remember becoming furiously angry upon learning that were “wrong” and “unjust,” specifically because I was raised in a devoutly patriotic family where a big deal was made about all the veterans in our line, going back to the French and Indian war. I took it all in, and then I grew up and I learned about slavery and the labor movement and it was the 1980s and we were manipulating governments in south and central America and I was outraged. Outraged! I wanted to argue all the time and protest and speak up and, you know, fix stuff. Did I hate America? No, I hated that America hadn’t lived up to the higher standards to which I held it—and to which I still hold it.

“Kaepernick is a jock… what can he do? He runs fast, but he can’t stop a single speeding bullet, let alone hundreds upon hundreds of them. So, he makes a gesture…”

It’s easy to look at at kid like Kaepernick, who has so much, and be dismissive. He was adopted by a great family, got a super education, and seized opportunities to experience fame, success and wealth. Why shouldn’t he just shut up and count his blessings? Is it a bad thing that when he looks around himself, from his position of comfort, and sees that it is still a terrifying thing for young black men to live in America, he follows the urge to speak up? I know there are plenty of folks who are think that the thousands–thousands!–of dead kids are fully culpable for their own deaths. They shouldn’t have run. They should have raised their hands. They shouldn’t be carrying guns even if they’ve got permits. They shouldn’t be in that neighborhood. On that street. On that corner. Its probably right to assume that some of those dead kids brought it on themselves. Alternately, just as most cops are good, enough of them are not that we’ve got an epidemic. It’s not all racism, the transition to dominance-based policing over community policing has created a militaristic law enforcement paradigm that is rooted in aggression.

But Kaepernick is a jock—he’s not a sociologist, or social critic, or even some guy with a blog who’d rather write all night than sleep. He turns on the news, like so many people of all colors, and sees dead black guys weekly, sometimes daily, and he gets angry, but what can he do? He runs fast, but he can’t stop a single speeding bullet, let alone hundreds upon hundreds of them. So, he makes a gesture, probably thinking “I’m sick of this shit.” (He must be, because I am). He sits down and decides not to sing the national anthem, which rings so hollow in his ears. Then someone sticks a microphone in his face, and the next thing we all know he is the vehicle through which every Trump-grubbing Yahoo in America is trying to earn his ‘Murican flag lapel pin.

Personally, I think it was an ill-considered move on his part–but I’m old and cynical, far removed from the kid who refused to say the pledge of allegiance to the flag his entire senior year in high school because 1) I read in a civics book that it wasn’t a law, just a red scare thing, and they couldn’t make me, 2) It’s kind of creepy, making public pledges, everyone droning the same words at the same time feels cultish to me still, and 3) It pissed off my homeroom teacher, and I liked that.

Well, Mrs. Chronoski had the good sense to sit quietly and not encourage me. Perhaps she even smiled to herself and remembered what it was like to be young and idealist. It’s a pity so many of us haven’t a similar capacity for restraint.

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Colin Kaepernick Castigated For Free Speech

sio9ul01fseodfb4r4q4Seems like I’m writing about jocks a lot of late, but what’s a guy to do? Colin Kaepernick, the once beloved, now beleaguered quarterback from the San Francisco 49ers, hit the news with a big old bang by sitting out the national anthem before his premier appearance in a pre-season nfl game last night. When the expected, foaming-mouthed outcries exploded across the interwebs, Kaepernick doubled down with a now-removed tweet, that read “The fact that you really believe that there is difference in these flags means that your [sic] ignoring history.”

Oh, Colin. I hope you know what you’re doing.

It seems that he might because, where there’s a bunch of this kind of asshattery:
Screenshot_7

 

 

from people who don’t really get what liberty and free speech means–except that you should be humble and respectful that you have it, and absolutely unable to actually use it–, he’s also getting a tremendous amount of support for taking a stand. I was pleased and surprised to see that support after all the overwrought reaction to Gabby Douglas’s distracted forgetting to place her hand on her heart during her Olympic medal ceremony.  Douglas made a mistake, but Kaepernick made a political statement, and frankly I expected that Twitter would be burning up with demands for his literal crucifixion.

It is not something that I would do, even though I passionately and aggressively support the right of anyone to express dissent.  I’m absolutely ambivalent about the sanctity of the national anthem. I like the anthem. I like hearing it, I respect the tradition, and I respect those for whom the ritual holds great reverence. I participate in it even though I hate the sheeplike feeling of everyone standing up and fawning over a symbol-whether that symbol is a flag or a song. But I’m not fond of mass oaths and that sort of stuff in general. In church, growing up, the droning Lord’s Prayer and the responsive readings made me uncomfortable. I guess I’m just not much of a joiner.

