Friday, 2 September 2016

Oppression, allegiance, militarism and Kaepernick

First off, I'm not going to address Colin Kaepernick directly. His decision, and I'm fairly sure it's protected speech. He's also an employee, but his employers at the 49ers confirmed his freedom of expression.

More so for me, it made me think.

I am a privileged white man, but I am also an immigrant. Naturalization would force me to pledge to fight "all enemies, foreign and domestic", since securing a waiver on the grounds of pacifism is both unusual and expensive.

I can see why Black people, living with the legacy of slavery, and Native Americans, who saw a massive invasion steal their country... would object to pledging allegiance to 'the republic for which it stands' - and to standing to attention alongside.

There is a strand of Native culture which I have yet to understand, and that is the willingness to serve in the same military which fought to exterminate them, and a country which either ignores or oppresses them.

That brings me to the singing of the National Anthem before every sporting thing here. Sam Borden of the New York Times, a good journo, reflected on this from an American perspective:

Lost in (the Kaepernick debate) , though, is that while high-level sports are a type of entertainment, few other forms of mass-consumed entertainment — movies or concerts or exhibitions — have the anthem ingrained into every performance.

The full article is here, and it is beautifully written.

Do I have a duty to stand? I'm often not physically able. That aside, I'm not, and probably won't ever be, American (see above).

Borden points to Drew Brees conflating the flag with the military, an unfortunate habit which seems unique to this country. This is not helped by the fact that the anthem is literally about war and how glorious it is to survive war.

The British anthem is a pledge to our own status quo,  "long to reign us, God Bless the Queen". As an agnostic republican, I'm grateful there was no pledge or tradition of saluting a flag. There is, however, a tradition of singing along when it IS sung, usually before international games. God Save the Queen is a dirge, and the massive crowds at England games often sing it with alcohol-fuelled bluntness and poor rhythm - often leading the crowd to be at least a beat ahead of whichever professional is performing the anthem in the centre circle.

If someone started to play the British national anthem before Manchester United games, there would be widespread confusion - but no one would dare accuse the millions of attendants of soccer of being unpatriotic.

The main reason I object to the national anthem at a domestic event is this:

Sports are largely a borderless world, where your nationality matters less to the fans than what team colors you 'bleed', and the incessant playing of a national anthem undercuts this ecumenical spirit and possibly irritates or confuses the non - Americans who make up a substantial caucus within all levels of all US sports with the possible - and pointed - exception of American Football.

The first verse of Francis Scott Key's Star Spangled Banner (which is as far as most 20th century sheet music goes) ends with a question:

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Maybe Colin Kaepernick just decided the answer was no.