Western Grandstand : Of standing up for justice by kneeling

September 30, 2017
Usain Bolt stands for the United States' national anthem after collecting his 100 metres bronze medal at the IAAF World Championships London 2017.

Western Bureau:

Jamaica has been drawn into the ongoing controversy in the United States in regard to NFL players taking the so-called 'knee' during the playing of that country's national anthem to protest the mistreatment of black people by the police.

I don't see kneeling while the US anthem is being played/sang as an unpatriotic act or even remotely rebellious. In fact, I see it as a reminder to stakeholders in American politics that the anthem and the flag are supposed to be symbols of justice and fairness to all Americans, regardless of their race, class or creed.

As far as I am concerned, if these black athletes did not use their privileged position to protest after incidents such as the despicable show of racial hatred by the white supremacists, who recently invaded Charlottesville, Virginia, causing the death of a woman and leaving the city badly traumatised, it would be a betrayal of their race.

For those who are questioning the appropriateness of protesting while the American anthem is being played, I wish to remind them that protests are not designed to create comfort, but rather to create discomfort while drawing attention to matters of concern. Therefore, kneeling when one is expected to stand is meant to create the kind of discomfort which has now taken over the US.

I have listened to the views expressed by those on both sides of this very contentious issue and I applaud those who have ditched the status quo and shown defiance. The entire action reminds me of a Swahili gem which states, 'the dog you did not feed will not answer your call'.




The president of the United States, Donald Trump, should know that kneeling by the athletes has nothing to do with being disrespectful to America or its flag. So, in constantly repeating his claim that the athletes are being unpatriotic, to the point where he used Usain Bolt's showing respect to the US flag as an example of how the American athletes should behave, is disingenuous.

When Bolt shows respect for the United States anthem and flag, it is not about any political or racial position, it is simply a reflection of our value system here in Jamaica, which encourages our people to show respect to our national symbols.

While I am not an American, I know what it is like to experience racism in that country. In the early 1980s, after I managed to convince a police officer in Florida that I was a Jamaican on vacation by showing him my passport, he told me that he had picked on me because "all the crime in this neighbourhood are being committed by young black men." In 1988, a store owner in Yonkers, New York, ordered me out of his store saying, "I don't want any nigger in here."

Despite those two bad experiences, I still maintained a healthy respect for the United States. The US has been a long-standing friend to Jamaica, and I believe we have very good reason to be grateful to that country.

However, despite the respect we might feel for the US, we should not allow the US president to get away with the false equivalence he projected on to Bolt as a symbol of respect in seeking to demonise the US athletes, who are kneeling for a just cause. The president needs to understand that in the land of Marcus Garvey and Peter Tosh, we stand for equal rights and justice and reject bigotry and racism.

I hope that despite the feelings of those who think symbols are more important that human dignity, the NFL players will continue their protest. I believe that it would be a noble gesture if all persons who abhorred racial injustice should take the 'knee' whenever they heard the US anthem. Maybe that would send an even louder message.

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