If you haven’t heard about the latest drama on the Interwebz, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to sit down during the National Anthem at an exhibition game as a protest against the way black people are being treated, and his twitter feed immediately filled up with good white patriots calling him the n-word. This visceral reaction reveals the danger of our culture’s idolatrous nationalism.
What is it that makes America great? Supposedly, it’s our democracy manifested in our freedom of speech and our ability to coexist peacefully with people who disagree with us. Whether or not you agree with Kaepernick’s gesture, it’s fundamentally a test of whether our country is really who we say we are. If he gets punished for making a political statement, then the freedom that people are supposedly singing about with their hands over their hearts is a complete farce.
Do you like democracy? Do you honor the legacy of our nation’s Founding Fathers? If so, then the best way to live into this legacy is to defend the freedom of your political opponents. Because if expressing political dissent becomes the basis for losing your job or even your corporate sponsorships, then our democracy is what loses. It’s okay if you don’t like what Colin Kaepernick did. But if you’re campaigning to put his head on a pike, then what you’re saying is that you hate democracy.
And if you hate democracy, then what you’re pledging allegiance to when you put your hand over your heart is really something other than America itself. Our nation has a long history of camouflaging white supremacy under supposed patriotism. Fox commentator and perennial presidential candidate Mike Huckabee let this camouflage fall to the wayside when he gave a speech in 2008 about how Obama “just isn’t like us.” It’s such a fascinating phenomenon when people who supposedly love our country hate our government. First, the cry was “states rights” in the openly segregationist era. In our more sublimated times, we all know the race of people that supposedly “lives off of the government” even though poor white people who hate the government actually collect more government assistance than black people.
Sometimes I wish that the ardent flag-wavers would just come out and say that what they worship is whiteness, the pinnacle achievement of Western European culture. If your vision for what makes America great is entirely about the supposed saintliness of our white Founding Fathers, then what you worship is white America. If you really believe in the whole nation of America, then there’s a lot of non-white people who need to be part of that story, including Colin Kaepernick who did something offensive in order to make people think about whether we’re living out our values. This is a test. Do you really believe in political freedom? Or is freedom just a code-word for white supremacy?