A More Perfect Union

When I was in the fourth grade, we had to memorize the preamble to the Constitution of the United States (above).  I remember that even after I had passed the test of reciting the preamble to my teacher, I still wanted to remember it for as long as I could. But that was over 25 years ago, and now I can only remember the first fifteen words: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…”

I have always been struck by the phrase, “in order to form a more perfect union.”  It appears to be an admission that not only was the system of governance under the Articles of Confederation not working for the newly independent American colonies, but that we always have an obligation and a duty as citizens of a democracy to continue to make our nation better — more perfect. (Note: For the first several years after the American Revolution, the original 13 colonies were united under the Articles of Confederation, but that didn’t work so well. Thus the Constitutional Convention was called so that the leaders of the colonies could create a better and more effective system of governance. What eventually came of that, of course, was our beloved Constitution.)

The duty to form a more perfect union continues even today.  Most Americans are aware that our nation is not perfect — in fact, we are not even close to having a society that treats all of its citizen equally. But we cannot make our nation better unless we are united in our efforts and determination to do so. Unfortunately every time I log onto Facebook nowadays I am reminded of how difficult it is to unite Americans. Recently, the division over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem has reached a ludicrous level.

Honestly, I’ve tried to refrain from talking about this issue, because it truly is ridiculous. To me, it’s more of a distraction than anything (which I explain at the end of this blog post). But I know that many people are extremely passionate about this issue, so I’m going to attempt to explain my position on it by using history and facts. Some of you will agree with me, some of you won’t. But I hope that by using history and facts I will help to clear up some of the misconceptions surrounding what patriotism means and what disrespecting the flag and the national anthem means.  So here we go:

Our nation was born out of protest.  “No taxation without representation!” was something that the American colonists frequently yelled in the years leading up to the American Revolution. Starting a violent revolution was not the initial goal of the Continental Congress, for instigating war with the most powerful empire on earth wasn’t a very smart idea.  One of the main grievances of the colonists was regarding the fact that King George III refused to allow the colonies to have equal representation in Parliament. That why the colonists yelled, “No taxation without representation.” They weren’t protesting the taxes, per say, they were protesting the fact that they were being taxed without any representative(s) of the colonies in Parliament to give them a voice on the matter.

Benjamin Franklin famously went to England to plead the case that it is only fair and reasonable to give the colonies Parliamentary representation, and many members of Parliament agreed. King George III, however, considered the colonists second-class citizens and refused to allow them to have representatives.  As soon as it became clear to the leaders of the colonies that they were not going to be treated equally and justly, they voted to declare independence from Great Britain, which was, in effect, a declaration of war. All of the colonists who fought for independence had willingly committed treason, and many gave their lives for the cause.

So I state again the indisputable fact that our nation was born out of protest.  The American colonists protested the unequal and unfair treatment by the King of England, and then decided to create a nation where the people were in charge.  Now, as we all know, our nation was very, very far from perfect at its inception. Slavery still existed, women were treated as second-class citizens and were thus denied basic rights, and we decimated millions of Native Americans in an effort to institute our “Manifest Destiny.” But over time Americans would push for many changes that would bring us a little bit closer to forming a more perfect union.

However, despite those many important and necessary changes, as of today our nation is still far from perfect, which is why Colin Kaepernick and others have decided to kneel during the national anthem. They are peacefully protesting the fact that minorities are treated unequally and unjustly, especially by the police and the criminal justice system, just like the colonists protested that they were treated unequally and unjustly by King George III. Peaceful protest is something that is not only a Constitutional right, but is as American as apple pie. Truly, is there anything quite as resolutely American as protesting for equality? Our great nation exists solely because the original 13 colonies protested for equality — something we proudly celebrate every 4th of July. I feel it bears repeating that the colonists were so passionate about this issue that they committed treason and fought a seven-year war for the right to create a nation that was built on the ideals of democracy, the backbone of which is equality.

Now, let’s discuss this ideal of equality a little more.  Are minorities really treated unequally and unjustly as Colin Kaepernick and so many others claim?  Many white people (and a few members of minority groups) push back against this idea, saying it is mostly nonsense. Well, sorry to all of you who try desperately to live in an alternative universe with alternative facts, but minorities are absolutely treated unequally in our country. This is yet another indisputable fact. Truthfully, equality has essentially been nothing more than a pipe dream for our nation since its birth, and it will remain that way unless more of us acknowledge the glaring inequality so many Americans face every day, and we actually work together to correct this.

I want to ask all the white people who disagree that minorities are treated unequally and unjustly a few questions: Would you want to be black?  Would you want to be any other race besides white?  Do you think that if you were African American, Latino or Hispanic, Asian, Native American, or any color besides white that you would be treated exactly the same as a white person, specifically by the police and the criminal justice system?

