With the arrival of the NFL season once again, Nike basing their new “Just Do It” ad on Colin Kaepernick 1, and yet another tweet designed to anger President Trump’s base, I’ve been seeing people post statements to the effect of, “I just don’t understand why they kneel and disrespect the anthem, the flag, and the troops like that.”
For the moment I’ll set aside the truth that the troops, flag, and anthem are not what’s being protested 2. I’ll also put off dealing with the rhetorical question these posts often ask, “Don’t these things give us our freedom 3?” But I came across a quote today while reading Baptists, Jews, and the Holocaust which I think does a good job highlighting why we see prominent African-Americans kneeling, or making some other demonstrative gesture, during the anthem.
The quote from the president of the National Baptist Convention, L.K. Williams, in 1940. Its focus was on why National Baptists should identify with persecuted Jews in Europe during the Nazi era, and join the struggle against tyranny, but it might as well be written today.
We have felt and known the pangs of a suppressed, chained, personality, and would willingly make any sacrifices for the chance of enjoying the heritages of a free democracy and for their preservation 4.
That’s it in a nutshell. The act of kneeling during the anthem highlights that not only have African-Americans suffered in this culture as a “suppressed, chained, personality” in the past, but continue to suffer this systemic and dehumanizing reality in the present. It’s a reminder that America has made a grand promise, to which we’re still struggling to live up. That this reminder offends people causes me great concern for the future of the country.
- I am conflicted by this. It’s a nice message, but Nike is a sweatshop beast and transforming a hopeful demonstration into a campaign to sell sneaker makes me ill. The folks who a running out to buy or burn Nike products based on the ad give me a headache. ↩
- It never has been. Nor has it been about individual police officers, most of whom are really trying to do right by folks. It’s about systemic racism and raising awareness of implicit bias. ↩
- The short answer is, “Hell no.” But that’s another post. ↩
- Minutes of the 1940 Annual Session of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., President’s Address, 69. ↩