To Those Offended by the Taking of a Knee

American-flag-America 

I listen with interest and anger to the people who say, athletes – African American and those in solidarity with them – “taking a knee” are disrespecting the flag and, therefore, this country, even as those same people say little to nothing about the administration hob-knobbing with dictators and enemies of this country.

Do they not know the history of oppression and discrimination against black people in this country in general, and about discrimination practiced against them by the military in particular?

African Americans have fought in every war of this country, eager to support the country which did not support them, but in spite of that, this country treated them like second class citizens, while they fought in the wars and when they got back home.

While this country waged war against fascism abroad, making it possible for citizens of other countries to have equal rights under the rubric of democracy, blacks did not have and could not expect that they would be given those same rights in this country.

The Smithsonian Art Museum published a report in which they noted, “The discriminatory practices in the military regarding black involvement” made it clear that blacks were not values. The report said that “prior to 1940, thirty thousand blacks had tried to enlist in the army but were turned away. In the U.S. Navy, blacks were restricted to roles as messmen; …they were excluded entirely from the Air Corps and the Marines.”

In Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Executive Order 8802, also known as the Fair Employment Act, racial discrimination was banned. The order said, “It is the policy of the United States to encourage full participation in the national defense program by all citizens of the United States, regardless of race, creed, color or national origin,” but in spite of that, racial discrimination was practiced.

With the contradiction of people fighting for the freedom of others while they themselves were denied the same, FDR realized that the world would look upon the US as hypocrites, thus leading him to sign Executive Order 8802. This he did in spite of the protests of the Secretary of War, Harry Woodring, who said that “the enlistment of Negroes …would demoralize the weaken the effectiveness of units by mixing colored and white soldiers in closely related units…”

It is well documented that African Americans returning from war were treated horribly once they returned home; many whites apparently resented blacks in uniform and worked hard to remind them that in America, they were to remember their “place.” There is the well-known story of how African American soldiers were made to stand on a train while German prisoners of war were allowed to sit at tables in the train’s restaurant. Violence against returning soldiers was common. Who can forget the tragic story of Isaac Woodard, who dared ask a bus to stop so he could go to the bathroom and was later attacked by thugs and law enforcement officers who pounded his eyes with their nightsticks until he passed out; his beating left him blind.  And yes, he was wearing his uniform when this atrocity occurred.

Those who balk at the athletes taking a knee, respecting the flag but protesting how, in spite of the freedom that flag represents, forget – or perhaps they never knew – that prior to World War II, 2.5 million African Americans were enrolled in some branch of the military, and 1 million of them served. (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/what-was-black-americas-double-war/)

For the Vietnam War, at a time when blacks made up about 11 percent of the total American population, they were 12.5 percent of the soldiers on the field. (http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/s_z/stevens/africanamer.htm)

Regardless of how hard African Americans fought for this American democracy, full human and civil rights were denied them once they returned. They could not get the loans for housing and education that white soldiers got, nor many of the other benefits. The discrimination that is being protested now is police brutality meted against so many African American males. It is not right in general; it is even more troubling as it becomes clear that the forebears of these young people were soldiers in the military, fighting for a country which has not ever respected them.

One has to wonder what white people would do and say had this been their narrative? Would they continue fighting for a country which treated them so poorly? The miracle of African American citizenship is that blacks have always fought for this country, in spite of the racial discrimination. To hear white people say that kneeling before a flag to protest police brutality is maddening, even more so when those same white people say that black people should be “grateful” for the treatment they/we have received in this country.

In the present political atmosphere, it is even more troubling to hear the criticism against those who kneel when the national anthem is played even as the president is acting against the interests of this country as he works to become “friends” with our enemies, completely ignoring the now well-established truth that Russia interfered in our election.

Who is the greater or lesser patriot, the African Americans who kneel respectfully as the national anthem is played, exercising their First Amendment rights, something their forebears fought to protect, or the president, who would shut them down even as his policies put America and its democracy in jeopardy?