I’m going to be really honest, I wouldn’t want to be any other race besides Caucasian.  I’m well aware that my white skin gives me more advantages in life. I certainly don’t think that is fair and I would like for it to not be a reality, but I am aware that white privilege exists. And unlike a lot of white people, I understand what white privilege means — it means that while some white people may have a difficult life, their life would be even harder if instead of white skin and a name like Todd, they had dark skin and a name like Tyrone.

White privilege does not mean that all white people have an easy life — that they literally live a life of privilege.  If that is what you think it means then you are quite daft.  Obviously many white people are born into poverty and struggle every day to make ends meet.  The privilege lies in the fact that even though they struggle, their skin color still gives them more opportunities than those with darker skin who are also poverty-stricken. Their white skin means they are treated more fairly and far less suspiciously than those with darker skin.  Again, if you dispute this, just ask yourself if you would want to be black or brown or Asian, or any color other than white.  Because if skin color doesn’t matter, then you should be okay with being any race or ethnicity.

Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, and countless others would almost certainly still be alive if they were white.  And not only are minorities more often victims of police brutality and excessive use of force, those same police officers are almost always cleared of all charges. Most even are allowed to stay on the police force.  This should bother more people than it does, but there is this narrative in this country that unless you support the police all of the time no matter what the circumstances may be, then you don’t support them at all. I’m going to say something that will shock the shit out of some of you: You can speak out against police brutality and excessive use of force, and still support the police. These two things aren’t mutually exclusive.

I support the police.  I understand that their job is dangerous, oftentimes thankless and incredibly difficult. I have no Pollyanna views about how hard and stressful it is to be a police officer. But it bothers me that some police officers think they are entitled to use excessive force, and when they do they almost always get away with it. It also bothers me that excessive use of force is used against minorities far more frequently than it is against white people. Case in point, the Charlottesville, VA white supremacist “rally”. During the rally a white supremacist yelled, “Hey Nigger!” then fired his gun into a crowd of people. He wasn’t immediately arrested — AFTER FIRING A GUN INTO A CROWD OF PEOPLE!!! It was a couple of weeks before he was arrested for this incident. Also, a group of about six Nazis badly beat a single black protester and none of them were immediately arrested either. Even after their identities were made public it still took weeks before they were arrested for the assault of this young man (and I don’t think all have been identified and arrested as of yet).

Now, if these same white supremacists were instead black people carrying torches, beating up white people, firing guns into the crowd and yelling racist and threatening things, do you think the police would have reacted the same way — which was to do literally nothing? Fuck no! And white people would have been outraged if the police had done nothing, as they should be. But white people should have been outraged at the inaction of the police when it was white supremacists who did those awful things, yet far too many white people were indifferent about it.

It’s absolutely baffling to me how so many of my white friends are just incensed about Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem, yet virtually none of these same people said a damn thing about what happened in Charlottesville (some did, but very, very few). How is it that a black man peacefully protesting the very real systematic racism in this country is offensive to you, but a white supremacist firing his gun into a crowd while simultaneously yelling a racial slur, and Nazis beating up black people and running over and KILLING protesters with their cars doesn’t bother you? At least it doesn’t bother you enough to speak about it on social media the way you have been slamming Kaepernick and others who take a knee during the national anthem. Well I’ve got news for you folks, if Kaepernick’s actions bother you more than the actions of the Charlottesville Nazis, you are a racist. I’m not trying to be mean or petty by calling you names, I’m just calling a spade a spade.

I feel I need to brutally honest about this, so I’m not going to beat around the bush or sugarcoat my words to spare your precious snowflake feelings — think of this as tough love (because you matter what, I’ve got nothing but love for ya). If you have been bashing Kaepernick but didn’t say a word about what happened in Charlottesville, you are the main reason why systematic racism is so ingrained in our society. The Nazis and white supremacists aren’t the major source of the problem, you are. Your refusal to acknowledge this issue is what primarily fuels it. Stop pretending like race doesn’t matter. Stop pretending like your white skin isn’t an advantage. Stop pretending that not standing for the national anthem is worse than overt and proud racism, hate, extreme aggression and murder (i.e. all the things that were demonstrated by the white supremacists in Charlottesville). Seriously, fucking stop! Your fake patriotism and “subtle” racism are hurting our country and holding humanity back. You’re not patriots, you’re pathetic.

The fact is that there is nothing that states that standing for the national anthem is a legal requirement. Thinking that you are only a patriot if you stand for the national anthem is an opinion, not a fact.  What is a fact is that peaceful protest is a Constitutionally protected right. And what is also a fact is that a protest (which began as peaceful but ended with violence) is the reason why our nation exists!

