Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Colin Kaepernick and the National Anthem

By now, nearly everyone on social media has had time to react to Colin Kaepernick's decision not to stand for the National Anthem at an NFL pre-season game on Friday, August 26.  Many of them have expressed an opinion on his action (and explanatory words), often using pictorial memes created by others.

But I believe that this subject has too many nuances to be captured by any meme, nearly all of which are of the "Hooray for our side!" variety.  So let me use this space to explain what I think is right and wrong about Kaepernick's words and actions.

Before I get into that, however, let me make one disclaimer:  I pretty much loathe the song that is our National Anthem.  Musically, it is a mess.  Perhaps "abomination" is not too strong a word.  At any rate, it requires a vocal range that prohibits most American citizens from singing it decently without awkwardly switching octaves mid-song.  This article explains the inherent pro-slavery views of the lyrics of The Star Spangled Banner.  In fact, the only verse I like is the one we sing in our Anglican church on patriotic holidays:

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation! 
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land 
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation! 
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, 
And this be our motto - “In God is our trust,”  
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave 
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Even that, however, has the kind of vision of America as God's chosen country that was dealt with (negatively) in Bob Dylan's song, "With God On Our Side."  So, I have no love for this song.  The reason I stand and sing it is because it represents the country I love, and that is the only reason.  I've often been public in recommending that we accept as our National Anthem the song which is sometimes referred to as "the black national anthem":  Lift Every Voice and Sing.

The third verse is especially poignant, and extremely timely for us at this juncture in our national history:

"God of our weary years,God of our silent tears, 
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way; 
Thou who has by Thy mightLed us into the light, 
Keep us forever in the path, we pray. 
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee, 
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forgot Thee, 
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand, 
True to our God, true to our native land."

Every Christian, perhaps every theist, should rejoice if my recommended national anthem change were implemented.  For "Lift Every Voice" is infinitely more spiritual than the Star Spangled Banner.  It doesn't use God, as our current national anthem does, as merely an insurer of our national victories.  It pictures Him as a being infinitely above our nation and all others, a Being we should be most afraid of offending.   

But I will bet you that if this became our new National Anthem, many of my white friends would not stand for it; they'd remain seated as Kaepernick has pledged to do for our current national song.  And they would fancy themselves heroic, or at least righteous for doing so.

But what of Colin Kaepernick and his choice to remain seated?  Much depends upon why he did it, and what his proposed remedy for the situation is.  As to the first, here are his own words:
"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. "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."
The point has been made by many that as someone who is extremely wealthy because of the American system, and has someone who has clearly NOT been oppressed himself, Kaepernick has no right to speak up.  But I don't find this argument valid.  Those who are given strength and a voice are right to speak up on behalf of the oppressed.  Sometimes it falls to you, as a person of power and influence, to speak up and say that we cannot treat things (as they currently stand) as "business as usual."

A stronger argument against Kaepernick's words is that he is simply factually incorrect about America.  There is less systemic oppression of black people and people of color than perhaps in any other society ever.    Allen West makes that point very cogently in this article.
Mr. Kaepernick, a biracial young man adopted and raised by white parents, claims America is oppressing blacks at a time when we have a black, biracial president who was twice elected. We’ve had two black attorneys general and currently have a black secretary of homeland security, along with a black national security advisor. Here in Dallas our police chief, whom I know, is an outstanding black leader. The officer in Milwaukee who shot the armed assailant after issuing an order to drop his weapon was black. Is Mr. Kaepernick following suit and cherry-picking what he terms “oppression?”
But, for purposes of argument, let us hypothetically concede that Kaepernick is factually correct about America.  If that is what he believes, is he duty-bound to remain silent?  I think not.  Some critics have suggested that Kaepernick and all other Americans should adopt a "My country, wrong or right" attitude.  But I disagree.  G. K. Chesterton weighs in on this notion:
“My country, right or wrong,” is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, “My mother, drunk or sober.”
So, a true patriot can (or, rather, "must") protest his own country when she is in error.  But the true patriot does this in love.  Just as one would work towards the sobriety of his own mother, in love, so the true patriot works toward the reformation of his country in love.

The question now becomes:  "Is Colin Kaepernick that kind of man or not?"

He doesn't leave us wondering very long about this.  It is right there in the t-shirt he chose to wear to his post-game press conference.  It features Fidel Castro, oppressor extraordinaire, and enemy of everything American.  This, and not the act of remaining seated during our very flawed national anthem, is the true offense.  To suggest (and his shirt does suggest this, let's not pretend otherwise) that the philosophy of Fidel Castro, the brutally oppressive dictator of Cuba, is somehow an answer to what is wrong with America ... shows that Kaepernick is not trying to correct America as his beloved mother.  Rather, he is on the side of those wishing her eternally destroyed.  To endorse a socialist dictator while earning many millions of dollars thanks to America's capitalist system ... well, that is the worst and most blatant sort of hypocrisy imaginable.