America Needs to Take a Knee

There is a large segment of Americans who are opposed to NFL and other athletes–many of whom are black–kneeling during the national anthem.

They claim it is disrespectful to the military, the flag, and everything the country for which it stands. They also claim that there are other ways to protest, although they never suggest any alternatives.

Beyond the dearth of alternative strategies and tactics, what the opposition fails to recognize is that the protestors have family members and friends who are actively serving in the military, and/or either living or deceased military veterans.

Blacks have served in the armed forces since it was assembled during the Revolutionary War, which means blacks were enslaved Africans, leaving the plantations to fight for the colonists against the British. They fought again in the War of 1812, the unofficial second War of Independence, and returned as slaves.

During the Civil War they served with the union forces against the confederates, after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. They were still considered by many as property, as sub-humans.

Blacks served in World Wars I and II as second class citizens under Jim Crow Segregation. The military itself was segregated, so they fought in separate units. Some blacks battled the military for the very opportunity to serve their country. Could you imagine having to petition your country to serve it?

I believe one can see by now that blacks have been fiercely loyal to America since its inception, despite generations of oppressive conditions.

They battled America’s enemies overseas in both world wars, fighting bravely and valiantly, with honor and distinction. Yet when they came home, they were not showered with accolades and given a parade like the white soldiers were. There would be no chance of a famous LIFE Magazine photo of a black sailor spontaneously kissing a woman on V-J Day in 1945.

Instead, black veterans returned to separate bathrooms, water fountains, hotel accommodations, and daily threats to their livelihoods and their lives – lynchings, house and church burnings, and brutal assaults by the Klan and other mobs.

Black military veterans also returned to housing discrimination. Only four percent of the FHA loans promised to veterans were given to blacks. For employment, they were subjected to the “first fired, last hired” just like their civilian counterparts.

Blacks fought once again in Vietnam, just as they finally received their centuries-long overdue Civil Rights–the right to live with decency and dignity as first class citizens–and still there was an incredible amount of work to desegregate all aspects of American life.

Still there were fights against the emerging Affirmative Action laws and equal protection clauses, with many whites claiming reverse discrimination, as if the 250 years of slavery and 100 years of Jim Crow segregation never occurred.

Blacks have been extremely integral in the “War on Terror” operations since the aftermath of 9/11 in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria and other parts of the region, serving on the ground, and in the highest levels of the military.

Since the integration of the military in 1948, blacks have been serving on posts in approximately 150 countries worldwide. I have personally interviewed black officers who beam with pride of their service, and the commitment the military has to all of its troops regardless of background.

America owes deep debt of gratitude for an entire population of people it had oppressed for 350 years, yet for whom has never wavered in their commitment to uphold the State of the Union.

I would speculate that the opposition neither feels the same way, nor views contextually the history of blacks through a similar lens. This is expected, since we are humans possessing various backgrounds. They would, however, be irresponsible to ignore such history, as well to do the internal work to generate empathy to comprehend why such a position during one of our national past times is necessary.

Furthermore, this conflict is exacerbated by an administration that is socially and ethically divisive, encouraging the NFL organization to fire its players for exercising their constitutional right to protest, while being conspicuously silent on the overwhelming evidence of police brutality, racism, and the rising tide of white supremacy.

The nature of protest is to bring awareness, cause discomfort and force honest and open conversations about these critical issues. Make no mistake, fundamental change in America has occurred as a result of this kind of process. You would not be reading this article written by me if it had not.

Taking a knee is a powerful, nonviolent form of protest that has been used in this country for decades. We should welcome such a form of solidarity of players and their supporters, as a call to action to bring the best of ourselves to deal with the racism that has been the blood in our soil since the beginning.

Ron Kipling Williams