By the time you read this, the Super Bowl will have been decided and the NFL season will have come to an end. There will be no more football players making people squirm with discomfort with their non-violent demonstrations of kneeling during the National Anthem. Their demonstrations have been deemed disrespectful, inconvenient, and misplaced among those who are offended by the protest. They refuse to consider the message.
To combat this inconvenient demand for justice, people have kidnapped the message and morphed it into an issue of patriotism. Trump has suggested firing players who don’t stand. Conservatives across the country have stopped watching the NFL. Even Papa John’s pizza complained about the NFL’s “poor leadership,” saying that protests against racial discrimination hurt their bottom line. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster created a proclamation suggesting people stand during the National Anthem wherever they watch the Super Bowl.
However, it is all winding down and could not have come at a more fortuitous moment in history.
February is Black History Month and February 1 marked the 58th anniversary of the F.W. Woolworth sit-in in Greensboro, N.C., the beginning of a non-violent movement against legal segregation. These demonstrations were initiated by four African-American students from North Carolina A&T University who came to be known as the A&T Four. Their non-violent demonstrations sparked the movement for desegregation across the Southeast, eventually including 13 states and 70,000 demonstrators. In my hometown of High Point, N.C., high school students joined the movement beginning on Feb. 11 and included kids as young as 15 years old.
On April 1, 1960, the grassroots movement landed in Charleston when black students from Burke High School went to the segregated S.H. Kress lunch counter at the corner of King and Wentworth. The students hummed in solidarity and recited Psalm 23 and The Lord’s Prayer. They were eventually arrested for their actions.
In other areas of the country, in addition to being arrested, demonstrators were slapped, called names, doused with coffee and worse for the crime of being black in a white space. There were even counter-demonstrations by whites. That certainly sounds familiar. There were swim-ins at segregated pools, wade-ins at segregated beaches, and even kneel-ins at segregated churches. The idea of a segregated church seems so incredibly hypocritical and alien, until I consider today’s church leaders who blatantly ignore gross immoralities for the sake of politics. But I digress.
It’s for this reason that everyone who counter-protests against those who are quietly asking for racial equality should be ashamed. Instead, they “stand” proudly and mock the strength of black children who had the courage to sit. They spit on their memories. They attempt to handcuff and arrest the spirit of progress and equality that was born in February 1960; a spirit that whispers for help today. Where a helping hand could be given, “patriots” stand behind proclamations and propaganda to ignore the plea of the oppressed as if the American flag and racial equality are mutually exclusive. It is this very concept that makes kneeling during the National Anthem so poetic and poignant. The concept of systemic racism is embedded in the very anthem conservatives demand we respect.
If you read all the lyrics, you realize very quickly that the “land of the free” is a place for white people. The third stanza of the Star Spangled Banner gloats over the deaths of escaped slaves who dared to fight for their own freedom against America and the institution of slavery in the same battle about which Francis Scott Key wrote.
Conservatives and self-proclaimed patriots demanding respect from NFL players who kneel is all the evidence needed to show that the disease of systemic racism and ignorance is very much alive today. The fight is still happening. It is today’s lunch counter demonstration.
It is not a demonstration against the military. I won’t ignore the fact that Kapearnick’s kneeling demonstration was suggested to him by a white, American soldier. Furthermore, I refuse to dishonor the children who sacrificed their safety and comfort so that the fight for equality today can occur on a battlefield that represents, at least, some progress since the 1960s.
The photographs from that time period are in black and white and it takes some work to make it seem real. However, looking at the pictures of the African-American children and imagining the abuse they endured from white adults because they quietly demanded to be treated as racially equal allows the emotions to stir. Those emotions reach through the fabric of time, guided by the rebellious spirit of those students from Burke High School and beyond. They tug on our shirts and beg us to join the fight.
Today’s gross hypocrisy is to empathize with these children and pretend we would have supported their illegal cries for help when we complain that today’s demonstrations are inconvenient and offensive. All you’re asked to do is acknowledge the injustices. Stop glossing over them because of patriotic technicalities and excusing them with counter-slogans like “All Lives Matter.” Instead, let’s acknowledge there is no excuse for racial inequality and work to separate truth from propaganda. Kneeling during the anthem is today’s Woolworth and Kress demonstration. Where do you stand?
Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.