Daragh Fleming examines the new wave of peaceful protest in the US and the reactions to it.
If you have been online in the last few weeks, the hashtag #TakeTheKnee will probably look familiar to you. Take The Knee is a peaceful protest in the face of radical nationalism and police brutality, summed up in 3 words. You may be surprised to read that the entire movement started with one man, Colin Kaepernick who began his protest in 2016. His protest exploded during his team’s third pre-season game and the third time he sat during the national anthem. Kaepernick eventually decided to kneel instead of sit on the bench as a way to show respect, akin to a military funeral, while still expressing his thoughts. He was protesting against a flag which “oppresses black people, and people of colour.” This idea is also at the forefront of the current protest. Sports professionals are no strangers to political protests, but with an antagonist such as Trump at the helm of the opposition, the #TakeTheKnee movement was destined to grab the world’s attention eventually.
The true nature of the protest has nothing to do with the anthem or the flag
Since the revelation of the NFL’s mistreatment of Kaepernick, and the apparent refusal of any team to make him a contract offer, the movement has gained traction again. In the past three weeks, individuals, and even entire teams have taken to one knee in protest against a racist America, and to stand in solidarity with those who have protested before them. The tension came to an explosive head on Friday the 22nd of September when, during a rally for Senator Luther Strange in Alabama, President Trump lashed out, unprovoked, at all NFL players who had taken the knee in protest. Trump went on to urge any and all NFL owners to terminate the contracts of any player who participated in the silent protest. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b**** off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired.”
Trump’s harsh words sparked fury amongst many pro-athletes in and outside of the NFL. Current NBA champion Stephen Curry made it public that he would refuse any invitation to visit the White House, which is a traditional event for the NBA championship team each year. Trump responded by revoking his invitation. What started as a peaceful but powerful protest against racism has become something much larger. It appears that there is now a political stand-off between those who support the NFL athletes, and those who support Trump in his ridicule of a protest which he deems ‘unpatriotic.’ However, while they have become infuriated with the ‘unpatriotic’ acts of the NFL, it appears that the true nature of the protest has nothing to do with the anthem or the flag, which merely act as a means to an end. Why then, are people so upset with the protest? Is it a misunderstanding of the situation, an overreaction, or are reactors being racist?
Trump is the catalyst for a movement he is overtly against
As tensions rise, more celebrities have been getting involved and letting the world know how they feel about the conflict. People such as P-Diddy, Macklemore, Stevie Wonder and others have been active on social media and on stage to express their support for the NFL players. It is hard to disagree with the protest. If you take the anthem itself at face-value, it’s not exactly the most racially sensitive song, which seems strange considering it represents a country consisting of many different races. Specifically, in the third stanza, the lyrics tell of killing ‘slaves’ who joined the British side of the fight.
This thread in particular has carried through to the present day. Not only does the country have an issue with police brutality against black Americans, it now seems that the violence has spread. Take, for example, the most recent such event in Charlottesville, where a young white woman was run down with a car and killed as she protested against racist idealism. This outcome was met with outrage across America, and indeed the entire world.
It is difficult to predict how this current situation will conclude. There is anger on both sides of the conflict, but we have to remember that #TakeTheKnee started as, and is still very much, a non-violent public protest. Nevertheless, those who are in support of Trump are undoubtedly fuelled with outrage at the disrespect they feel at this protest, despite its silent nature in an era when the right cling to the excuse of “free speech.”
Ironically, if Trump had not spoken so out of hand about Kaepernick and the protest in general, the movement may not be as big it is. Trump is the catalyst for a movement he is overtly against. What is concerning is that President Trump has to be aware of the violence that has occurred against black Americans in recent years. He is also surely aware that his words, as president, will undoubtedly lead to more violence in the near future.