“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.  To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

-Colin Kaepernick

I’ve heard a lot recently about how a professional athlete’s refusal to honor the American flag and anthem before a sporting event is probably the most indecent thing any American citizen can ever do.

I’ve heard it from friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and many multitudes I’ll never know through articles and social media posts.

To all those so quick to condemn actions they may not even understand, or worse yet, refuse to attempt to comprehend and see only the pale surface of what they think is going on I have a few things to say of my own, starting with this: Calm the fuck down.

If you are among the offended, which is your right incidentally, ask yourself a few simple questions to determine if your outrage is genuine or simply a product of our never-ending and ever divisive new media culture.

Question One: When watching a televised sporting event, or when listening to one on radio, do you demand silence from yourself and your viewing/listening partners for the duration of the anthem or pledge?

Question Two: Again, when watching TV or listening on radio, do you put down your beer or your bowl of chips, standing reverently in silence, hand over heart, staring at the televised image of the flag?

Question Three: Do you heartily condemn others as a regular part of your life when you notice them not honoring the anthem or pledge as much as you’ve done so in this case or do you give people “a pass?”

Question Four: Do you even own an American flag? And if so, do you display it, honor it, treat it reverently?

Question Five: Do you object to the image of the flag on sports helmets or uniforms?

(EXTRA CREDIT)

Question Four: Do you have any knowledge of the history behind the pledge, or the fact that “Under God” was only added to the pledge 50+ years after it’s original conception, and only then to bolster the “red scourge” of McCarthyism in American politics, a time of irresponsible witch hunts in American society?

Question Five: Were you aware that there are additional verses to the national anthem that specifically rejoice the subjugation of African-Americans?

I don’t really need to hear your answers to these questions, they are simply for you to reflect upon as you bask in your righteous indignation at one man’s refusal to honor a symbol in the same way you choose to. But I’m going to take a shot in the dark here and assume that (a) you don’t put down your beer or silence your football guests; (b) you don’t generally berate strangers who aren’t standing at attention during the anthem or pledge; (c) you’re probably not aware that flag code prohibits flag patches on athletic uniforms or costumes; and (d) that your actual knowledge of American flag and anthem history is limited to something you heard briefly in grade school. And actually, that’s all OK.

What isn’t OK is to demonize another American citizen for exercising their constitutional rights of freedom of speech, which includes peaceful protest. What isn’t OK is to fine a person for that same activity or to threaten their livelihood or personal security. Agreeing to disagree, even over closely held personal beliefs, without resorting to threats or violence or retribution….now that IS the American way.

America, while a fantastic country with immeasurable freedoms and remarkable opportunities, also has a dark and torrid history, especially for people of color which includes African-Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latin Americans….basically anyone who isn’t a white male with a particular religious association. Sadly, much of the dark parts of our history are either ignored or glossed over in our schools. When confronted with this reality, the reality that America is not now, nor has it ever been a perfect example of humanity, some people ask how to make it better while others simply pretend the opposite is true. When given the opportunity to learn and understand the serious issues still facing our culture and to seek common solutions that live up to the spirit of the words in the preamble of our Constitution, some will shine a light on injustice while others will don shades.

This particular protest is not about dishonoring the people who fought in wars (some just, some not so much), or stirring up controversy for fame. It’s about one more man calling attention to a problem that never seems to go away in a way that will make some people take another look at what they believe and why they believe it. If your flag and anthem mean so much to you, if the freedom they purport to embody has any real meaning at all, understand that they hold the same freedom for everyone, they propose the same promise to us all, and that when the reality doesn’t match the rhetoric perhaps you too are obligated to call attention, to make a stand, to right a wrong. The symbols are meaningless if they are simply icons of blind allegiance.

Whether or not you agree with how a person makes a statement is less telling than how you react to their statement. If you do not understand their intent, ask for clarification instead of putting forth condemnation. We are all here together. We have a long ways to go towards perfection.