“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. To the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” These are the words we routinely hear every morning as we start our school day. Many of us may have never even thought about these words for what they actually mean, rather than a habitual pledge we’ve all been doing since kindergarten. In reality, reciting the pledge of allegiance in school is ideally supposed to build a sense of patriotism and unity among students. Being a student who stands for the pledge every day, I myself can vouch for the fact that the pledge itself has become somewhat robotic in nature. Patriotism is something that all citizens should be able to feel, regardless of where they live. However, there has been much controversy as to whether forced patriotism is beneficial.
In a perfect world, patriotism is a genuine love and loyalty to one’s homeland. The perspective of patriotism varies greatly among American people. The idea of America as an exceptional nation is very common among its citizens. There is undoubtedly a significant amount of reasoning as to why people feel America is extraordinary in nature. Regardless, theories such as nationalism and patriotism are in no way black and white. Many will argue that pride is something that should be reserved for personal accomplishments, not something that happens by accident of birth. Nationalism, historically has at times indirectly had extremely detrimental effects. The belief of superiority over other nations could potentially lead to xenophobic sentiments, yet on the other hand could be a consolidating force. Unfortunately, with such a highly populated and diverse country, it is difficult to avoid controversy within this idea.
The contrasting standpoints towards patriotism has been a national conversation for many years, and has recently sparked issues within one of the most prevalent industries in America: sports. Similar to reciting the pledge at school, the national anthem sang at sporting events has been a tradition dating back to around the 1930’s. Recently, this tradition, like many traditions, has been challenged as a form of protest. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Kaepernick began sitting during the national anthem this preseason as opposed to the tradition of standing. This, as expected, has had massive repercussions all throughout the nation. Kaepernick’s aim was to present a silent protest to show support for people of color who are being oppressed in the United States, and to take a stand against police brutality. In this protest, he claimed to be utilizing his recognition in an attempt to give a voice to people who didn’t have one. He states, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color…to me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
“People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they fought have for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.”
As Kaepernick’s actions began to gain slight attention, he expressed that he was not doing it to be anti-American or anti-military. Many would now wonder, how could one claim to not be anti-American, yet kneel during our national anthem? As anticipated, this national conversation had extreme responses. On Twitter fans even posted videos of themselves burning Kaepernick’s jerseys. Many Americans are emotionally attached to what America stands for, feel a sense of honor and security living in this nation, and in return feel offended by Kaepernick’s actions. Likewise, many immigrants who gained citizenship feel as if America has granted them everything they have and that Kaepernick is unaware of how fortunate he is. However, protest,has always been an important part of the reputation of America. Our country is where it is today because of people who put themselves in positions of vulnerability in order to spark conversation. President Obama responded to the protest in stressing the importance of the national anthem, and also in saying “I think he cares about some real, legitimate issues that need to be talked about and, if nothing else, what he’s done is generated more conversation about some topics that need to be talked about.” He also said he doesn’t “doubt [Kaepernick’s] sincerity”.
Without doubt it is extremely difficult to grasp the true struggle of people of color throughout our country. Whether we’ve seen it, heard it, read about it, or have been taught, without being a POC it is more or less impossible to envision the injustice they generally feel. You do not need to kneel or even support the protest in the slightest bit in order to see aspects of truth within Kaepernick’s actions. NFL player Chris Long stated “I think we can all agree we love our vets, we love the vast majority of our officers of law enforcement, but they’re human beings too, and there are isolated incidents that need to be better. I think all that guys are saying is, ‘Listen, most people might be great cops, great people that protect our community, but when there are injustices, let’s find justice for those situations.” To me, the most influential component of Kaepernick’s protest is simply the conversation itself. To say that patriotism and activism is mutually exclusive is simply ignorant. Making people increasingly aware of social issues and question their own thoughts is single-handedly helping improve our country.
Whether your degree of patriotism is very high or just slight, it is much more crucial to focus on issues within humanity itself. We all come from different backgrounds, races, religions, and consequently we all have our own perspectives . It takes true bravery to step outside of your established beliefs in order to consider the actions and feelings of others.