MALVEAUX: This Flag is Drenched in Blood

Lewis "Big June" Marshall Carrying the U.S. Flag, Selma to Montgomery March on March 21, 1965 (Courtesy of the estate of James Karales)
Lewis "Big June" Marshall Carrying the U.S. Flag, Selma to Montgomery March on March 21, 1965 (Courtesy of the estate of James Karales)

I am not sure why the national anthem and the so-called American flag are part of our nation’s sports pageantry. Before 2009, while the national anthem was played, sports gladiators were not required to suit up, stand up, and put their hands to their hearts — and why should they? The song that is sung is an insult to people of color. When I hear “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” I think, “the land of the thief and the home of the slave.” The National Football League, paid by the Department of Defense (seriously?) has paid for a fake cultural hegemony, for the notion that we are all on the same page.

How could we be on the same page? How could the men who have been hauled out of their cars, pushed down to their knees, forced to justify the reasons they are driving high-end cars be on the same page with the men who “own” them, who may or may not support them, may or may not kneel with them, have fealty with their masters?

Colin Kaepernick took to the knee, not because he disparaged the flag, but because he disparaged the many ways that African-American people were being diminished by police brutality. Call the names, call the names, the men and the women who have been unjustifiably killed, call the names, and call the names of the many ways Black Lives Must Matter. Call the names, call the names, of the structural racism that cuts like a knife, or kills like a bullet. Call the names.

There are those who have a story to tell about so-called disrespect to the “American flag.” But the flag is drenched in blood. Black men went to fight in World War I, and came back to this country and were lynched because they refused to cede the sidewalk to white people. What flag did they serve under, and why should we celebrate it? And why do disingenuous fools, including Mr. 45, chide NFL owners with strangely coded language, suggesting a lack of loyalty? Where is the loyalty to the Black men and women who supported a country that would not support them? The paradox of loyalty is that African-American people love a country that does not love us. We pledge the flag, drenched in blood, because we want something better.

Colin Kaepernick took a stand, and many of his colleagues support him because they cannot embrace a flag that supports the unjustified killing of African-American men. Colin Kaepernick sacrificed his career to make a point, and he has been focused and fierce about his principles. Colin Kaepernick, by kneeling, encouraged all of us to stand up for our rights. Colin Kaepernick is a hero!

This protest is more, though, than Colin Kaepernick. This protest is about police brutality. This is a protest about the fake-Jake way some would bond us together, linking arms and elbows, trying to make a point. There is no point beyond the fact that young black men who play football, baseball and basketball see their brothers and cousins on their knees, legs and arms splayed, in the face of oppressive police forces. They freely kneel because others knelt when they were required to, because they were not free.

We can fly this flag all we want to, we can sing melodious songs about “the Star-Spangled Banner.” But the flag we fly in the name of sports is a flag that is drenched in blood. Players weren’t required to stand at attention until 2009 because the Department of Defense paid money to make it happen. I’d rather my tax dollar be spent in different ways. I’d rather someone wash the blood out of the flag!

Julianne Malveaux’s latest book, “Are We Better Off?: Race, Obama and Public Policy” is available via www.amazon.com.

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