Many of the Americans we regard the most, from our Founding Fathers, to Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and to Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., all used peaceful protest as a way to help form a “more perfect union.”  That is all Colin Kaepernick is doing. He sees that there is inequality and injustice, and he is exercising his Constitutional right to protest this.  Why does that offend you?  He simply wants to do his part to form a more perfect union, and if you really are as patriotic as you think you are then you would agree to help him, not vilify him.  That doesn’t mean that you too have to kneel during the national anthem, it simply means that you recognize that he and others who choose to kneel are well within their rights and have legitimate grievances, and you agree that we, as a society, are all responsible for addressing these problems.

This protest is and always has been about racial inequality and judicial injustice.  It was never about the national anthem and the flag, or the military and veterans.  It has always been about bringing attention to the fact that our nation severely lacks what the national anthem and the flag supposedly stand for, and what our military and veterans fight for — equality, justice and liberty. It is an irrefutable truth that not all Americans are treated equally and justly, nor are we all given the same liberties. And until all Americans are treated equally why should we all be expected to stand in honor to a nation that so blatantly and unapologetic-ally doesn’t practice what it preaches? And if you really don’t want to disrespect the flag, below is a list of a few of the things that you can’t do with the American flag, according to the United States Flag Code:

  • “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free.”  That means that any bathing suits, shorts, shirts or any kind of clothing with the American flag on it are in violation of this code.
  • “The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.”  The large American flag that is often brought out flat during sporting events is against the flag code.
  • “It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard.”  Ever had American flag paper plates or napkins at 4th of July?  Have an American Flag throw pillow on your couch.  Against the flag code.
  • “The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.”  Those Budweiser American flag cans — against the flag code.
  • “No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations.”  Any athletic uniforms or costumes that contain the flag are also against the flag code.

I’m sure all of the hard-core patriots who always stand for the national anthem will now cease to do any of the above with the American flag, and you will lambaste anyone who does do these things, because clearly disrespecting the flag is an extreme offense to you.

Standing for the national anthem doesn’t make you a patriot, just as choosing not to stand for it as a form of peaceful protest doesn’t mean that you are unpatriotic.  I have no doubt that Colin Kaepernick loves this country, as do all the men and women who have chosen to take a knee. Their love for this country is precisely why they kneel. Love of country doesn’t mean that we refuse to acknowledge that our nation is flawed. Love of country means that we aren’t afraid to admit that it surely does have flaws and that we all need to work together to correct those flaws. That is the duty of all Americans — “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” 

Frankly, it’s preposterous that it offends some people when NFL players decide to take a knee during the national anthem.  But it’s even more preposterous that they are far more offended by this than they are by racism, hate, intolerance, injustice and inequality. That is simply sad, for them and for our nation.  Stand during the national anthem if you want, but know that you aren’t more patriotic because of it. A true patriot stands for values, not songs.  And by the way, only in autocratic dictatorships are the citizens required to stand for the national anthem.  Is that what you want our nation to become?  A North Korea?

Abraham Lincoln famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  Racism isn’t the most pressing problem we currently face, our division is what threatens this nation the most. Lincoln also said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”  We certainly are on a path of self destruction, for the more divided we are, the more our nation suffers. But there are some people outside of the United States who would love to see our nation implode. That is why they add to the division by continuously manipulating us. Don’t fall for this.

Additionally, those in power want to maintain their power, and they know that the more divided we are, the easier it is for them to do so — and that they will likely become even more powerful. This issue is really a distraction and a manipulation to keep us from exercising our rights, which is the only way we can truly fight oppression and become self-sovereign. When those in power successfully convince nearly half the country that peaceful protest and freedom of speech are only acceptable in certain situations and when exercised in certain ways, they take our power and our rights from us — and we gladly let them. Don’t let them do this. Stop being blind sheep! Your nation needs you to wake up and smell the oppression, manipulation, distraction and fear-mongering.

Open your eyes and recognize that we still have a lot of work to do in order to form a more perfect union. That is the responsibility of every single American. This is a government of the people, by the people, for the people. So it is up to the people to do the work to make our nation better. Telling others that they shouldn’t be allowed to exercise a Constitutional right simply because you disagree with their perfectly legal actions is an outright admission that you wish to strip them of their freedoms. Do you not understand that you are advocating for the weakening of our democracy? Colin Kaepernick, on the other hand, is trying to strengthen it.  That’s what makes a real patriot.

“If the great American people will only keep their temper, on both sides of the line, the troubles will come to an end, and the question which now distracts the country will be settled just as surely as all other difficulties of like character which have originated in this government have been adjusted.”  -Abraham Lincoln

P.S. Our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and our neighbors in Mexico have both endured devastating natural disasters recently and need all the help they can get.  Click on this link to find out how you can be of assistance. Te queremos, Puerto Rico y Mexico!!!

 

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