Standing by sitting

I’ve been following the Colin Kaepernick controversy from the states – you know, SF 49’ers QB refuses to stand during the national anthem in a protest supporting black lives matter. Predictable shitstorm ensues.

I support him. Good to find a thoughtful sportsman willing to make a stand (by remaining seated). And he’s certainly made a point, and started a (heated) conversation.

Personally I think much of the angst about him refusing to stand is a bit childish, but very American. As so many others have pointed out, it’s his right to do that if he so chooses. That’s freedom of choice. That’s democracy. That’s what the thing is meant to stand for. Feel free to disagree with him, but don’t be refusing his right to do so.

I think the whole national anthem/celebrating the flag in general is overwrought, particularly in the US. I’m a patriotic Aussie and I’ll sing along to Advance Australia Fair, but won’t take offence if others choose not to. End of the day it’s just an anthem or a coloured piece of cloth. It represents something, but more important is living the ideals.

Patriotism is a bit like religion. You can go to church on a Sunday, listen to a sermon, say amen, and feel good about yourself for a week. Unfortunately it doesn’t stop people doing un-churchlike things in the days between. For so many being a christian, or whatever, is not much more than symbolic. They pay lip service on Sunday, and run off their lip for the rest of the week.

Patriotism is like that too. You can feel solemn and noble and hoo fucking ha listening to the swelling chords of the national anthem and spout the conventional and unconsidered bullshit about being ‘the greatest country in the world’ (regardless of where you live) and then sit down and roar abuse. Patriotism has become a formula, tough it probably always was, and certainly a tool for the unscrupulous.

Like most Australians I find American’s gooey attachment to all things patriotic a tad distasteful. It reflects on the difference in our cultural natures. We’re more laconic, and perhaps sceptical. There’s good and bad when it comes to that, but in this regard I’m thrilled that I don’t have to put up with the national anthem before every sporting event. Overt and kitsch displays of nationalism are generally not our thing, but perhaps becoming so.

Personally I’m of the view that patriotism is a private thing. It’s my relationship with the country I’m part of. It’s complex because it involves history and culture and personal experience. I don’t want or need to stand up for it and stamp my foot. I’m proud in my own way, and cheer as hard as anyone else, but it’s mine.

Unfortunately patriotism, particularly in America, like nowhere else, has become a public thing. It’s a show. It’s something you’re either part of, or not, as we see in the Kaepernick  situation. Like so many things appropriate behaviour has been codified.

From afar it seems always to have been the case, but I wonder if it has modified in recent years. I think back to when Dubya said if you’re not with us, you’re against us, and think that attitude has flavoured American patriotism, making it more aggressive. It’s apparent that patriotism seems to flourish in tough times. America has questioned itself in recent years as it has fallen from the high perch it once stood upon. Economic and social struggle has created doubt. Patriotism has become defiant; it’s a cry of reassurance that grows louder as doubt increases. And of course politicians have played upon it for eons. It’s always been a reliable button to push.

While patriotism has its coarse elements there are many discerning enough to separate the truth from the symbolism. There’s a lot of noise, but individuals too who have a more personal and intelligent understanding of what it means to be American (etc). While there has been a huge backlash against Kaepernick, there’s also been a heartening support for his right to do as he did. He has exercised his democratic right, and some – not all – recognise that.

The American’s I know are like that, but generally they’re drowned out by the raucous mob. There are individual minds willing to engage with the issue, and make up their own mind. From afar they are largely drowned out by coarse patriotism and slogans of the mob. And that’s the problem, wherever you go – the discerning come individually, the unthinking come in mobs.

As for black lives matter – I think it’s been a great and worthy cause. Kaepernick is saying I can’t stand here and blindly support my country while it allows such things to happen. It’s a principled stance that refuses to accept the conventional patriotic line. Wherever you go, patriotic rhetoric is used to paper over the cracks and divert the eyes from the unseemly. By his stance Kaepernick has forced Americans to consider – unfortunately it seems most only consider his patriotism, and not the cause he wants them to.

I have to say, as an Australian, it’s something we need to do also. Calling ourselves great, as every people does, is nothing more than a comforting slogan. No people can be great when they treat others with contempt.

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