The US is in a tizzy about Colin Kaepernick not taking a knee during the National Anthem or who is or is not invited to the White House as NBA champions. Not affirming the parody of the National Anthem by standing has long been my practice before these two fine young men began speaking out against oppression. Since my twenties, which means a span of almost 40 years, I have not stood when I hear the opening strains of the song that begins “Oh say can you see…”
I can’t remember the exact dots that connected for me to make that decision so very long ago. I was in college and being steeped in white supremacy culture, like a person in a strait jacket, twisting and flailing desperately to refuse the mandates of perfectionism, individualism, either/or, power hoarding, and objectivity. I was thankfully not alone, having found others who sought the antidotes of deepening our political analysis of racism and oppression.
My relationship to this country was altered for the good as I refused to make complex issues simple. The act of not standing for the anthem emerged. It is often uncomfortable. I have blessedly lived a life where I am rarely in a place the anthem is played. And there are times when I have stood. Circumstances dictate my approach.
When there is little chance of serious repercussions, I stay seated and see it as a choice to refuse the glory associated with a country so far from equity and opportunities for all. It is similar to the choice I make when deciding whether to give a standing ovation or get a better look at something or someone. It is valued based, not herd mentality based.
As in the case of Colin Kaepernick, professional sporting events are a place where I have a choice. In the San Francisco bay area I generally sit, in other places I may go to the restroom when the anthem is played. The few specific times I stand are when I feel the negative impact is not worth my emotional and physical safety. Oppression is real in my life.
I had initially been excited to join the #blackoutNFL movement until Colin was hired by an NFL team. Conflicted about football overall because of the violence and long-term damage to players, I also appreciate the grace and athleticism. I have not watched any football this season and turn down my favorite sports talk radio when they discuss football. Then I read a great article by Roni Dean-Burren, Ph.D. which voiced some of my discomfort with the movement, reminding me of the intersectionality of all oppression and of what gets the attention of men and what does not. She is NOT observing the NFL boycott “because it is steeped in hypocrisy and misogynoir.” I have not returned to football yet. I have enjoyed more tennis. More importantly, I am taking time to rethink actions that may have become habitual and unconscious to my detriment.
The core antidote to white supremacy culture is to stay alert to the insidious straps that wind their way around my body, heart, and mind. To be conscious and question myself regularly. Not because I am flawed or inadequate, but because oppression is wide and deep and ever present. I have to remain girded for the long haul. While sports, both playing and watching, often given me a chance to enjoy my competitive nature, they can also wound me.
Habits are powerful present moment antidotes to despair and I maintain the discipline of assessing mine as causes and conditions change. It is both the cost of oppression and the true glory of joining my heart, mind, and body for the benefit of all. #52essays2017