When will the masses of white Americans wake up and own America’s sordid history when it comes to race? African Americans are not obliged to respect their oppressors or take their discrimination lying down. I am sure not many white people, who really do understand the need for human beings to receive justice, would have been much more vocal in expressing their anger over the violation of their rights. It is what we do in America. It is what humans should do when justice is denied them.

A candid observation …

Black Military Veterans, Racism, and Taking a Knee

Ever since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first “took a knee” in 2016 during the playing of the National Anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality, there has been a group of people, led by and including the President of the United States, to denigrate the act and to complain that “taking a knee” is a sign of disrespect of the American flag and the military.

The president has been bold in his criticism of players acting on their First Amendment right to protest, saying at one of his rallies that he wished NFL owners would take a stand against anyone “disrespecting our flag,” saying, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field now.’” ( https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/sep/22/donald-trump-nfl-national-anthem-protests)

The narrative supporting the belief that the protest is somehow unpatriotic has only grown among those who support the president’s views, but the fact of the matter is that this country has a history of disrespecting black men (and women) who have fought in America’s wars. The history is not pretty.

The story of Isaac Woodard, who in February 1946 was attacked by white people while still in uniform, is just one of the many cases of black military veterans being beaten by whites. In Woodard’s case, he had just been honorably discharged and was on a bus headed to South Carolina from Georgia. When he asked if the bus driver would allow him time to use the bathroom during a stop, the bus driver got angry and cussed at the still-in-uniform Woodard – and Woodard said later that he cussed back. The bus driver called someone while the bus was stopped, and further along in the trip, the bus made another stop. It was met by police, to whom the bus driver told the story of Woodard wanting the bus to wait for him to go to the bathroom and about Woodard cussing back at the bus driver. Police began beating Woodard right there. They arrested him and took him to jail, where they continued to beat him until he was unconscious. When he awakened, his uniform now bloody from the beating he had endured, he could not see. The police chief reportedly had used his nightstick to pound Woodard in his eyes. He was charged with disorderly conduct and was made to pay a fine. Someone drove him to a hospital where doctors told him he would be permanently blind.

The truth is, in spite of African Americans being willing to fight for this country, this country has not been willing to treat them with dignity and afford them the full rights of American citizenship. According to a report prepared by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), “Lynching in America: Targeting Black Veterans, between 1877 and 1950, “no one was more at risk of experiencing violence and targeted racial terror than black veterans. White America, notably in the South but elsewhere as well, had no respect for the men and women who had joined the military but were instead afraid of them, and they were unwilling to abandon their belief in white superiority over black people.  The report quotes Mississippi Senator James K. Vardaman said that black veterans returning to the Shout would “inevitably lead to disaster.” Whites in America, who wanted to preserve the white supremacy way of life and of thinking, were worried that while in Europe, the soldiers might have gotten confused, thinking they were due human and civil rights. Whites were determined that no such new thinking on the part of blacks would be legitimized. (https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-tragic-forgotten-history-of-black-military-veterans)

The EJI report said that often “the only provocation” for a black in uniform to be attacked was just that – the wearing of the uniform, but the violence meted out against them did not stop blacks from enlisting in the American military. The report says that 1.2 million black men enlisted during World War II. When they returned home, they were subjected not only to violence but were denied benefits offered to white veterans. The GI bill was written in such a way that most of its benefits, including money to purchase homes and/or to get an education, were denied to black soldiers.

While all of the stories of black soldiers being abused, discriminated and ultimately lynched, some stories stand out more than others. Johnson C. Whittaker, the first black to receive an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point was found unconscious in his dorm in 1880. While he was sleep, he was attacked by three white cadets, who beat him in his head, choked him and cut his earlobesdoublev_hc_cat. West Point administrators blamed Whittaker, saying he had staged the attack, and they court-martialed him. He was convicted and expelled from West Point. (https://eji.org/reports/online/lynching-in-america-targeting-black-veterans)

The disrespect of blacks who served in the military has not stopped. On Veterans Day in 2016, Ernest Walker, wearing his Army uniform, went to a Chili’s restaurant in Texas where veterans were being offered free meals. Walker says t an elderly white man, wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap, approached him at his table and said that he had served in Germany and that “blacks were allowed to serve there.” The man told the manager that Walker was not a real soldier “because he was wearing his hat inside.” The manager approached Walker and in spite of Walker showing his military credentials, his leftover free food was taken away. (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/chilis-apologizes-veterans-day_us_58297fe7e4b0c4b63b0d47d1)

