Colin Kaepernick sparked a wave of protests over the American flag and refusing to stand for the anthem, and that was followed by people simply taking a knee. Their goal is to raise awareness about social injustices - especially those in the black community. They are not wrong in the sense that the socioeconomic experiences for blacks and whites are immensely different. What is wrong, however, is attributing this injustice to “America” and the flag.
I listened to Shannon Sharpe on ESPN voice his support for Kaepernick. He is one of many who support these protests. Sharpe and Kaepernick, along with most others, make an argument that lacks a crucial nuance: the ability to separate “America” and what she represents from the actions of the American government.
The founding of the United States was, by all means, one of the greatest achievements for human freedom in history. This is not to say we were a perfect Union then (or now), but rather she was founded upon principles that were a significant leap forward relative to the past.
It is these principles that our flag and our Union represent - regardless of what policies, failures, success, and/or actions come from the federal government. Our nation’s founding documents were explicitly intended to curb the risk of centralized power and protect individual liberty; something that never happened on such a scale since the Magna Carta.
Government policies that breach our constitutional values and perpetuate social injustice should not be regarded as “American” nor is the flag responsible. The blame (and subsequent protests) should be directed at the federal government - the entity responsible for these grievances.
American citizens do not wake up every morning seeking out new ways to oppress minorities and one another. We all value each other as Americans and we are united under the symbolic displays of our country. When we sing the anthem or say the pledge, we are not liberals or conservatives, black or white, gay or straight - no, we are Americans united.
There is an inherent danger to our Union when protests take aim at the flag and “America”. For one, a significant portion of people will always value the founding principles of America and what she stands for. A countless number of servicemembers have made enormous sacrifices to preserve and defend these values. Regardless of what ulterior motives may or may not exist within the government, the fighting individuals have a much different perspective. Thus, protesting the symbolic abstraction of America is inherently divisive between large numbers of people. This is not a strong foundation for any civil society.
What worries me is not the politicians who use this platform for their own aggrandizing, but rather my fellow Americans at each other’s throats for all the wrong reasons. It was not “America” that enforced Jim Crowe. It was not “America” that created a bloated welfare state responsible for the demise of so many communities. It is not “America” that imposes draconian drug sentences. Americans, as individuals, are not carrying out acts of oppression against one another.
This is not to say that you do not have the right to protest the flag; you do. My concern is not with the right to free speech, but I urge everyone to reconsider the circumstances of their protest. I do not want deeply seeded divisions amongst fellow Americans that threaten the stability, unity, and future of our Union. If you want to protest injustice, then protest the people who are responsible for it - not the national practices that unify us as Americans.
Grant Phillips is a Young Voices Advocate. He admins We Are Capitalists, co-owns the Unbiased America website, and appears on the weekly webcast UA Live.