When I sat down to write this, I had it in my mind that I wanted to talk about the futility of controversial statements and actions and the tendency of those things to do little more than stir up kneejerk reactionaries who tend to equate dissatisfaction with the state and subsequent expressions of free speech as disrespect for God, Jesus, and the sacrifices of our brave veterans.

In the course of writing, that has changed. Much of that change is rooted in Mr. Kaepernick’s explanation of his position. “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 told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game against Green Bay. “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.”

I would be remiss if I failed to point out that we’re in the middle of an ugly Presidential election in which one candidate’s entire platform is based on the fact that America sucks. Every day, his ads tell us we’re not great, we’re awful, we’re losers. Every word that oozes out of his thin, gelatinous lips tells us how just how awful and low we are, how terrible the country is, and yet he is beloved by legions of flag-waving yahoos who brag about wanting to lynch black men by their penises. Yes, apparently that is a thing.

I want to make it very clear that I get, as a white guy, that the America I experience on a day to day basis is very different from the world even my most educated, articulate, and prosperous black friends experience. My pretty blonde wife got pulled over for a burned out tail-light the other day. She never worried about whether that traffic stop would end her life, and the officer didn’t even run her license. “I just wanted to let you know to get that fixed as soon as you can. Have a nice day.”

Nevertheless, I so disagree with the idea that the confederate battle flag and the American Flag are no different from each other. The rebel flag is an overt assertion in favor of oppression, racial supremacy, and exploitation. It is the flag of traitors. The American flag, in my mind, does not symbolize our failures–of which there are so very many–as a nation and a society so much as it does the higher ideals and possibilities to which we should and often do aspire. Equating the American flag with the Southern Hate Rag means surrendering to cynicism and abandoning hope, two things I refuse to do, however tempted I might be from time to time. The stars and stripes represent the dream of what we could be, at our best. That doesn’t mean that I don’t admire Mr. Kaepernick for the personal risk he is taking in speaking up for what is right. Perhaps my entitlement has allowed me just enough hope that I’m either unwilling to surrender the American flag to the blathering simpletons of the Redneck Right, which is what I’d feel like I was doing. After all, I still cling to my favorite meme:
Screenshot_5

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I’m More Patriotic Than You…

…And I can prove by being the biggest asshole I can be to Olympic Gymnast Gabby Douglas, a young woman I never met, barely heard about, and haven’t thought of since her spectacular performances in the London Olympic Games of 2012.

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In case you’re living under a rock–and if so, I envy you–you at least know who Gabby Douglas is, but just in case, here’s the lowdown: American gymnast, kicked ass in London four years ago, made the team again this year as a bit of a long shot at age 20. Once a darling of the media, and those who are told by the media who is supposed to be our darling, she was replaced this time around with a younger, even better model of cute tiny bouncing jumping twisting tumbling cover-your-eyes-she-could-fall bundle of energy and recast as the somber old fogey grasping for a last chance at glory.

Douglas did well, but not as well as the last time around, and she was clearly disappointed in herself, which the media played up, contrasting her unhappiness with the effervescent ebullience of Simone Biles, the aforementioned new darling. Douglas was good enough to compete for the team award, however, which won a Gold Medal, which should have been the crowning moment for a stupendous week, if it weren’t for a lapse.

During the playing of the American National Anthem. Douglas stood straight-backed and stoic, hands at her side.Uh-oh.
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The internet exploded with angry recriminations as spit-spraying idiots tripped all over themselves in competition to prove how fucking awesomely patriotic they are by trying to administer the biggest symbolic beat down on some kid, by tearing into a young woman whose big crime is a breach of the “flag code.”

I could not help but wonder what mode of torment would sufficiently punish this horrible bitch for her irredeemable transgression. Would tar and feathering be good, or is that too old fashioned? What about burning at the stake?  Or hanging?–but that might remind us of some stuff great-grandpa did on his night rides that we’d rather not talk about. Gunfire seems to be in vogue–but it turned out they were content to rant on twitter like a bunch of petty little children.

It didn’t help that the internet is filled with photos like this, from a previous competition:
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The Twitter noise was intense, as morons vomited recriminations from trailer packs across the country. You can find them easily enough, but I won’t link a thing here, lest I generate hits for these bellicose asshats. But the content is easy enough to imagine: bitch, traitor, ingrate, baby, un-American, and a host of subtle and not so  subtle racial stuff, much of it aimed as impaling Ms. Douglas as a proxy for the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s been hard to read any of it without feeling ashamed by my own patriotism, wondering, is this the country that I love so much?

Seriously. This is what outrages us? What a small, ugly people we’ve become. They ought to build a wall to keep us in. Until then, I’m forced to wonder, which is more unpatriotic?
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