We need to call out the argument against kneeling for the national anthem as “not patriotic” for what it is: spin. If you work in communications or marketing for any period of time, your B.S detector around the framing of a story, becomes incredibly strong. When I heard that Colin Kaepernick was being called un-patriotic because he knelt as a form of protest my B.S detector started going off.
As has been written before (here and here), kneeling during the national anthem is in no way disrespectful. Whereas things like wearing American flag clothing, using disposable flag napkins, or using the flag to advertise are explicitly disrespectful, kneeling or sitting are not.
So why is this narrative so commonplace? To be honest, it’s a well-crafted story. Patriotism is a non-definable feeling. This means anyone can argue against Kaepernick as “un-patriotic” without fear of repercussion. In addition, patriotism and respect are values that most Americans are taught to believe in, making it even more compelling. Finally, this framing deflects from the message of the protest- that black and brown Americans are treated as second class citizens - to focus on a more defensible position: respect for our nation. By doing this, the patriotism argument is able to redirect away from why the protest is happening – a narrative they can’t control – to a narrative that is easily controlled.
But there’s another narrative that’s just as easy to imagine: Kaepernick’s protest is the most patriotic thing that he can do. Patriotism is not agreeing with a government without questioning it, rather it is challenging a government to make a better nation. This urge to protest in order to make a better nation, is one of the main reasons that the United States rebelled against Britain. In the Declaration of Independence, the founding fathers stated, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.” In addition, the right to protest was enshrined in our first amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting… the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” By kneeling in public Kaepernick used his voice to call for a redress of grievances. In doing so he has embodied the essence of patriotism, working to make our nation better.
Next time you hear someone say that taking a knee, or Colin Kaepernick isn’t patriotic, call them out on their spin, and let them know that protesting is one of the most patriotic actions an American can take.