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Why Black Americans Are Conflicted By Patriotism

"Kneeling, to me, is not an act of disrespect or hatred, but a plea for living up to this country’s famed Constitution. "

There are countries plagued by continuous famine and seemingly endless war. Sometimes I wonder why I was born in America, a country that, despite its imperfections, isn't currently experiencing widespread events of this particular nature. I recognized that I am blessed to live in a country where I can practice my Christian beliefs alongside my Muslim, Hindu and Jewish friends. I can read my bible free from government persecution.

During Sunday’s NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Indianapolis Colts, Vice President Mike Pence made a staged appearance, walking out of the stadium in counter-protest to some players’ decision to kneel during the National Anthem. It is clear that Pence disapproves of this particular exercise of the First Amendment.

Additional First Amendment freedoms include freedom of speech and freedom to peaceably assemble. These are the facts.

So why are Colin Kaepernick and those following in his footsteps being socially persecuted by fans and government alike? Why are NFL players, fans and other Americans choosing to respectfully kneel during the singing of the National Anthem, anyway?

Photo: Andre Benz/Unsplash
Photo: Andre Benz/Unsplash

Full-Disclosure: I have not conducted an academic poll with the NFL. But as the daughter, niece, great niece, cousin and friend of several current and former members of the United States military, I understand and appreciate the service and sacrifice of those in the armed forces.

As the daughter, niece, great niece, cousin and friend of several current and former members of the United States military, I also understand the reality that black men who fought alongside white men in World War I and World War II returned home to a country where it was illegal for them to eat a burger, watch a movie or vote for an elected official alongside these same white men.

“But that was a long time ago! Get over it!”

Alright. Let’s fast-forward 70 years. In 2014, the Washington Post published an article citing findings that “...a black driver is 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than a white driver.” According to a 2016 study by the American Journal of Public Health, “black men are three times more likely to die from police” (per CNN). Whether your uniform is an NFL jersey or air force dress blues, studies show that black skin makes black men potential targets for police brutality.

Living in a constant state of fear simply because you exist is not a true manifestation of “land of the free.”

Kneeling, to me, is not an act of disrespect or hatred, but a plea for living up to this country’s famed Constitution. I believe that everyone who kneels during the anthem also believes in this country and all that it could be. We are not asking for much, just fair treatment and equal access to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

But nothing can change if people do not acknowledge that something needs changing. So allow these peaceful protests to serve as constructive criticism for your empathy. Have compassion.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed (Matthew 9:36).

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Aisha Adkins is a writer, advocate, and speaker based in Atlanta, Georgia. This authentic storyteller is driven by faith, inspired by family, and eager to use her talents to affect positive social change. She is also is a full-time caregiver for her mother and founder of Our Turn 2 Care, a platform connecting marginalized millennial caregivers to information, resources, and each other. She is currently a master's of public administration student at Georgia State University's Andrew Young School of Public Studies where she is a graduate research assistant and member of the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, the Black Graduate Student Association, and an intern with Caring Across Generations. Some simple joys in her life are live music, classic film, and the creamiest of cookies-n-cream icecream.