Until we live in a country that is truly free from racial and religious persecution, double standards toward patriotism will always be in place.
by Mikell Petty
Growing up, I faced criticism for a LOT of things that were seemingly out of my control.
My weight fluctuated dramatically throughout my formative years, I was one of about two kids in my high school who identified as gay and in elementary and middle school I was also raised as a Jehovah’s Witness (PLOT TWIST! Bet ya didn’t see that one coming.)
One of the many things that separated me from the rest of my classmates, aside from not celebrating or participating in any holiday-themed activities, including my birthday, was that I was also taught to not put my hand over my heart during the pledge of allegiance. You know, that thing we still make kids do before school every day in a weird show of nationalism that eerily resembles some Aryan youth training video? Yeah, that thing. I was also not encouraged to sing or put my hand over my heart for the national anthem but was told standing and taking off my hat would be enough.
Now this didn’t seem like a big deal to me at the time; I was 8. The less I had to do, the better. Plus it was in line with my contrarian nature, and the way the church framed the idea made sense to me.
Witnesses believe that the only true respect that should be paid is to God, that showing pride in anything from this wicked system of things that was to be done away with anyway was to promote Satan’s ideals of false idol worship and lead true followers on a path to destruction. And even now, that still kinda makes sense — without all the fire and brimstone.
The world was kinda fucked up around the time I was growing up. There was little hope, and 9/11 definitely bolstered a sense of nationalism, but it also made me a target for a particular fourth-grade teacher who had it out for me — God only knows why. He was a fitness nut who all the kids loved, he gave all the kids nicknames and he would tell funny stories that incorporated us as characters and the week’s vocabulary words. He also would make us run a timed mile every Friday, make us perform for him to get scraps of his meals and shamed me out of the talent show auditions because he was afraid people would make fun of me for my effeminate voice. Bigotry is best served with loads of sugar and a false sense of do-gooder attitude — am I right, ladies???
His attitude towards my decision — at the time, though I was definitely being coerced into a very restrictive religion, this was, and still is, my decision — to not put my hand on my heart every morning made me self-conscious. I would even sometimes show up slightly late just to avoid the potential death glare.
Fast forward to today and I’m intrigued to see the entire country’s reaction to many similar circumstances, specifically with today’s athletes and more specifically with black athletes or athletes of color.
For instance, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas received much flack during this year’s games in Rio for apparently not doing her due diligence by placing her hand over a random part of her body during the national anthem (among other things). This potentially being Douglas’ last games — during which she secured the gold in the women’s all around — the phenom stood proudly with the Final Five on their podium, sans hand but still with a sense of victory for herself and for her team.
The media had a different idea of this picture as a firestorm rained down on Douglas for “not showing respect” to her country, despite training her heart out and literally winning a gold medal for said country all without being paid. But, ya know, details.
It was a small gesture that probably went unnoticed to Douglas herself at the time but it obviously spoke volumes to the hundreds of thousands of white Americans scrutinizing her every move. Though, of course, when a certain swimmer decides to vandalize (read: pee on) a local gas station outside of the Olympic village and then LIE ABOUT BEING ROBBED AT GUNPOINT TO COVER IT UP, no one bats an eyelash or slams him for being a disgrace to this great country. *eyeroll emoji*
The most recent example of this hypocrisy seems to be a bit more poignant, and rightfully so, seeing as the reaction to the act (or lack thereof) has seemed to garner much attention. San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick took it a step further and made the conscious decision to purposefully not put his hand over his heart or even stand up during the national anthem for a pre-season game (meaning: NOT AN ACTUAL GAME THAT EVEN MATTERS PEOPLE), stating that he is “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
A bold statement, especially following the tragic news of a fatal shooting of the cousin of fellow black athlete, NBA star Dwayne Wade, just one day before.
This show of solidarity is in line with the one shown at this year’s ESPYs when a call to all athletes of color to use their platforms to make a change in how people of color are being treated today gave us some hope.
But, of course, the internet has been bashing Kaepernick’s statement and calling it disrespectful.
This double standard isn’t much unlike the same we see when desecration of the flag is brought up.
Seventeen people were arrested outside of the RNC this year when protests led to a burning of the American flag, still considered to be a federal offense, though the sale of American Flag beach towels, napkins and underwear remain unscathed by the disrespectful nature of such “desecration.”
So why is it that symbolic statements hold such high esteem in society (seemingly only for people of color — as brought up by articles such as this one)?
How can we possibly claim to uphold the traditional respectful nature of paying homage to a country that never really showed the same dedication to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for ALL of its citizens?
I’m sorry, but until we live in a country that is truly free from persecution — be it racial, religious or otherwise — double standards like this will always be in place.
It is up to us to be conscious of these injustices and to do what we can, however small that gesture may be, to bring attention to this hypocrisy.
Maybe my mom and her religious fanatics were right. Maybe it is dumb to support a flawed man-made system. Especially when that system institutionalized a racist society ready to crucify any person of color for not “gesturing properly” (talk about autonomy); and that’s the gospel truth.