In the news, recently, American sportsmen and women have been protesting racial inequality by taking a knee during the pre-game playing of the national anthem. The coverage of such protest has been inescapable, alongside the reactions of the American people too. The perceived notion is that through failing to stand through a national anthem, the individuals in question are actively attacking the nation that gives them jobs, provides them with security and protects their liberty. They are defecating on the graves of the war-dead, they are politicising sport and they might as well set fire to the flag. The offenders would argue that they are simply bringing attention to the undeniable and rampant racial inequality, societal imbalance and lack of opportunity that plagues, not only the African American community, but all minority groups in the United States.
The whole debate seems bizarre to me as a foreign spectator. Surely, it is the right of the individual to protest and speak freely in whichever forum he deems acceptable. His/her employers or governing body of that specific forum may not agree with the sentiment or be appreciative of the manner in which it manifests itself, however they are able to impose their own punishments, normally financial, in order to address this. We have seen this globally when sports players protest or act in inappropriate ways. It is not expected that thousands of patriots will turn against the players and the teams and launch death threats in their direction.
America’s toxic relation to its national identity and warped sense of patriotism is heavily contrasted by our own sense of identity in England and Britain. They seem to pick and choose from the Constitution that they cite so heavily. Freedom of speech without criticism of certain ‘sacred’ institutions and symbols. Indiscriminate equality without acknowledgement of institutionalised racism. Given the post-colonial consciousness that most of us, in the U.K., live with and embody, we, especially the younger generations, are becoming more and more sceptical of nationalism and patriotism. We are lucky in that those who tend to enact such ideology are oft easily dismissable as right-wing fanatics who hold frankly unacceptable views and are in a manageable minority. Our multicultural society and recent history of diversity has changed the way we live. Acceptance and tolerance are prerequisites; all are represented. That is not to say that racial equality and discrimination are not issues within the U.K., far from it, however I will say that we don’t have delusions regarding our identity or the history involved in forging it. America seems to still be in denial. Until issues of the past are cross-examined and reconciliatory efforts are made then toxic ideology and superannuated national fervour will continue to smother inequality and justice and they will continue to be perpetuated.