This post first appeared in the series, “Denim Spirit” for The Finger Lakes Times (NY): http://www.fltimes.com/opinion/denim-spirit-take-a-knee/article_bed390a2-702c-5c52-90a3-8e43d431cbc0.html
Taking a knee on the football field at the National Anthem, is an extraordinarily respectful gesture.
All through childhood football programs, whenever someone is injured, participants are taught to take a knee. If one person goes down, everyone takes a knee until the injured player is assisted off the field.
It is irrefutable factually, that unarmed young men of color have been shot and brutalized by law enforcement in numbers that indicate systemic prejudice and racism. Even those that do not accept those facts, should be able to understand that for those who do believe them, protest would be appropriate.
Taking a knee, quietly and politely, to say that someone on our field (the nation) has been injured, is a poignant and elegant gesture.
I work for the church, and it is not above and beyond my criticism. I like to think I serve God, but that does not prevent me from protesting in my life of faith, from time to time, when I perceive something as the result of God’s inaction. The Bible is a source of ancient wisdom in which my religion is rooted, but analysis and critique of Biblical verses, even refutation of some biblical notions, is my stock and trade as a preacher. I am dang sure not going to put the concept of nation above and beyond my religion or faith, and say that it is unassailable in any given moment.
Nationalism has become a religion of excess, in which the flag is a sacrament of holiness beyond reach of criticism. Fascist movements in history, have always begun by stoking the flames of such nationalism.
It seems almost too obvious and rational to say, but patriot and citizen are each fully acceptable ways of exercising being an American. I would suggest that practicing nationalism is not.
A patriot is someone “who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests” (Merriam-Webster). Meanwhile, a citizen is “one who is entitled to the rights and privileges of a free person” (also Merriam-Webster). The greatest distinction between these two, is passion for the concept, authority, and interests of the nation.
A citizen earns the rights and privileges accorded to everyone else because he or she does what is necessary to be a citizen – pay taxes, live within the laws, participate in civil responsibilities. A citizen may not be passionate about the idea of the nation, but that does not make them a “bad” American when they are a good citizen.
In fact, someone who does not agree with the authority and interests of the country as they are practiced at any given time by those that govern, and who vocally expresses their disrespect or even refuse to give assent to policies and practices of that government, can still be a good citizen. In the United States of America, however, a nationalist that claims others do not have the rights of free speech, no matter how repugnant to them, is not a good citizen.
Denying the existence of rights accorded by the Constitution and Bill of Rights, or advocating against those rights, is the practice of bad citizenship. It is a practice far more dishonorable even, than burning the flag.
Good citizenship, whether patriotic or not, recognizes when fellow citizens are injured, or suffering, and finds a way to take a knee in order to communicate to others, their fellow citizens need assistance. I take a knee.