Small-town USA holds a special place in my heart. I was raised in Rockwood, Pennsylvania, a rural town with a population of less than 1,000. I grew up sporting fluorescent orange in tree stands, wading streams to catch fish, bailing hay, shoveling horse manure, and carrying buckets of water from nearby creeks for our animals. Some of my fondest memories were made living the small-town life.
Rural America, you taught me to appreciate time spent with family and friends, give the shirt off my back to someone in greater need, and say thanks to those who guide me in the right direction. You emphasized these teachings over the pursuit of superficial satisfactions like fortune and fame. For that, I am grateful.
However, throughout the last few years, especially this past calendar year, you have been the antithesis of your former self. Indeed, you’ve been a hypocrite, not a role model. Rather than preach hospitality and generosity, you’ve supported Tiki Torch, tough guys shouting racist insults and waving Nazi flags in Charlottesville, Virginia, and across other major U.S cities. For those who support this behavior, you have the right to do so, and the white supremacists masquerading as “patriots” have the right to march and make themselves look like idiots.
You also had the right to vote for Donald Trump. During the 2016 presidential election, you cried out at the top of your lungs, “Hey America, we are still here. We are hurting. Our concerns are being ignored, and we are speaking up!” You sent the loudest message in modern political history by electing Donald Trump, the most disliked presidential candidate, who detailed (proudly) how he sexually assaults women because he’s rich and famous. He promised to stick up for you, bring your concerns to light, and “Make America Great Again.” After you elected him 45th President of the United States, I defended your choice in a previous article even though I disagreed with it and even went as far as to call those who ridiculed you hypocrites.
Now, as I sit and watch the National Football League protest President Trump’s calls for firing the “son of a b*tch” who doesn’t stand for the anthem, I am disappointed by the responses I see from my hometown and similar small-towns.
Like you, Colin Kaepernick exercised his right to free speech by kneeling in silence during the Star Spangled Banner to protest the string of police brutality incidents aimed at African Americans and you shouted: “If you don’t like the U.S, just leave!” , “You’re disrespecting our flag and our veterans!” , “You get paid $16 million to play a GAME! Be grateful,” and “He should be fired!”
These statements are so misguided that a complete explanation would take an additional article. But, I’ll address them briefly here.
1) If you don’t like something about the U.S, the last thing you should have to do is leave unless you’re some diabolic terrorist. Instead of defending the U.S as some utopia and disguising your averseness to change as “patriotism,” understand why people don’t view the U.S. in such a positive light, and work towards improving the circumstances that trouble those around you.
2) Those who continue to kneel haven’t disrespected military veterans, but rather they’ve pointed out that for black Americans the institutions that wield the power in this country do not afford them the same treatment and opportunities as white Americans. The American flag is not the symbol of the military. Each military branch has its own flag. The stars and stripes symbolize the freedoms written in our Constitution. Veterans who fought for the U.S did so to preserve those rights. Expressing one’s right to protest is therefore not a sign of disrespect to veterans, but rather it’s one of the most patriotic, American actions there is.
3) There is no financial limit to one’s right to speak out and strive for improvement in this country, nor should we require there to be.
4) Protesters shouldn’t be fired or kept jobless. They didn’t break any NFL rule nor federal law. In other fields of work, we call that wrongful termination/discrimination.
You didn’t think the U.S. was so star spangled awesome a year ago. You sought improvement by electing Donald Trump as the 45th president of the U.S. NFL players who protest seek improved treatment of blacks by police. It’s a police brutality protest at its roots, not a national anthem protest, or mutiny directed towards the U.S as a whole.
It’s important to understand that kneeling during the anthem is the mechanism of the protest, not the cause. The cause is unfair treatment towards the African American community by law enforcement and the judicial system. That’s a cause we should all support.
If you still maintain that these protests are disrespectful let me ask the following: if Kaepernick knelt during the anthem to protest inadequate health care benefits for veterans who return home, would you still be freaking out? No. That would be ridiculous. You would support that cause (improved health care for veterans), and you would disregard the mechanism (kneeling during the anthem). The mechanism, barring incitement of violence, is irrelevant.
It is obvious that Rural America has an underlying issue with these protests. Perhaps its as simple as these protests make you uncomfortable because you see the social landscape is changing, and you are afraid of how that change affects you. However, like all successful protests, feelings of discomfort are inevitable. Acknowledging the discomfort is a fundamental component of realizing why change is necessary in the first place.
Perhaps, however, the underlying issue is more deeply rooted in Rural America’s ugly stereotype—racism. I hope not.
Regardless of your beliefs on this issue, there are a few things with which everyone should be able to agree: 1) All people deserve equal treatment in this country, but this is not the case at the present time, 2) Police officers killing individuals of any race or ethnicity without reasonable cause must stop, and officers who unjustly target, treat, and/or kill citizens must be held responsible, 3) Individuals have the right to protest, regardless of income, wealth, and ideologies so long as they do not incite violence or break federal laws or employer rules.
Let’s stop acting like America is burning to the ground.
Instead, let’s talk.