At first glance, the National Football Leagues owner’s threat to suspend players who “take a knee” during the playing of the National Anthem seems patriotic, at least on the surface, since those who commit this act seem to have political outlooks contrary to those of “mainstream” America.
When asked what the national anthem or flag means to them, most Americans will immediately answer, “Freedom.” Since our early history is colored by efforts to secure it, freedom seems to be a logical first response. But since our follow-on history includes a long episode of slavery and the repression of various social and ethnic groups even today, don’t these symbols also connote less-palatable traces of national character? In particular, do the flag’s constituent colors, by representing courage, purity, and justice, exclude the possibility of acknowledging their antitheses, especially justice?
If these symbols are to honestly represent what America is about, they must be inclusive of what is bad as well as what is perceived to be good. By claiming that they represent only the national good, Americans must ignore a few unpleasant chapters in its history as well as certain manifestations of contemporary life. Indeed, it can be argued that for some Americans, the flag in particular represents little more than social and economic marginalization, and the last words in the Pledge of Allegiance, “with liberty and justice for all,” is little more than a promise unfulfilled.
A nation that claims to be made up of free, independent citizens is a nation of potential dissenters. Our history attests to that fact. A flag or anthem of lasting value need not fear protest in any form, even if that means “taking a knee.”
Bill Britton is a freelance writer and formerly an editor for John Hopkins University Press, ABI Research, and Elsevier Science, and is a frequent contributor to Vero Communiqué.
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