“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.” As an elementary school kid growing up in America in the 1960s, I recited those words a million times. Every morning, like clockwork—right after the opening bell and right before roll call—our entire classroom would stand at attention, facing the flag with hands over hearts, and solemnly affirm our fealty to the Stars and Stripes.
I guess I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to the American flag and National Anthem. Call me idealistic, but I always thought they universally stood for such revered values as patriotism, loyalty, and freedom. They were symbols to be honored and respected—an homage to the democratic liberties inherent as a citizen living in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Recent events, however, have taught me that not all Americans feel that way about the flag. The visible strife began in 2016, when quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers began kneeling in protest during the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner. Over the next couple of years, his protest gained momentum as other NFL players joined him in solidarity. As recently as last week, the movement spread to a segment of the Ole Miss basketball team as they kneeled during the playing of the National Anthem prior to the tipoff of their game against Georgia.
So, what exactly were these players protesting? In Kaepernick’s case, it was allegedly a demonstration against racial injustice, social oppression, and police brutality, specifically towards people of color. The Ole Miss players were speaking out directly in opposition of a pro-Confederate rally being held simultaneously on campus as their game was being played. Surprisingly to me, all those kneeling apparently viewed the flag and anthem as representative of a country that allows such abominations to continue unabated. In their eyes, they felt obligated to speak out directly against an oppressive regime. Not only did they feel that protesting during the anthem was the right thing to do, they also knew it would draw unmatched visibility and attention to their plight.
Social injustice and oppression are extremely noble causes for which to protest. Inequality based on skin color and unmitigated hate need to be systematically wiped off the face of the earth. With that being said, I’m still not quite sure I understand why protesters continually choose to express their outrage against the backdrop of the American flag.
Regardless of what they feel the flag and anthem represents to themselves, surely they realize what it represents to the rest of America. When protesting a righteous cause, why go out of your way to tick off those who still believe in duty, honor, and country? Why alienate those who still regard the flag and anthem as symbols for which to fight and die for? I know the protesters have claimed that their actions are not meant in any way to be disrespectful to the military. Still, I know many are offended and will be needlessly distracted from the issue at hand.
As a United States Armed Forces Veteran, I was recently asked if I felt like those kneeling during the Anthem were “slapping me in the face.” No, I’m not offended, but just continually puzzled by their actions due to the reasons stated above.
To me, the United States of America has always symbolized two things: land of opportunity and freedom of expression. Regarding the former, I’ve been fortuitously blessed. As first-generation Chinese immigrants, our family moved to the States in 1963 with little attached to our name. Through a relentless pursuit of education and an unwavering work ethic, we fulfilled the proverbial American dream and became productive citizens of this great country.
Regarding the latter—freedom of expression—it’s a beautiful thing that Americans take too often for granted. The kneeling protesters are free to do as they please. I certainly don’t agree with the manner in which they’re promoting their message, but I’ll agree to defend with my life their right to choose. As a matter of fact, I already did when I pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.
Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist. He currently works as sports columnist for Nolan Media Group and Sports View America. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.