When people claim National Anthem protests are disrespectful to the military they are simply using servicemen and women as a cover for their own bigotry. Since Colin Kaepernick began his protest last year critics have embraced the, “this is disrespectful to the military” talking point. Few have stopped to ask who is actually in that military. Black people serve at a higher rate than whites and generally always have. It is obvious that critics, like Trump, are not thinking of the black men and women who’ve served for generations and that oversight is a cruel reminder that for many, black lives do not matter. Using the military as a cover for anti-black sentiment is shameful and must be challenged.
Those who condemn black NFL players for protesting due to an alleged sensitivity of the military couldn’t be thinking of my great-uncle, who served in the Army during the Korean War. After returning to the US he was, in his words, “treated like shit.” Defenders of the flag and military personnel have mentally whitewashed the armed forces, seemingly unaware that racial and ethnic minority groups make up 40% of active-duty military. Black men and women make up roughly 17% of active-duty military, although we are only 13% of all adults between 18 and 44. I doubt that any of the protest critics are thinking of these individuals when they seek to defend the honor of veterans and active military personnel. Don’t they count?
The anti-Kaepernick crowd cannot see that the freedoms they hold so dear are guarded, significantly, by people of color. Their hatred of black people and resentment of black protest produces, in their minds, a whitewashed patriotism that will not acknowledge our military as it is. In this world of whites-only patriotism the actual history of the armed forces vanishes, also. During the Civil War some 179,000 blacks fought for the Union. The irony is there were only 226,152 free blacks living in all the Northern states. During the conflict in Vietnam blacks both served and died disproportionately. Indeed, in 1965 alone black accounted for 25% of all casualties and since that time have comprised over 20% of the Army, while never representing even 15% of the general population. Trump and his followers are not mindful of these men and women and they certainly have not bothered to ask them about their feelings. They simply do not exist, to so many.
I have two grandfathers that served — one in the Air Force and the other in the Navy. They, like the black men and women who serve today, are largely ignored in the debate over the anthem protests. Somehow, white men who’ve never served in the military have managed to own and speak for it. They have no rightful authority to do so. They have no right to whitewash the armed forces. They have no right to use the military as a tool for the perpetuation of white dominance over black lives. All these white men are entitled to do is answer the one outstanding question in this drama and that is, how are they are more offended by a perceived disrespect for the flag than direct atrocities committed against the people for whom it stands?