Conservative Outrage Over The #TakeAKnee Movement Revealed Racism, Not Patriotism
Hypocrisy and phony patriotism: two principles of the new Republican party
During the height of Colin Kaepernick’s career and the #TakeAKnee movement, plenty of conservative-minded and Republican folks were outraged, expressing sentiments like, “politics has no place in football!” Later, these same people had the temerity to applaud Donald Trump for running (not one, but two) political campaign ads during the 2020 Super Bowl. The band of hypocrisy and phony patriotism has been nothing short of stunning.
Last spring I wrote a piece examining white privilege in the United States. Since being published, that piece has led to some heated debate in the comments section — notably, most often originating from white men.(At least, judging by their profile pictures, that is — which are supposed to be authentic representations of the person behind the pen, but whatevs…)
All the usual suspects stopped by to do what they do: offer neither ample arguments nor thoughtful debate, but instead, the same old useless insults that get us nowhere.
Either that, or they wanted to mansplain exactly what I “got wrong” about white privilege (or how, or when, or why I was “wrong”) on the whole. Mind you, most of these same people had a fundamental misunderstanding of the term’s meaning in the first place. Which is a non-starter. I mean, if you’re going to argue against something, at least do your homework first.
And, of course, there was no shortage of comments from those who felt compelled to clarify that it was, in fact, *me who was the “racist” — through the ad hominem attack that my simple use of the term ‘white privilege’ was inherently racist in and of itself. There were just so many comments that, you know, reflect the lowered national standard for discourse in general, and other similar disheartening stuff. Credible research, statistics, and experience don’t seem to matter to these guys.
*I won’t deny having had plenty of deeply ingrained and deeply held prejudices, biases, and even racist beliefs over my 40-some years. We all do. That is, until we desire to be better and do better. And until I sought to learn more and become an active participant in the equality movement for minority and marginalized groups, these things remained unchecked, deeply entrenched inside my psyche and imagination — a dangerous place to be. But also, a common place to be among white people, who are either unaware, in denial, or fully aware, but whichever way, will never admit they’ve been guilty of harboring these same feelings and beliefs.
Despite the fact that many of us white people write to advocate, seeking to educate our fellow white people on the anti-racism movement in America, and despite the fact that folks have the ability to just keep scrolling if they don’t like what they see, these enraged white mansplainers always seem to show up to the conversation, locked and loaded, with a need to assert their authority.
“A hot topic and label that’s accused of being insulting, presumptive, condescending (and even racist), ‘white privilege’ is possibly one of the most polarizing terms for white Americans today. Yet, it’s not a slur; it’s simply a fact — backed with research and statistics. To think of it otherwise is to vastly misunderstand the concept, and moreover, to outright dismiss an opportunity to foster empathy. If ‘white privilege’ is not pejorative, then why are we so resistant to acknowledging its presence in the first place?”
Why? That’s what I was attempting to explore.
Some claim to dislike the term because “it’s not true.” But they don’t go on to say why they believe the phrase implies something that’s not true. This feels a lot like a logical fallacy — kinda like Trump’s plentiful examples of diversion tactics, like circular reasoning, including that time he said, “The leaks are real. The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.” The people who cite “because it’s not true” as their reason for hating the term ‘white privilege’ also tend to have a total misunderstanding of what the term means as well.
Unfortunately, many people take the term at face value, leading to a very limited understanding based in fallacies of presumption.
First, the word ‘white’ — used as a personal adjective — tends to create some discomfort in white people because, as the dominant (or majority) group in the U.S., white people aren’t used to having their entire existence defined by skin color alone (or at all). And when they hear a word like ‘privilege,’ they assume it’s referring to a special advantage that implies they aren’t deserving of, or haven’t worked hard to obtain. Or that everyone thinks they were born with a silver spoon. But this is flawed thinking. A white person can be socially disadvantaged in every possible way, but still, will not ever experience life from the vantage point of a black, indigenous, or person of color.
In the social context, there are all kinds of privileges (male privilege, cisgender, heterosexual privilege, privilege based on social class and economic status, and several other facets of social stratification in the U.S.) Privileges can overlap and commingle — for a person’s benefit, or detriment. This is what’s meant by intersectionality. White privilege merely refers to the unearned advantages — both obvious and less obvious — that are afforded to people who are assumed to be white/of European ancestry.
