National Anthem Protests, and Why Everything ISN’T About ‘The Troops’

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past couple of weeks, you’re probably well aware of the rabid, gushing firehose of hatred that has recently been directed at a certain NFL quarterback named Colin Kaepernick, for his choice to not stand during The Star Spangled Banner at several games. Seemingly overnight, (predominantly) conservative white Americans exploded into a white-hot rage over a perceived slight to their national identities. Today, several more athletes have joined Kaepernick in displays of protest, whether it be sitting, taking a knee, or raising a fist.

The reason behind Kaepernick’s display is to highlight how he refuses “to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color”. While I am in full support of Kaepernick’s statement and actions, as well as all others who choose to protest the national anthem, I am also concerned with his constitutional right to do so under the First Amendment. These expressions are political speech, which is as American as apple pie, full stop. By the same virtue that you can hammer away at your phone or keyboard with your stubby sausage fingers as you get red in the face from forgetting to breathe while typing your increasingly lukewarm take about how un-American he is, Kaepernick has a right to bring light to an issue that oppresses an entire group of Americans.

However, I’m less concerned with the troubling theme of anger toward the protests itself, but more so with the use of ‘the troops’ as a tool for leveraging indignation against the protests. Even if you’re a veteran or active duty servicemember, you do not qualify to speak on behalf of what is arguably one of the largest and most diverse groups of people in the United States, with opinions to match. Further, anytime there’s a criticism of America, the opinions of upset, predominantly conservative, white Americans seems to overlap with those of ‘the troops’ — this is not coincidence.

As the Global War on Terror comes to a piddling and whimpering finish (or hibernation state, depending on who you ask), the position most of these self-styled ‘patriots’ have toward veterans must be reexamined. This bumper sticker patriotism and ‘doing it for the troops’ mentality has helped nurture a culture that regular Americans owe a debt to our troops that goes beyond that of the GI Bill or the medical care the Department of Veterans Affairs dishes out; it has perverted itself into an unspoken agreement, wherein politicians and business can silently use veterans as a tool to further agendas, and in exchange, veterans are elevated to their own separate caste, where their opinions become ‘more correct’, their life experiences ‘more valuable’ than those civilians experience.

Our members of the Armed Forces take an oath to “support and defend the United States Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.” Kaepernick and company’s right to disagree on a national, televised stage is the exact thing that our servicemembers swear to defend each and every time that uniform is donned. It is in fact, a beautiful thing that those who dissent against things that are perceived as ‘foundational’ to America are afforded the same protections as the aforementioned ‘bumper sticker patriots’, even if execution of the ‘right to life and liberty’ by the government might be the underlying cause of many of these protests.

These outcries against the United States during the national anthem by professional athletes are designed to shock and disturb those blinded by patriotism, perhaps even enough to shock some people into independently researching the systematic oppression experienced by persons of color. What I ask of you, dear reader, is this; worry less about policing the free speech of black professional athletes; worry less about ‘the troops’ who will continue to serve the United States with or without manufactured outrage over something as inconsequential as sitting or standing.

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