During some of the very little downtime that I have while school is in session, I found myself reading a Washington Post article from 2016 by Elahe Izadi entitled “Black Lives Matter and America’s long history of resisting civil rights protesters.”  What I found within this article was definitely fascinating and thought provoking, but I can’t exactly say that I was all that surprised by what it revealed to me.  What the article presented was a look back at various polls that were taken in the early 1960s, which were all in relation to Civil Rights protests, events, and outcomes.

In terms of the various forms of civil rights protests, two polls were conducted that measured the public’s outlook on the Freedom Riders and sit-ins.  The first question was presented as such: “Do you approve or disapprove of what the Freedom Riders are doing?”  22% approved, 61% disapproved, and 18% had no opinion.  That was conducted in May of 1961, and the majority of Americans looked down on the Freedom Rides as an outrageous and disruptive form of protest.

In the Fall of 2015, I was enrolled in a class entitled Civil Rights Revolution.  We studied the Freedom Rides, and those once reviled figures who were condemned as outside agitators – as “pests” – are now considered to be brave, forward thinking, and good Americans.  The article didn’t stop there, however, so I continued to read on.

Also in May of 1961, the public opinion of Americans was measured in relation to the now-famous sit-ins at restaurants and diners across the United Sates.  The question that was presented to those represented in the poll was framed as such: “Do you think ‘sit-ins’ at lunch counters, ‘freedom buses’, and other demonstrations by Negros will help or hurt the Negro’s chances of being integrated into the South?”  28% said help, 57% said hurt, and 16% had no opinion.

While I know that you know this, I think it’s important for someone to periodically point out that these actions were dangerous and revolutionary at the time.  They struck a nerve within White America, even though we may currently take such actions as eating side by side with a black American for granted.  I’m sure some white patrons didn’t want to see such political action taking place during their dinner or lunch.  I’m sure that they wanted the protestors to stick to eating their food, be happy with it, and shut up.

Today, Martin Luther King Jr. is widely recognized throughout the United States – excluding the array of American white supremacist groups – as an iconic American figure.  His likeness is the model for many a statue, painting, and bust, many of which decorate both publicly available and prestigiously exclusive locations throughout the nation.  One such bust continues to decorate the Oval Office to this day, even though initial reports believed it to have been removed by President Trump on his first day in office.

Probably the most defining moment for MLK is the March on Washington, during which he delivered arguably his most famous speech – the “I Have A Dream” speech.  This march and speech aren’t only seen as defining moments in African American history, but also American history as a whole.  However, an opinion poll was conducted in August of 1963, shortly before the march was to take place.  It asked this question: “What are your feelings about this [proposed Civil Rights rally]?”  The results of the poll were 23% favorable, 60% unfavorable, and 17% no opinion.

The March on Washington is a moment which will forever be remembered, whether the United States of America is reigning or ruined, as a step toward obtaining equality for all American men, women, and children.  And, guess what?  Most of those who watched it in real time got it dead wrong.  They couldn’t see that their stance of opposition against those that they saw as a menace would be the un-making of their reputation and way of life in the eyes of history.

But they indeed tried to look to the future, and it isn’t surprising that they were wrong again.  The final poll presented within Ms. Izadi’s article addresses the issue of how these events and protests were affecting the position of African Americans within the South.  The question that was presented asked this: “All and all, do you feel the demonstrations by Negros on civil rights have helped more or hurt more in the advancement of Negro rights?”  15% said helps, while the entirety of the remaining 85% said hurts.

That leads me to today in which, I believe, we find ourselves in the exact same predicament.  We have athletes – the majority of which are black – being lambasted as agitators by NFL fans, “sons of bitches” by the President of the United States, and as “pests.”  They’re told to “stick to sports” and “keep politics out of the game,” while those who hurl these commands forget that Muhamad Ali and Jackie Robinson were both very politically outspoken and inflammatory during their heydays.  While I doubt Colin Kaepernick can even be mentioned in the same realm as those two, he’s continuing a tradition of athletic-related protest that started way before him. “But taking a knee during the National Anthem makes me uncomfortable!” I can hear someone yelling.  To that I say, “Good,” because the players who are protesting are uncomfortable too.

Does no one have the forethought to stop and think that maybe, just maybe, these men who have been working their entire adult lives to get to the NFL would much rather just be playing the game?  Of course they just want to play the game!  That’s what they want to do with every fiber of their being!  Does anyone think that they want to be hated by a large swath of Americans, including the President of the United States?  No!  They don’t get jacked up in the morning by thinking about taking a knee.  They get jacked up by thinking about playing football.

This overlooked fact should highlight their perceived importance of what they’re protesting, which is another essential piece of the situation that’s been lost in translation while in transit through the conservative media machine.  The purpose of taking a knee, as originated by Colin Kaepernick, was to protest police violence against unarmed black Americans.

They’re not protesting the National Anthem itself, the flag, the military, or any other divine relics of American life.  Whether they are justified in believing it or not – which is an on-going argument between left and right – they’re protesting the belief that black Americans are unjustly targeted and killed by police disproportionately.  The idea that they’re protesting against or disrespecting the flag is a disingenuous argument in my view.

And I see it as a disingenuous argument because of how most average Americans treat the flag on a daily basis.  I’m sure that the majority of Americans, including many in opposition to those taking a knee, are unware of the existence of the United States Flag Code.  It’s the basis for how to treat, handle, and – wait for it – respect the American flag.  I’m sure we’ve all seen American flags emblazoned across swim trunks, table wear, pillows, sheets, and every other conceivable commercial product – all of which is forbidden within the United States Flag Code.

While one could point out – which I’m prepared to do here – that there’s a section of the code that outlines how to conduct one’s self during the playing of the National Anthem, I find that to, once again, be a disingenuous defense.  Why is it okay to violate the code by displaying the flag on clothing or as drapery, but not okay to violate the code by kneeling during the National Anthem?  You can’t pick and choose what works best for your argument.  It’s either all fair game, or none of it is.

As I alluded to above, there also exists an argument that kneeling during the National Anthem disrespects the military.  I never saw the logic in this, but maybe I’m looking at this from the wrong angle.  It was always my assumption that veterans of the U.S. military fought and died to preserve the ideals of the United States, as well as the rights and freedoms of all Americans.  These aforementioned rights and freedoms, in my mind, include the freedom to protest any perceived injustices committed by the U.S. government.

It was never my assumption that the soldiers of the United States armed forces fought and died so that law abiding American citizens could be shouted down and shamed for expressing their grievances and opinions.  I also don’t recall learning about the dearly held and fiercely defended American ideal of forced patriotism.

In my opinion, neither societies nor governments should mandate patriotism – they should earn it.  And, right now, there are several NFL players, as well as large groups of discontented Americans, saying – in one form of protest or another – that certain actions perpetrated by the United States government have hindered their ability to remain silently patriotic.

And that’s exactly the request that conservative Americans are asking of the involved NFL players and the black community.  They want them to stay silent, stay obedient, and stay on the field, all of which greatly clashes with another contemporary conservative talking point.

If you are at all conscious and aware of current events, you’ve heard the conservative charge against liberals that they’re stifling free speech in America, especially on college campuses. Conservative speakers have been shouted down, kicked off campus, and subject to evacuation due to rioting by the student body.  Whenever these instances occur, there then arrives the inevitable flow of crocodile tears from the right wing, as they mourn the loss of the First Amendment.

Freedom Riders, U.S. Civil Rights Movement
Freedom Riders, U.S. Civil Rights Movement

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