Colin Kaepernick, a San Francisco 49ers quarterback, caused outrage for kneeling for the national anthem. His protest was in support of the #BLACKLIVESMATTER movement against racism and police brutality in America. Kaepernick’s actions have spread to the classrooms of Lower Lake High School in California, where student Leilani Thomas has had her grade lowered for protesting. Despite protesting on behalf of her Native American ancestors, who were undeniably snatched of their land and freedom, she was essentially punished for being ‘un-patriotic’.
Kaepernick is not the only one not to misrepresent the country during the national anthem. Remember when Gabrielle Douglas did not put a hand to her heart in Rio? Even though she was reportedly still ‘in the moment’ to react, many were quick to call her ‘un-American’, despite the fact she stood.
How can Jeremy Corbyn refuse to sing ‘God Save the Queen’ and continue with his prime ministerial duties, whilst Kaepernick and Douglas were attacked mercilessly for something as ‘simple’ as incorrect bodily gestures? It defies me.
I was particularly intrigued by this for two reasons:
1) Why was the typical American so offended by someone not standing for the anthem?
2) Was Kaepernick right?
Nationalism can really explain this sentiment. Nationalism is described as an ‘extreme form of patriotism marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries’. Even a few words in the American national anthem, such as ‘victory’ ‘triumph’ ‘proudly’ and ‘foe’, makes it clear that American values are entrenched, superior and rightful. American nationalism is pervasive, firm and defensive. If 9/11 didn’t happen, would America be as defensive as they are now about their values? In light of Kaepernick’s protest, model Kate Upton tweeted passionately that kneeling during the national anthem was ‘unacceptable’, stating that the players should ‘be proud to be an American’. What exactly, however, would make them proud to be Americans? It is all well and true that the Americans adopted the Declaration of Independence 240 years ago, generating a sense of victory and freedom. But, to some minorities and people of colour, however, is the United States still the ‘land of the brave’?
Secondly, Kaepernick had the constitutional right to kneel during the National Anthem. In a country where 136 black people have been killed by police so far this year (according to ‘The Counted’, a website documenting police brutality by The Guardian), Kaepernick’s reasoning is easily justified. If any person of colour was in his position, they too would also have found it difficult to stand during the anthem of a country that continues to disadvantage and oppress them. Must we refer back to the 200 year history of slavery to prove that point?
This case raises questions about the extent of America’s nationalism, whether it is inclusive or exclusive, patriotic or extreme. What is important here is that Kaepernick exercised his freedom of expression, whilst welcoming a discussion of race, politics and strong civic nationalism, his most recent decision to stand calls for us all to examine the multifaceted discussion that surrounds race relations and patriotism..