What I Think About the National Anthem Protests: NFL Players Can Kneel & Trump Is a Bum

A grandfather, father and son; three generations of William Sabia’s; three generations of Philly sports fans used to go watch 18 baseball games every summer. We watched them together from our right field seats all through my younger and more vulnerable years. We watched the best years with the mullet brigade of 1993 that lost the World Series to a bunch of Canadian hosers. We also watched the worst years of Philadelphia Phillies baseball. The years when future Hall of Shamers Von Hayes or Steve Jeltz were the best players, the years when the stadium was a non-descript, circular, multi-purpose green hole called Veterans Stadium. The floors were wet even on sunny days, the food was limited to soggy hot dogs or stale pretzels and the bathrooms were intimidatingly filthy, but my memories of those summer nights remain as pure as Kevin Costner’s plan in Field of Dreams.

We’d eat a big Italian dinner at Dante & Luigi’s then make our way to the parking lot. (Later we’d relocate from that eatery to Medora’s Mecca due to an attempted mafia hit in 1989.) The games, as all American sports, began with a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” I used to take off my hat, stand at attention, hand over heart and peek up at my grandfather who served in the Navy during WW2. He seemed to be rather emotionless and more excited to mark down the bases and strikes in the program book. The song reminded me of him, and my other deceased family members who served.

It was my feelings that I can more surely remember. Beyond the excitement of sitting with my Naunu and Dad with their undivided attention on me and whatever phase of young problems were bothering me at that moment, I was definitely moved by that song every time. To this day, the goose bumps still raise my sparse arm hairs, chilling each nerve during the final crescendo of that contrasting anthem to war and freedom.

Playing Pee-Wee football in my little town, we couldn’t afford helmets or pads newer than the 1970’s dress-up kits in which we used to be outfitted. Thus, our little crappy speaker system, on which my Italian surname was consistently and variously butchered, played a very weak instrumental version of the national anthem. Nevertheless, we all stood, swimming in our oversized helmets and one size fits none shoulder pads. Most of the time, the flag lay limp on the pole, a far cry from the 100 yard flapping inspiration held taught by veterans we see on Sunday Night Football. The “flag was still there” is the way to understand it. We play contact sports under the lights and under the flag. We zone out while pledging allegiance to it. Cheesy American backpackers during the Bush era used to sew Canadian flags to their rucksacks to avoid political conversations about Iraq. The flag is there, even when you don’t notice it or try to hide it.

The flag is boldly symbolic of our unity and passively suggestive of the manifested destiny of struggles our past has provided our future. It means different things to all, just like our country. Some immigrants imagined America as paved with gold, a metaphor for golden opportunities for their children. Other forced “immigrants” found a world of cruelty and enslavement. The “flag was still there” through all those rounds of foreigners coming voluntarily or vice versa. The stars kept growing and history kept moving. The American flag is a visual expression of our pride, or our pain. Surely, we can all understand both sides.

The benevolent peace I experience from the national anthem as a white male, non-veteran yet proud American may be starkly divergent from my cultural opposites. I’ve seen the cellphone videos of police brutality and I watched in disbelief through the Rodney and O.J. affairs. I recently watched Ava Duvernay’s 13th (Netflix) and Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro (Amazon). They are eye-opening glimpses of an American experience where the stars and stripes provide a twisted pride. A pride of earned freedom but never escaping from under a racist thumb, people rising as a Phoenix from their historical ashes only to sink again under the destructive weight of racist oppression.

Enter Colin Kaepernick in 2016, a Super Bowl caliber NFL QB confronting his American confusion from within his bi-racial skin while growing up adopted in a white family, part of an all-Black college fraternity, blessed with superhuman sporting skills and cursed with a mind too curious to just keep his mouth shut and cash the checks. He lives in a world where Obama is president to only half the country, Black men’s murders are being caught on video at a terrible pace and here he is, making millions, wondering what words or even what right he may have to use his celebrity to say something.

He takes a knee. Like the proverbial ripples on a still pond, his kneel reverberated. The ripples cost him his job. The ripples have now flowed from the Bay Area to D.C. This week, our disgraceful 45th president, who never misses a chance to take an uneducated, unthinking, unsophisticated gut reaction into the public without any semblance of nuance called Kaepernick and anyone else kneeling a “son of a bitch.” He called American men, American athletes, American protesters, American heroes—sons of bitches. He called them that because they are looking to enact change, or at the least bring awareness to a decades old problem—some police see Black men as dangerous. Let’s ignore the fact that Trump speaks the way kids imitate their drunk, racist grandfather and just acknowledge that he is a boring, tactless, race-baiting, impulsive, spiteful, incurious, douchebag. His opinions are as useless as a bikini in Saudi Arabia. His face is as paunchy as a hippo duck facing a selfie. Instead of being sympathetic or simply ignoring this story, he blew moonshine into the bonfire.

Johnny Cash was the man in black. “I wear it for the poor and beaten down, living on the hopeless, hungry side of town. I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, but is there because he’s a victim of the times.” These football players are men in black, men whose blackness defines their life, but not their identity. Many of them came from that hopeless, hungry side of town. Many of them may know someone in prison for a victimless crime like marijuana. Johnny Cash wore black; they are choosing, like Kaepernick, to take a knee, to show that America has not fully reconciled its slave-holding past. We have not fully committed to our motto, E Pluribus Unum. Thirteen letters, thirteen original colonies, thirteenth amendment. America is trying to move forward. Trump is a gold plated, bone spurred step backward.