A critical component is that white people generally do not “see,” or recognize that they have any of these advantages — which is, by design, exactly what the concept of white privilege seeks to accomplish. This one factor (not “seeing” it) is how white privilege can be distinguished from overt bias or prejudice, and its invisibility is how white privilege is continually perpetuated, and extensively “unchecked” — meaning unrecognized.
White privilege also has deeper connotations, also mainly invisible to white people. Like the right to assume the universality and totality of one’s own experiences, thus marking others as “different” or as “the exception,” while perceiving oneself as the standard or default norm.
I don’t have to go any farther than my local mega-store chain to find items like bandages, hosiery, tinted moisturizers, blemish creams, underwear, bras, makeup foundation, concealers, and more, all prominently featured in the color “flesh,” or “nude,” which matches white people’s skin — not black people’s, or people of color. “Nude” as a color name, matched with white people’s skin, is then perceived as the “default norm” color — the gold standard. Everything else is a “specialty” item.
As always, there were some people who claimed “there’s no such thing as white privilege.” After writing about this for a while now, it’s a sentiment I expect to see. But no one bothered debating more specific, concrete points, like:
“our learned biases — whether conscious or subconscious — and our relative insulation from such mistreatments often work in tandem, motivating us to execute the most potent, most damaging act of white privilege: silence… As in, silence when we need to be vocal, and vocal when we need to silent.”
Instead, the one part of this piece that people really wanted to wrangle with was the section I wrote on Colin Kaepernick and the #TakeAKnee movement. For example, one man wrote:
“People seem to forget Kaepernick was expected to stand as a requirement for his JOB, for which he was paid handsomely, he misused his media exposure and exploited his employers for his own purposes, as an employee in nearly any other context this could have been considered embezzlement.”
Another commenter weighed in to refute the “embezzlement” comparison, and to point out that, at the time, neither Kaepernick’s team nor the league had a policy that standing for the anthem was required, but rather, was made into new policy after the fact. More arguing was stoked by the first commenter, who also resorted to some of those “same old useless insults” I referenced earlier. Here’s one:
“You obviously have your own agenda and refuse to look at this situation from any other point of view, if you cannot consider any alternatives to your opinion why are you even entering this discussion? You clearly have nothing of value to add nor do you provide a reasonable rebuttal of my comment.”
The second man again responded back, asking for an explanation on the embezzlement claim, but more importantly, pointed out a typical conservative hypocrisy that has baffled me for several years now, particularly, since Trump entered the political arena. Here it is:
“…maybe you put so much on the idea of standing for the anthem that it blinds you to the pettiness of it all. I wonder if you stand at home for the anthem when it plays on TV, or are you getting something from the refrigerator?
The anthem is not sacred. It wasn’t in the constitution and didn’t officially become the anthem until 1931, over 100 years after written. It’s a national song.
Personally I would rather they had picked a more meaningful song that described the country and its values, rather than bombs bursting in air. America the Beautiful is much nicer.
The anthem’s meaning or lack of meaning is up to the individual. Some of us put more on the content of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which are far more important and relevant than a song about a rather insignificant battle in 1812.
You can be offended if you want. You have a perfect right. But standing or not standing is no indication of one’s patriotism. And protest is at the heart of our democracy right from the start. If there had been no protests, we may not have had the revolution, women’s vote, workers rights, civil rights, gay rights, etc.
I’ll take protest and civil disobedience over docilely standing. It is the only way progress can be made toward people’s full rights and equality. Chew on that a bit.”
Bam. I think the person nailed it here.
He touched on a question I’d wondered many times myself. Or rather, a hypocrisy. I suspected that, no, these Sunday night football fans who became suddenly enraged over “politics infiltrating their games” do not stand for the anthem in the comfort of their own home. Yet, Trump was amplifying ignorance on Twitter by denouncing NFL players as “sons of bitches,” and saying how “ashamed” he felt over the “disrespect” shown to military members.
Yet, no Republicans were vocally denouncing Trump’s blatant disrespect of the military, whether on his disparaging remarks of the late war hero Senator John McCain, or his embarrassingly horrid attack on a Gold Star family — the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan — or on his transgender military ban, or even something as seemingly small as when Trump forgot the name of slain US army Sgt. La David Johnson during his phone call with Sgt. Johnson’s widow, Myeshia. And, while she was still newly grieving, Trump rather coldly told her that her husband “knew what he had signed up for.” Not what a grieving widow needs to hear.
