On taking a knee

When I was a teenager the 1980’s there was a spate of burning the Stars and Stripes in the US, as a protest to Ronald Reagan’s policies. Which particular policy is hard to remember as Ronnie had a whole heap of policies that weren’t exactly favorable to many people, especially to people that didn’t have a lot of money. Perhaps turning Old Glory into a pile of ash was focused on Reganomics and its core component of ‘trickle down theory’. A tenant an old friend of mine call ‘the rich pissing on the poor’.

What people may have forgotten is that the issue of flag burning went all the way to the Supreme Court – who ruled that flag burning was a reasonable form of protest and that people shouldn’t be jailed for it. People were pretty upset about this issue on both sides and Congress spent a whole lot of effort trying to pass a flag burning amendment to the Constitution (which never passed) to make it illegal. Personally I would rather Congress do things like attend to the Debt Ceiling and ensure that affordable health care be provided to all – but that’s just me.

In the US today, you can burn a flag if you want, but I don’t think people do it much any more – perhaps they got bored with it and Reagan is long gone, even if the lasting legacy of his policies (good and bad) are not. Now people are taking a knee during the US national anthem in protest, which is much less incendiary than burning a flag, following a simple,symbolic gesture by Colin Kaepernick – who says he’s doing because ā€œ[Iā€™m] not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.ā€

That’s what taking a knee is about. As a side note, Kaepernick is not the African American athelete to protest the treatment of African Americans in the USA, in the 1960’s Muhammed Ali served jail time for refusing to go to Vietnam for the same reason.

Like myself, some people applaud ‘take a knee’. I think it is a sensible, non-violent, important protest and I think Kaepernick is right, I think the US does oppress people of color – whether overtly or covertly. A pretty large number of people disagree with this and believe that the national anthem is some kind of sacred thing and if you don’t stand (and put your right hand over your heart) that you are some kind of evil anti-Patriot. This includes our current president who seems to have a certain a penchant for fueling the fire. Personally I think to get this aerated about a song or a piece of cloth is ridiculous but this is just my opinion. More importantly, all the anger about our little national ditty in the US is swamping out the thing we need to be talking about.

We have a problem with racism in America. We have a massive, national problem, the statistics will show you this in a 5 minute Google search

NAACP – Criminal justice fact sheet ()
The Sentencing Project
The Do Something campaign
Time Magazine – The Great Racial Divide

and there are plenty more.

I am not saying this is our only problem in America, but it is an issue and it appears to be getting worse. We Americans are getting worse and worse about listening to one another. People don’t like to think they are oppressing anyone, so it must not be true, seems to be the attitude. And perhaps on a day to day basis it is not true of what most of us feel about people who are different. But how often do we check ourselves? How often do we listen to each other who have an opposite point of view? How often do we say instead of ‘ooh taking a knee is offensive’, ‘I don’t agree with this guy but what is he trying to say?’

I do not personally know what it feels like to be and African American, as a white woman this is an experience that I couldn’t possibly know much about. My only experience of this is when I had an African American boyfriend in East Tennessee and lordy did people stare at us – either with disapproval or with wonder – for doing something so simple as going to the grocery store. I didn’t know this happened, I didn’t know what it felt like. In reality I still don’t know what it is like as when I walked down a different aisle all that judgement magically went away.

About Sylvia McLain

Girl, Interrupting aka Dr. Sylvia McLain is a bio-physicist in the Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford (UK), but she blogs in a personal capacity. She is also a proto-science writer, armchair philosopher, amateur plumber and wanna-be film-critic. You can follow her on Twitter @DrSylviaMcLain
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