We all must try to understand that black lives matter doesn’t negate other lives. Taking down Civil War statues doesn’t negate history. Kneeling before the flag doesn’t negate others’ sacrifices. The NFL players are allowed to kneel for the song. The flag will still be there. It reflects what we project upon it. Whatever you see within those Stars & Stripes probably reveals part of your own personal American history, standing, sitting or kneeling.

Advertisements

Can America Ever Recover From Its History?

Teaching Korean kindergarteners about Rosa Parks involves a lot of backstory. The story doesn’t begin on that bus in Alabama. Its roots are profoundly sad and incomprehensible. I found myself saying things like, “White people didn’t like black people,” and really struggling to find a simple answer to their, “Why?” It is an oversimplification for sure, but slavery and its legacy in America is both undeniably understood as a construct of capitalism yet difficult to comprehend in a moral context. I’ve been reading lots of articles in reaction to the Charleston shootings and the subsequently justified Confederate flag bashing. That flag, no matter what the Duke boys or Lindsey Graham may say, represents the former Confederate States of America, which implicitly represents the institution of American slavery.

Slavery’s history in the Americas is deep and deadly. In the 300+ years of the African slave trade, around 12 million Africans were shipped (10 million survived the passage) to the New World, of which only about half a million were sent to North America to work the sugar and cotton fields. (Brazil took the bulk with around five million.) The average life expectancy of black slaves was 21, half the average age of whites. Families were broken as children were sold away from parents, wives taken from husbands. The culture and traditions of their African life slowly faded away from memory. There are now over 40 million black people living in USA, many of whom are possible descendants of those initial slaves.

The master/slave relationship was conflicting at best and viciously cruel at the worst. White masters invoked sexual rights upon their female “property”, which created internal color discrimination and confusion within the modern black community. Jim Crow laws continued the debasement and mistreatment of the black population for a century after the end of the war. That knowledge of “otherness” must lay dormant or even actively stewing inside many subconsciouses. “What happens to a dream deferred?” How do we expect to move on together as a country with such gaping wounds festering beneath a Band-Aid of polite prejudices?

White supremacy still exists as exhibited by the recent shooting in Charleston. Black disenfranchisement and intangible exclusion still exists as evidenced by the events of Baltimore and Ferguson. That’s just the past year! Our history is riddled with racial tension boiling into murder from Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin. MLK murdered, Rodney King beaten before acquitting the responsible officers, prompting the L.A. riots. The scab is constantly being ripped away before any healing occurs. The Confederate flag is like lemon in those fresh wounds.

Southerners seem to have more geographical pride than those winter loving Northerners; and the de facto symbol for many is that same (hateful to some, heritage to others) battle flag of Northern Virginia. I’ve always wondered about their pride and where it originates. It may be in defiance of losing a war and holding on to any semblance of power from that loss. It may be the nostalgic memory of the genteel Southern gentleman a la “Gone With the Wind”. It may be the understandable, but misdirected pride for one’s home. I speculate, but it may just be more personal than general in nature. Nevertheless, that flag isn’t helping anything and shouldn’t and needn’t represent anyone or anything besides hate groups now. The rainbow flag has been coopted by the LGBT community and there’s no going back now. It’s theirs. The moment the KKK or now this terrorist douchebucket in Charleston used this flag as their symbol was the minute it no longer represented the feel good NASCAR days of Dixie.

The larger problem within this flag argument is America’s fascination with guns. An old amendment from an antiquated age of armed civilian safeguards ensured that American citizens would always be able to purposefully, hatefully or even accidentally kill each other or ourselves with firearms until the end of time. The powerful lobby of the NRA and the common idiocy of many Americans fearing a helpless country without guns will only strengthen our circle of violence to continue. We’re not getting rid of guns and we’re not getting rid of racism anytime soon. The best we can do is follow Gandhi and our dorky sophomore English teacher’s trite maxim to “be the change we want to see in the world.” For a “Christian” nation, you’d think not killing and loving our neighbor would be second nature, but apparently not if they look different than you.

The even larger picture presents something just as damning and disturbing as our intractable gun laws, deep-seated racism and symbols of hate masquerading as cultural heritage. Slavery still exists! Sexual slavery, wage slavery, bonded labor, abused migrant laborers, child workers, forced marriages, or sweatshops all feature some terrible and familiar horrors. We’ve heard the stories of Bangladeshi girls sewing shirts for 14 hours a day for 50$ a month, indentured servants of Indian brick kilns, or stolen girls sold into sexual depravity. The world can be an ugly place. “Man is the cruelest animal,” said Nietzsche. And we are. But we can and will change. Change takes time, change isn’t easy, and “change is the only constant of life,” said Heraclitus. The pessimist in me is aware of the possibility of pure chaos, pure human suffering, and the absolute terror we could unleash if the precarious balance of mutual comfort is disrupted. However, if we progress through personal evolution and eliminate our prejudiced Ego for our gregarious and collectively beneficial Super-ego, America may find harmony by association.

The following speech from Ethiopian emperor and inspiration of Bob Marley’s Rastaman chant, “Jah Live!” gives us an idea of the enormous mountain we still have to climb. Or have a listen here

“That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; That until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.” 

– Haile Selassie I

The Lynching of Lige Daniels. 3 August 1920, Center, Texas. Without Santuary, plate 54

The Lynching of Lige Daniels. 3 August 1920, Center, Texas. Without Santuary, plate 54