Mortifying. All of it. And these are only a few of the numerous examples of disrespect Trump has shown the military during his presidency. But he has the audacity to disparage an NFL football player for kneeling during the national anthem — before a sports game? And what do we make of all the peanut crunching crowd who gladly eats up Trump’s every word — the “new” Republican party (or rather, the party of Trumpism)?
My suspicion and hunch is that the casual conservative who enjoys watching Sunday night football does not spontaneously rise from their couch or La-Z-Boy recliner when the anthem starts playing over the TV; they aren’t suddenly overcome with fervent, zealous patriotism.
Nor is the avid football fan — the one you can count on for grilling and keggers each week in celebration of whatever football game happens to be on. My hunch is that that person doesn’t shush all party guests or demand everyone pause their conversation, gather in the den, turn to the TV, and stand in patriotic ardor.
My hunch is also that the one who attends football games in-person — who happens to be standing in line for hot dogs and beer when the anthem begins — does not abort their food mission, pause and turn, and stand solemnly, hand over heart.
My hunch is that those things never happen.
So why is it that they get so repulsed when they see someone else not standing — just like they aren’t standing? Is this the ultimate hypocrisy of conservative “patriotism?”
They’ll argue that no, unlike the professional football player whose “job requires him to stand for the anthem,” they’re at home, at leisure, off-the-clock, not “in the public eye,” or not “a spoiled brat who’s paid handsomely” to play sports.
But that’s the thing with patriotism — it’s not defined by what one does “on the job” or off. It’s not dependent on one’s wealth or lack of. Patriotism is kind of like the concept of integrity; it’s not just what you do in front of others, but what you do when no one’s looking that exposes your true character and feelings.
Unfortunately, what the current wave of Conservative Trump Republicans are showing is nothing more than phony patriotism and full-on racism. And really, their idea of patriotism is more in line with jingoism, or nationalism, than it is with actual patriotism. Their unyielding, blind obedience to nationalistic rituals might as well be renamed “Trump loyalty oaths,” and the way they admonish anyone exercising the very rights our soldiers fought for is frightening — cult-like.
Colin Kaepernick did what he did to shed light on an under-reported, under-represented minority community whose lives are disproportionately taken by violent means at the hands of white people in power. Kaepernick made a statement for issues that need attention and are largely ignored by the white American public: social injustices, and police brutality and accountability.
When someone becomes as rich, famous, and celebrated as an American athlete (or media sensation, or whatever), the responsible thing to do is to find some way to be a role model. Specifically because you have the nation’s attention; you’re influential.
Kaepernick used his platform responsibly. And he was only given a spotlight — not a microphone — so he did what he could in those few moments. He should not be held at fault when the American public was too indifferent or too lazy to do their own research and learn the why behind his decision to kneel — which, by the way, is his absolute American right, no matter what his profession or socioeconomic status.
Instead of having a common knee-jerk reaction of ire, instead of calling Kaepernick “spoiled,” “selfish,” or similar baseless accusations, why couldn’t Americans bother seeking to learn more? And for those who thought they understood but still felt perturbed over it, I’d wager they probably hadn’t read, listened, or learned enough; they simply weren’t at a place where they were capable of having any empathy for this particular American tragedy. Which, coincidentally, is exactly what having ‘white privilege’ is all about. It designs us to not only benefit in some way from, but also, to not see the systems in place that work to our subconscious advantage, but not for blacks, indigenous, and people of color.
Kaepernick originally sat out on the bench during the anthem because he couldn’t stand in good faith for a national symbol that didn’t represent his people equally. He had planned to take the movement even farther. That is, until he had a meaningful dialogue with a Veteran, Green Beret Nate Boyer, who’d also had a stint in the NFL some time ago with the Seattle Seahawks.
It was Boyer — a white man — who implored Kaepernick in an open letter not to “sit out” on the bench anymore during the anthem, as he’d originally planned and had already done a few times before. Kaepernick, being a man of reason and respect, decided to hear his brother out. So they met up and discussed the whole matter.
Boyer initially advised Kaepernick to “take a knee” instead of sitting down during the anthem, as a compromise — kneeling, a peaceful posture, as soldiers do in front of a fallen brother’s grave to pay respects. And ultimately, that’s what Kaepernick decided to do. It was a compromise, between a man who believed he should sit out, and another man who believed he should stand up for the national anthem.
A compromise happened between two men who fundamentally disagreed on complicity for America’s symbolic traditions of patriotism, but who saw eye-to-eye on standing (or kneeling) for what they believe in. A lot of Americans could learn a lot if only they’d follow the shining example that these two polar opposite men gave us.