Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Sign In   |   Join Now
News & Press: Members in the News

I want the courage to kneel during the anthem

Wednesday, October 18, 2017   (0 Comments)
Share |

Earlier this month, I attended the Lansing Symphony Orchestra concert at Michigan State University’s Wharton Center.  The next morning the local headline was that four players at Lansing Catholic Central High School (LCCHS) clearly not of the lighter skin hue, were benched until the half the night before. The common theme here?  The national anthem was played at the start of both events. We had two very different responses. I stood, and the players knelt.

 

I was not thinking about the national anthem as it played before the concert. I was focused on situating my parents in the front corner of the auditorium where wheelchairs, which we use there for my dad, are located. Caught off guard by the start of the music, I hesitated as the whole NFL flag controversy ran through my mind.  I realized it would be awkward to kneel in a row of seats, but that was a convenient out. I could have stayed seated. I thought about how I, an anonymous white woman dressed casually and sitting with older parents, might be viewed by those around me. What would they think of me protesting? There often is nobody African-American in the crowd, so there was probably nobody to support with my protest and nobody, quite frankly, who would back me up. 

At Lansing Catholic Central, a week of apparently changing positions by school administrators led to the benching of four athletes during the beginning of the game. All four had knelt during the anthem. A private school, Lansing Catholic Central can set whatever rules it wishes.  As a Catholic school, its administrators know kneeling is not an act of disrespect. Kneeling in Catholicism is an act of humility, respect and submission.  It is used during prayer, partly as a sign of one’s openness to listening.  One can only speculate what went on behind the scenes, probably a chaotic effort to put out fires of outrage by those who see kneeling for the flag as an affront, perhaps people who may be important supporters of this private religious school.  
 
I saw that headline that morning, and thought: “I stood, and they knelt.”  I wanted to cry that I didn’t have the courage to protest an injustice many white people are having trouble acknowledging. I know it exists. I adopted four kids who are African-American. One son went to a small, mostly white college, where he faced all sorts of racist interactions with other students. I believe him partly because it is my alma mater, and I saw situations similar to what he described when I attended the school some 30 years before he started there. I naïvely believed things would have improved in those intervening years.

There are white people who continue to assert that kneeling for the flag to protest discrimination against people of color, notably African-American men and boys, is an insult to veterans. That must depend, as I know many veterans, nearly all white, who see the protest as appropriate and justified. Would all the people who are so angry still be upset if someone knelt to protest a social problem they are concerned about?

Let’s be honest. This controversy isn’t ultimately about the flag.  It isn’t about veterans.  It is about whether we as white America are willing to face the fact that being black or brown or anything other than white leaves someone at risk of harm just for being themselves.

 

There are people of color who have been able to achieve more, gotten better jobs and/or make more money than some white people.  There is much to do for white people who don’t have enough opportunity. But on a given day, there are situations in which a poor white man has less to be afraid of than an African-American college professor does. From conversations with family, friends, students, colleagues and strangers, I know people of color are afraid. They are tired of being afraid and of having white people tell them they are being paranoid. Isn’t it time to be honest about the real issue?

The next time I hear the national anthem, I really want to have the courage to kneel out of respect for what the flag represents.

 

Susan Grettenberger is a professor and social work program director at Central Michigan University.  She is vice president of social policy for the National Association of Social Workers-MI Chapter.

 

This article was originally posted by the Detroit Free Press at http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/contributors/2017/10/18/nfl-protests-anthem-protests/773194001/


Association Management Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal