Another view on the national anthem protests

Having read the recent letter to the editor expressing reader John Pasquale’s concern over the national anthem protests, I feel qualified to discuss his term “lack of patriotism” to describe the NFL players who kneel at the anthem, which he cannot understand.

I suspect John cannot feel the emotions of living in brown/black skins. I too sat during the anthem, on my 1970 graduation day from Brockport. My protest was against singing, “The rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air” at a time of U.S. engagement and expansion abroad in unconstitutional warfare. Those words only endorse a freedom, but not a good one for peoples of African descent.

Reflecting on 1776 and freedom from England—which did not want slavery in its American colonies—the 4th of July glorifies allowing slavery. For 400 years here there have been kidnappings, castrations, rapes, mutilations, separation of families, etc. I see no patriotic pride in that violent background. Although we are in the 21st century, we of color know all too well that historically the only threat to the white male was always the black male.

During the ‘60s demand for equality entitlements, many black men were getting college degrees and engaged in legitimate freedom and political movements. Most were crushed under Hoover’s notorious Cointelpro, thus labeling assertive persons, unarmed freedom fighters, as “militant,” a word heavily pushed by the media—the goal to keep our numbers in check, drugged and drunk, or dead. Sadly it worked all too well.

The historical, unjustifiable police-slayings of people of color over decades, out of all proportion to the 13% black population in the U.S. and the better than 70% of our men incarcerated say something not very patriotic. These men were not born criminals. We of color always say that the prisons are modern-day plantations; thus, slavery never ended. The system is still under the whip of the good ole boys’ reign—though not much longer—and more despicable incidents are bound to occur without reprimand.

John may think we’re angry, and rightfully so, but most of us of color have learned to keep much of our emotion bottled up, which is not healthy. Nevertheless, we do exercise our options in voting, if that is not suppressed. Seeing history through our eyes hits home hard, whether indirect or personal, but it is always emotionally painful.

As a world traveler, I do not generalize about any one people; however, observation of behavior often leads to conclusions not positive. Pigmentation prejudice is quite widespread, as we well know. We wear our skins daily and always can feel the subtlety of racism. So when one kneels at the anthem, one elects not to endorse singing of “bombs bursting in the air,” a historical legacy of violence upon which the U.S. was built here and abroad, with lives snuffed out by our bombs/bullets. Violence reduced the number of native Americans significantly. How patriotic is that reputation?

The kneelers’ love of football or other sports is in their hearts, as it was in the hearts of the Olympians who raised fists decades ago at awards ceremonies. Yet criticism kicks in when there is objection to the status quo, i.e. the very unfair, immoral, daily human-rights violator that this nation really is. No one should be forced to bow down to or pledge their hearts to any oppressive order that endorses violence against its own nationals. More appropriate songs to choose for the anthem would be “America the Beautiful,” “God Bless America” or “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” as opposed to the current one, waving the flag of the slave owner Francis Scott Key. I really do not think the NFL players are unpatriotic at all.

[Afi Phoebe is a resident of Narrowsburg and Jamaica, NY.]


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