The fact that in spite of being so badly treated in this country that African Americans have continued to enlist in the military to fight for this country says something about the perception of what “taking a knee” is about. Far from showing disrespect for the American flag and for America’s military, “taking a knee” is a protest against the system that allows, sanctions, ignores and perpetuates the discrimination against black people. If there is a “son of a bitch” in this scenario, it is not the players who kneel; it is the system which, because of its injustice, forces them to kneel. It is a legal way, an action in compliance with the tenets of the United States Constitution, to bring attention to the lack the rights of full American citizenship for people of color.

Now the president wants to have a huge, expensive military parade. Whatever his reasons are, I am sure he is ignorant of how the military has treated some in their ranks who have died or been permanently maimed while fighting for a country which does not fight for them. Wouldn’t it be nice if the president and his crew would read the history of what African Americans have contributed to America’s military efforts …and themselves, “take a knee” to show solidarity, support, and understanding – and a willingness to change what is wrong?

That would be just, I think.

A candid observation…

Understanding Patriotism in a Divided Land

American-flag-America

When Colin Kaepernick decided to “take a knee” in protest of the injustice meted out against African Americans and other people of color, in spite of the words of the Pledge of Allegiance that in this land, there is “liberty and justice for all,” he set off a manufactured cry of outrage from people who said he and others who knelt were being unpatriotic, that they were disrespecting the American flag.

With self-serving, over-the-top sanctimony, those who did not like what Kaepernick was doing offered deep pain that anyone would disrespect the flag and therefore, their country. With equal passion, they claimed loved for the flag and the country – though many of them also hail and respect the Confederate flag, a flag which is an “in-your-face” reminder that there are people living in this nation whose ancestors committed treason against the United States of America.

Those who wanted slavery were willing to go to the mat to protect their state’s right to own slaves and they were incensed that the federal government – i.e. “big government,” would dare step in and tell them what to do.

Confederate flag

Neither the North or the South wanted slaves to be free, nor did either side believe that blacks were equal to whites. Only when it was apparent that the North needed more men to fight in that ghastly and deadly war did Lincoln free the slaves.

Freeing the slaves and adding manpower to the Union ranks was helpful, clearly, but the fact of the matter is that those in the South didn’t care a hoot about the “United States of America.” No, southern states pulled out of the union and fought against “America.” The Confederacy had its own president, its own headquarters, and worked to have its own set of laws and rules.

Lincoln hovered over the “United” States of America to save the union; this country was one, not many, he said, and those who would destroy it must be stopped. He didn’t care about their flag, their president or their intended values.

When the Civil War was over and the North had won, there was foundationally no more “Confederacy.” The United States had won; this had been a war with two sides – with the United States fighting against its enemy – states that no longer wanted to be a part of the union. The southern states had committed treason by fighting against their own country, but that very sentence is scarcely ever uttered. Yes, there was and is a “southern” heritage, but at its core it is anti-American, anti-federal government, anti-“equality for all,” which is what the United States stands for.

That being the case, it is a little puzzling to hear rabid, self-avowed racists and white nationalists scream “patriotism” as those who have opted to stay in this country, work in this country and fight for this country exercise their First Amendment right to protest against their government. They are not fighting to get out of the Union; they are kneeling to make the union become a better place for all of its citizens. They are protesting because they love the words and the sentiment behind America’s founding documents. They are protesting because they believe in the America that the anthem’s first verse reflects  and which the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution describe.

They love the country enough and believe in it enough to risk criticism as they in fact criticize what they see as an egregious wrong.

They are not committing treason, as did the Confederate soldiers did and as white nationalists, who are railing against the foundational beliefs of this country are doing.

They believe in “liberty and justice for all.” They are hoping “taking a knee” will make people think.

They are being patriotic in a land which has been divided because of race from its birth.

A candid observation …