You and I share a few things in common. We both like sports, as witnessed by your bothering to read a sports blog (and my occasionally bothering to post to one). Chances are pretty strong that we’re both Americans, as the DFR’s reach tends not to go too far beyond these shores. And, perhaps most of all, we’ve both heard and read a ton of words regarding the Colin Kaepernick-generated act of protesting by kneeling during the national anthem. I’ve even written a few of them myself.
Kneeling during the anthem: disrespectful–or exactly the opposite?
But there’s a problem with that cascade of words that has been said, written, and spewed in response to the Kaepernick movement: there’s one word in particular that has been left out of the conversation entirely:
You may not know that word; that may be the reason that it has not come up in the last several weeks. There are probably few people today who do know the meaning of the word. And that’s a big problem, because that lack of knowledge is playing a key role in making the act of kneeling during the national anthem such a polarizing action.
Technically, to ‘genuflect’ is to “lower one’s body briefly by bending one knee to the ground, typically in worship or as a sign of respect” (per my Mac’s Dictionary app). It’s not quite the same as kneeling; genuflection is done briefly, as the definition says–you drop down, show your respect, then pop back up and get on with business. Kaepernick et al. have been kneeling–which is to say, dropping down and staying there for a certain period. Like, for instance, the duration of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
The key takeaway here is this: just as genuflecting is an act of showing respect, so too is–or was, until recently–kneeling.
“It is highly ironic that in the last month, a person kneeling has become the catalyst for so many people barrelling forward, completely breathless and lost in a haze of confusion and runaway emotions.”
In our rather firmly secular day and age, it makes some sense that people would be confused about whether or not such an act as kneeling during a song could be viewed as disrespectful. Lots of people probably just don’t understand the symbolism or nature of the act. It is odd, however, that no one has come forward to make the point about kneeling not being a particularly disrespectful act. The United States remains, even today, a nation full of church-going people; has no one asked the question, how disrespectful are all those kneeling folks in church being? And disrespectful towards what? Only a few minutes of thoughtful examination are needed to recognize that kneeling as an act of protest is rather tame.
There are, of course, far more disrespectful acts that could be engaged in during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” than dropping to a knee. The more radical among us would be setting a flag on fire, or waving a different flag, or even just hurling turds (literally) at the flag or anyone saluting it.
In other words, there’s nothing inherently disrespectful in what Kaepernick, Megan Rapinoe, or any of a small host of other athletes have been doing lately. It is only during the context–during the playing of the national anthem–that the act has been interpreted as disrespectful of the anthem.
Or is it the flag? I keep hearing the act described in both ways: that it’s disrespectful to the anthem, or the flag, or maybe both–as if the anthem is produced by running a violin bow over a flag held taut.
That muddle over whether the act of kneeling disrespects the flag or the anthem, or if it’s a disrespectful act at all, indicates the lack of clear thinking that has gone into so much of the commentary regarding this protest. People who oppose the protesters, for whatever reasons, are overly eager to oppose them, and thus are finding ways to damn them without bothering to consider whether or not what they’re saying makes sense.
No real surprise there. ‘Considering’ is an act of reason, and the reactions to the protests, both negative and positive, have tended to be grounded firmly in emotion, not reason. And therein lies the heart of all of this: everything that is going on in the United States these days is being motivated by emotion rather than reason. We’re feeling too much, and not thinking nearly enough.
It’s not that people shouldn’t have their emotions. Emotions are necessary to life, as they are far more effective motivators than reason can ever hope to be. People wouldn’t do things, particularly the necessary and good things, if all they had was reason.
But–and this is a big BUT–we can not just toss aside reason, because it’s reason that will put a stop to the worst of our excesses, in a way that emotion never can nor will. Where problems exist, those problems will only be solved by employing clear, rational, logical thinking. And I find it impossible to argue that there is no problem in terms of what Kaepernick is promoting: the idea that there is a deep injustice in how authority treats race in this society. When confronted by huge problems, such as racial injustice, emotional, knee-jerk responses such as hatred, anger, and tribalism must be set aside–otherwise, all efforts to solve the problems will be doomed to fail.
In sports, “taking a knee” has for a long time been both a literal act and a metaphor for taking a break, for spending a few moments to stop and catch one’s breath and regain focus. It is highly ironic that in the last month, a person kneeling has become the catalyst for so many people barrelling forward, completely breathless and lost in a haze of confusion and runaway emotions. Not only should those opposed stop criticizing Kaepernick so harshly–they should “take a knee” themselves, to catch their breath and clear their minds, and to turn their anger into understanding.
That’s the best hope for ultimately making protests like taking a knee unnecessary.