Thursday, September 1, 2016

Colin Kaepernick and Phony Patriotism

I loathe the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the Star Spangled Banner before ball games is not far behind on my list of phony patriotic gestures.

So when Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem, I thought, "Good for him."  

But thinking more about it, it's not so clear this particular act of protest, at this particular moment, is well chosen.

Public acts of attestation of loyalty have not always been meaningless, phony and anti democratic.  During times when loyalties were clearly divided, like during the American Revolution, when at least half the country remained loyal to the British Crown, standing up in public and being counted as "I am with the Revolution," was not without risk and it was  important to say. During the Civil War, saying publicly, you were for Union and not the Confederacy, was worth doing.

But, in recent times, since Vietnam really, when wars have been fought against insurgencies in distant lands, puffing up your chest before a football game is low risk and the coward's version of patriotism. Easy patriotism, is almost by definition, not real patriotism.

On the other hand, after 9/11 and after all the recent stories of attacks by terrorists, it may be worth saying, publicly, we are one country after all, and having Black men and White Men and Hispanics all singing the same tune is a fairly inoffensive feel good moment of bonding, cheesey as it may be. 

It is hard to forget how such expressions of public enthrallment with a flag have played out in the past, with the Nuremberg rallies, and all those flags and all that staging and orchestration of emotion. This sort of thing is easily twisted into nasty belief.

When the two Black Americans stood on the winners' platform at the 1968 Olympics and raised a Black Power salute, as cities burned and people were dying in the South trying to register voters and men were dying in Vietnam in a corrupt war, that protest made sense. 

But today, the national government and its flag is mostly under benign guidance. It's the state and local police who are racists with badges, terrified bullies with guns.

There is no state anthem for Colin Kaepernick to turn his back against--the San Francisco Forty Niners do not play in Kentucky where they play "My Old Kentucky Home,"  and vote in Mitch McConnell every time. 

The problem of white police murdering Black men is mostly a local one--just as local police murdered Civil Rights workers and it was the federal government which investigated and prosecuted these murders. The flag, the star spangled banner is about the country, and is the wrong target if you are festering over Black Lives Matter.

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