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Is There a “Right” Way to Protest?

Copy Editor Mandi Paine ’18 argues that black athletes have every right to take a stance against systemic racism, and that their actions do not disrespect the American flag, but in fact, that the flag assures them this right.

To anyone who believes the action of black football players kneeling during the national anthem is unpatriotic, disrespectful, or a disgrace: that is both ignorant and a confirmation of the existence of systemic racism within the United States.

First, to give some context, beginning with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, several black professional football players have been kneeling during the national anthem in order to peacefully protest police brutality and mass incarceration of African-Americans. With regards to his protesting, Kaepernick stated that, “When there is a significant change, and I feel like that flag represents what it is supposed to represent and this country is representing people the way it’s supposed to, then I’ll stand.”

It is incredibly easy as a white person in the United States to deny that the society we live in is racist. It’s easy to say that all lives matter, or blue lives matter, and refuse to believe that systemic racism is alive and well in the United States. To be frank: it exists. It’s real, and people of color are unjustly murdered every day because of it.

Many white people continuously make the argument that kneeling during the American national anthem is unpatriotic, and that the military fights hard to ensure that every American is free and possess unalienable rights.

That may be true, but it is important to make the distinction between possessing rights and having access to those rights. Black people are disadvantaged every day by a system of white supremacy that does not represent them on the very flag that we look up to during the national anthem at a professional football game. So, if the unpatriotic card wants to be played, then at the very least, that flag has given black football players the right to protest and kneel during the national anthem.

More and more football players have followed in Kaepernick’s footsteps, and even college players have joined in too. The Omaha Herald reported several Nebraska football players who knelt during the national anthem before a game. Steve Liewer and Emily Nohr from The Omaha Herald quoted Chris Berggren, a local veteran, saying, “I agree, we do have a race problem. With the political election, a lot of closet racists are coming out… I don’t know if that’s the right medium. I could never sit down during the national anthem”. To be clear, America does not have a race problem. It has a racism problem. That cannot be desensitized.

So, what is the right medium? When is the right time to protest police brutality against people of color?

The answer is that any time is the right time, and it is wrong to dismiss a peaceful protest as a “disgrace” or “unpatriotic.” Doing so simply reinforces systemic racism, and people who make such claims are quite honestly part of the problem. The fact is that black people in the United States, especially those living in poverty, are constantly subjected to white oppression and are not being adequately represented in the American flag at this point in time.

So, if Kaepernick and other black football players feel that kneeling during the national anthem is an important action in the fight to end police brutality and the mass incarceration of people of color, then they should continue to do so. That should not only be respected, but also embraced.

By: Mandi Paine ’18

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