Is the thirteen-star American flag, believed to be designed by Betsy Ross, a racist symbol? And is it racially insensitive to be patriotic, especially if you honor the American founding? To Colin Kaepernick and (it would seem) many others, the answers today to the above questions are increasingly “yes.”
By now, unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ve heard that Nike decided to pull an American flag themed sneaker due to objections reportedly raised by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. According to The Wall Street Journal, Kaepernick said the design of the “Air Max 1 USA” sneakers, which uses the original “Betsy Ross” American flag, is offensive to him and others as it stirs up images of slavery and oppression. “Nike has chosen not to release the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July as it featured the old version of the American flag,” declared a Nike spokesperson.
Others have chimed in. Appearing on MSNBC, Michael Eric Dyson compared the Betsy Ross American flag to the Nazi swastika and a KKK cross-burning. Indeed, all of social media has lit up, with many agreeing with Kaepernick and Dyson.
Nike is, of course, a private company and they are free to release (or not release) whatever product they wish. And people like Dyson and Kaepernick are American citizens who are free (and should be free) to say whatever they wish. But I can’t help but be sad that racism and patriotism are becoming increasingly associated in the minds of so many today. It didn’t use to be this way, and if we don’t do something about this unfortunate association, it will only further divide us and tear us apart.
If we, as a society, accept the premise behind Colin Kaepernick’s protest and Nike’s unfortunate decision to cave to him — and certainly Dyson’s ridiculous association of the colonial American flag with the swasticka — then we are setting the stage for rejecting our own country’s founding. We are rejecting our own country in favor of a shame narrative that will erase patriotism and leave us living in a country we no longer value or appreciate.
Let me be perfectly clear: I believe all people are made in the image of God. Racism and white supremacy are evil. And I’m grateful for the progress our nation has made. But….
There’s something great men like Bishop Richard Allen, Frederick Douglass (ultimately), Senator Hiram Revels, Booker T. Washington, Dr. George Washington Carver, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood — something that men like Colin Kaepernick seem unable or unwilling to grasp — and that is….
You can’t make progress by attacking the very foundations upon which you stand.
True patriotism isn’t believing your country is perfect and can do no wrong. True patriotism is believing your country is important enough for you to honor the good and work toward addressing the bad. It’s about being a positive and constructive force within it.
It’s the difference between the French Revolution which degenerated into a “tear it all down!” bloodbath that led to ruin and ultimately a dictatorship versus the American Revolution which was (though violent and not without its faults) an appeal to former principles and a call to renewal of such principles. And which led ultimately to the strongest and most stable governing system in modern history.
The Founding Fathers weren’t perfect, but do you have any idea how difficult it is to start and establish a country!?
Our Founding Fathers did that. They pulled it off. And while they failed to right all wrongs, they set the nation on a course in which future generations could (and, in many cases, did) right such wrongs.
Critics of the American founding (like Kaepernick) must stop looking at the Founders as if they had perfect power to do whatever they wished. They were operating within a socio-political-economic-cultural context that placed limits upon them just as our context limits us today.
Let’s take the issue Kaepernick himself raises: slavery. Neither the First Continental Congress, the Second Continental Congress, the Congress under the Articles of Confederation, the Constitutional Convention, or the early Congress under the current Constitution had the sufficient legal standing or political support to abolish slavery. We can, from our twenty-first century perch, look down on eighteenth century men with disdain, but our sanctimony can’t and won’t change the facts. Those facts are that slavery predated the men we know as the American Founders.
By the time of the American founding, slavery had been practiced in virtually every civilized society since the dawn of history. This included societies in China, Africa, Asia, and Europe. Both ancient Rome and ancient Greece (two societies very influential to the founding) practiced slavery. And when slavery was brought to North America, it was seen as a continuation of a practice that dated back to the earliest stages of human history. And yet…
Did you know that a majority of the American Founders (including many of the slave-owing Founders) OPPOSED slavery? In fact, the western tradition that produced the Founders is the very tradition that ushered in the first, comprehensive anti-slavery sentiment in history. With the founding, the stars (you might say) were aligned. Bible-believing Christians, perhaps most notably the Quakers, began speaking out against slavery. And then came the American Revolution — an event that triggered a major sea change in public opinion.
Nevertheless, that change in public opinion wasn’t enough to abolish slavery completely in the 1770s, 80s, or 90s. Pro-slavery interests were too entrenched. As Dinesh D’Souza writes, “The choice facing the Founders in Philadelphia was not whether to have slavery or not. Rather, it was whether to have a union that temporarily tolerated slavery, or to have no union at all.” Had they not made the compromises they did, D’Souza explains, “The continent of North America might then have become an amalgam of smaller nations — vulnerable to the depradations of foreign empires — and slavery might have continued longer than it actually did.”
When Frederick Douglass first became a voice in the abolitionist cause, he too (like many today) believed the Founders were pro-slavery and attacked them as such. His famous 4th of July speech (which is still taught in many schools today), in which he denounced the holiday and the American founding, was given within this framework. But then he did something that few people do today. Wait for it… he read. He studied. He looked into the facts.
And you know what he discovered?
Well, how about we let Frederick Douglass explain it himself:
“I was, on the anti-slavery question,…fully committed to [the] doctrine touching the pro-slavery character of the Constitution …. I advocated it with pen and tongue, according to the best of my ability … [U]pon a reconsideration of the whole subject, I became convinced … that the Constitution of the United States not only contained no guarantees in favor of slavery but, on the contrary, it is in its letter and spirit an anti-slavery instrument, demanding the abolition of slavery as a condition of its own existence as the supreme law of the land.”
Douglass came to the realization that the Founding Fathers, while compromising with and temporarily accepting slavery, nonetheless — as his (ultimate) friend Abraham Lincoln had been saying all along — put slavery “on the course of ultimate extinction.”
What about that? If only critics like Kaepernick and Dyson would take a lesson from Douglass and actually READ and STUDY the American founding instead of caricaturing it.
I’m not saying the Founders were perfect and I’m not saying all their compromises were right. And I’m certainly not defending slavery, but…. I am saying they don’t deserve the hate and vitriol so many (ignorant) people are heaping on them today. This is certainly and at least the case with the anti-slavery Founders, of whom there were many, like Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton (to name a few).
I know the United States has its faults. Why? Because it’s made up of PEOPLE. And people are flawed. They are imperfect.
If you’ll permit me to speak from a Christian perspective here, all people are sinners. Every single person is a sinner (Romans 3:10, 23). And therefore there will NEVER be a perfect government until Jesus Christ Himself reigns. But until Jesus comes, we’re stuck living in a fallen world, and…
There is no utopia.
There will not be a utopia.
There will not be a perfect country or a flawless government or a sinless people.
So let’s stop judging the United States against some utopian standard that has not existed since the Garden of Eden and won’t exist until Jesus returns. Instead….
See the United States for what it is…. the best country we’ve ever had in this fallen world.
I thank God for the fact that I live in the United States of America. And it saddens me that folks like Kaepernick and Dyson don’t feel that way — and that companies like Nike will cave to such cynicism as well.
I know sadly that not all of you will join me in this, but as for me, I say…
God bless the United States of America!!!