Share Our Stories! - Click Here
Your Knees, Team, To
| The bent-knee protest by NFL players fixates media attention and raises
controversy over unequal justice, but the moral indignation cast upon “The
Star-Spangled Banner” is seriously misguided. Greater than any other symbol
or emblem, the flag celebrated by the national anthem boldly announces freedom
from slavery, equality and civil rights for its citizens, especially African-Americans
since the Civil War and after the two world wars.
Before asserting that the American public has forgotten about justice for all, black American athletes need to recall with clear memory and deepest respect for the flag that fluttered over their courageous and self-sacrificing ancestors who marched into battle against all odds to liberate humanity from oppression. The all-volunteer 54th Massachusetts Regiment, immortalized in the film “Glory”, did not kneel when the bugle blared the anthem during their attack on Fort Wagner, which shielded the great slave market of Charleston, South Carolina. The Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division did not protest racial discrimination during the heat of battle, when the United States represented the last hope for democracy and equality in the trenches of France and, later, the brutal fighting on the Italian Peninsula, there alongside the Japanese-American 442nd Regiment.
When American society lapses into hypocrisy and unfairness in weaker moments, tarnishing the very ideals that give the USA consummate wisdom and strength, it is up to America’s minorities to uphold and raise that tattered banner with its 13 stripes aloft against the hostile winds. To kneel in shame of the national anthem is to yield to doubt, fear and the certain self-defeat promoted by narcissistic identity politics. Brothers, do not fall into that trap, or you will lead millions of young minds into an abyss of despair.
Heroes don't kneel
Think back to the first man who fought and died in the American Revolution before a flag with 13 stars was sewn by hand with needle and thread, the mixed-blood African and American Indian hero Crispus Attucks. Honor him and all the other black Americans who suffered racial abuse and humiliation, yet gave everything for the land of their birth and for the future of their country. This coming weekend stand tall and show unflinching confidence that the United States will redeem itself again.
Moral action must match the contemporary challenge. Back in 1968 when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved fists at the Mexico City Olympics, the world was on fire, from merciless carpet-bombing of Vietnamese villages and attack dogs loosed on civil rights marchers to brutal suppression of the African liberation movements and torture under apartheid. The struggles of that era, in which I participated at a lifelong personal cost, were something of a rerun of the Civil War, a great social upheaval although fought with nonviolent protests against a heartless military machine.
The Reconstruction Today
The struggle today has a different focus, which is the death of economic prosperity in the United States, especially for blacks and other minorities, but also among poor and middle-class whites. The ills of deindustrialization, the loss of family farms and the concentration of resources in the hands of Wall Street financiers are, in a sense, a repetition of the failure of the Reconstruction and its extension, the Great Society program The military and political victory of the abolitionist Union forces brought emancipation from slavery and extended citizenship rights. These political gains, however, could be sustained only by the creation of a new economic foundation and agrarian reorganization for both blacks and poor whites to replace the cotton plantations. The inability to launch a sustained and realistic economic miracle in the South, which could bring prosperity to all, is what led to the renewed racial division and segregation.
The Great Society, launched by President Lyndon Johnson, was meant to be a Second Reconstruction, but soon became a bureaucratic morass of financing “the projects” or high-rise low-income housing, welfare payments, and menial jobs in the federal government. The end result was economic dependency for poorer Americans, including the majority of blacks.
Community-based economics matters
African-American athletes, who form one of the nation’s highest-paid income groups, possess the funds and capital to generate the industries and businesses to power an elusive but necessary economic revival. So instead of kneeling and then going off in a sports car to a luxury home and weekends gambling in Vegas, it is worthier to consider and plan investment in black communities (on an equal opportunity basis).
What does this economic vision have to do with police killings of young blacks? Everything, because black communities desperately need a viable and legal alternative to the drug economy and its wasteful trappings like bling and hiphop “artists”, whose more violent lyrics are promoted by Sumner Redstone-Rothstein’s BET channel.
The competitiveness and illegality of drug-dealing are the engine that powers black-on-black murders and related violent crimes, which in turn bring on police pressure to maintain a semblance of order. This chain reaction bubbling up from the drug trade means that known offenders and panicked suspects are going to be dropped spread-eagle on the street and those who resist will be shot. Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s not about this cop or that kid. My early childhood was in South Central, where I saw and experience the brutality nearly every day, crazed violence eating away at the black soul and sabotaging any community cooperation toward progress. Constant violence generates a volcano of destruction that flows to your front door. My closest relative, an older cousin who play saxophone in a soul-music band, was gunned down by the National Guard in the Watts Rebellion, delivering a shock to the family like an atom bomb.
I could have and you can blame the police all you want, but until a healthy and productive economy with values of hard work and savings can thrive enough to surpass and wipe out the dope trade and gang rivalry. Short of that outcome, it’s all just hot air for a community down on both knees. The need for a genuine economy that works for its people is, of course, not limited to black folk since poor and lower-middle class whites are rallying to Donald Trump for exactly the same reason: To make America great again, or to rephrase it “Put Americans back to work at real jobs again”. The dignity of work, what a simple agenda and how nearly impossible it is to attain.
Another task that needs doing is bring back Civics classes into the primary school curriculum. Long ago in the public schools with a predominantly black enrollment in LA, white teachers read to us the Declaration of Independence, summarized the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and recounted stories from the American Revolutions, in short, instilling profound and uplifting values transmitting the knowledge to each of us that we belonged in that society and were expected to contribute to the country. Today, it’s all me first and only, a life-objective so unworthy it’s subhuman.
The logical next question is: Should the national anthem be banned from sports stadiums because “rockets’ red glare, bombs bursting in air” may sound too militaristic like Kim Jong Un’s wet dream, and what we hailed at dawn seems like a salute to the Nazis? How politically correct can a society become? Or should America remain unbowed and true to itself as the land of freedom and the home of bravery?
Instead of that now-unwanted tribute by Francis Scott Key to young America’s independence fight against a royalist mercantile empire that shipped the slaves to the New World for its cotton supply, perhaps every stadium can select an alternative opening song. For example, the Saints and Falcons could prelude their games with “God Save the South”, the anthem of the Confederacy. Since its composer was from Maryland, so could the Baltimore Ravens. The Dallas Cowboys could stand up for that bouncy number “I Wish I Was in Dixie”, hooray, hooray! And black men might prefer going back to cotton picking and bowing as Pullman porters instead tackling big tough white guys to the applause of millions of spectators.
Your protest has been heard, but unless NFL players put their money where the knee is, by uplifting communities from poverty, hopelessness and crime, nothing is going to come of this fool’s rebellion. Instead of harping about the President being rightfully upset with your childish tantrums bordering on sedition, just try to recall that Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson did not, would not and never even considered demeaning the anthem, and the same can be said of a dissenter like Muhammad Ali. Those towering champions were proud to be American and Americans will forever be proud of them.