To “Dis” or Not to “Dis” the Flag
By Reverend Dr. Derrick J. Hughes
Part One of Two
The national flag of the United States of America is a symbol of freedom, liberty and human rights. It is a symbol of hope and all that we believe in as Americans. It is a symbol that some men rally behind, whether on our shores or in foreign territories. The stars on the flag represent the 50 states of the United States of America, and the stripes represent the 13 British colonies that declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain, and became the first states in the U.S.
The U.S. flag—The Stars and Stripes, Old Glory, and even The Star-Spangled Banner as it is nicknamed—is considered sacred by some, which will explain why the desecration of the flag is considered a public outrage, but remains protected as freedom of speech. Scholars have noted the irony that “the flag is so revered because it represents the land of the free, and that freedom includes the ability to use or abuse that flag in protest”. Yet, there are those who say the flag holds no value for them at all and believe it’s nothing more than a symbol of a broken country.
For those who hold the flag in high esteem, it is about the beauty of living in America and enjoying the rights associated with our free democracy; those that have been paid for by blood, sweat, limbs, and even lives. It is because of this, that those who oppose issues in America and protest by burning the flag or kneeling during the National Anthem—the song associated with salute to the flag—are deemed unpatriotic or simply, “disrespectful”.
Over the last few years, this country has seen a public outcry over the increasing numbers of police brutality, especially in disproportionate numbers against African Americans. We’ve seen the likes of Travon Martin, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, and many more killed in controversial confrontations by law enforcement officers only to have all of them adjudicated with no convictions.
It was Sunday, August 14, 2016 when San Francisco’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick, an African American, sat during the playing of the National Anthem before a pre-season game. Initially, he went unnoticed because he wasn’t in uniform and did not play because of an injury. By August 26, he made national headlines for again, sitting during the playing of the National Anthem.
Kaepernick told the media after the game he sat because of the oppression of people of color and ongoing issues with police brutality.
“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 said, via NFL.com. “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.”
When interviewed, Kaepernick said, “I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”
Unlike what some in the media, NFL and President Donald Trump has proclaimed, for Kaepernick, his position to not stand during the playing of the National Anthem was not about failing to appreciate those who have suffered greatly in respect of the flag. In fact, he said, “I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family…I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they fought have for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.”
So, did Colin Kaepernick “Dis” the flag by not standing and by kneeling down? Many have decided to register their opposition to policies and laws that are unjust in this country by sit-ting, kneeling and taking a stand. Whenever those who were bold enough to show their opposition did so, they too have been called wrong, ungrateful and disrespectful.
Recently, President Trump said while campaigning in Alabama, “Wouldn’t you like to see one of our NFL owners, when somebody disrespects the flag, say, ‘Get that son-of-a-bitch off the field.’”