At a young age, I understood that we all had to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. If you didn’t stand for the pledge, you were seen as disrespectful, and the teacher would shame you in the presence of all your peers. It was respectful to rise, even if we didn’t want to or if we had different beliefs.
That was all I really knew about the pledge. You were pressured to stand until you did it robotically when it was announced over the intercom. We were taught to believe that all were seen and treated as equal in America, that we were “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” The same mentality applied when it came to the national anthem.
In the 5th grade, my teacher decided to break down the Pledge of Allegiance. I learned that I was swearing my loyalty to a flag to show how devoted I was to my country. At the time, I didn’t fully understand the extent of what that all meant. I assumed it was okay since we were all supposed to stand. As I was beginning middle school, I began to understand why we stood. It’s disrespectful to the people who served to protect us. We aren’t showing our pride in America by sitting.
The older I became, the more I could no longer ignore social and political issues that remain both unsolved and controversial in America. Police brutality is seen as normal and the victim’s fault. It feels as if people of color are being killed for sport, and then they’re used as costumes. Women who are sexually assaulted are at fault for the ignorance of others. I lost faith in a country that would turn a blind eye to all the problems, but I kept standing for my father who served in the Air Force.
My father served Operation Desert Storm before I was born and then served during the War in Afghanistan. Being a child of a veteran, I do not glorify his service and neither does he. I respect my father and I am thankful for his service to the country, but why was me standing for the pledge seen as respectful when there are so many ways that are actually meaningful?
When my father first heard Colin Kaepernick say, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he applauded Kaepernick.
My father knows the hardships of being a black man in America. In one discussion he told me, “No matter what I do, I am still the bad guy. I served this country, I work, I breathe the same as they do, and it’s still not enough to be seen as a person.”
Because of my Dad’s influence on my evolving beliefs, I now refuse to say that we, America, are indivisible when I know that our nation is far from it. It is my constitutional right to protest, as with anyone else who kneels, sits, or raises their fist into the air. How can expressing my rights be seen as disrespectful to our country that supposedly guarantees my freedom of expression?
What’s disrespectful is throwing a drink at a person for sitting during the national anthem, which actually happened at a preseason Los Angeles Lakers game. The perpetrator even deleted her own bragging tweet displaying the video after rightfully being called out for her actions.
What’s disrespectful is calling people who are protesting out of their names because the opposers refuse to understand the reason why, which the President has done which has lead to a chain reaction of people targeting protesters.
People disrespect the flag everyday by wearing it as apparel and or costume, using it for advertising, and carrying it horizontally, but that doesn’t challenge one’s nationality.
How fragile must the foundation of America be that a silent, peaceful protest challenges people’s’ nationality?
I’m growing up in a nation that constantly reminds me of my skin tone, ethnicity and the restrictions associated with it. I fear that America will never change, and I don’t want to ritualistically display my loyalty to a country that turns a blind eye to problems it has created. This whole issue is not only about disrespecting people like my father; it’s also about the disrespect people face when they challenge the status quo.
I don’t stand for a corrupt justice system. I don’t stand for police brutality. I don’t stand for the dehumanization of people of color. I don’t stand for sexism. I don’t stand for the discardment of veterans. I don’t stand for rape culture that isolates victims. I don’t stand for systematic and institutional racism. I don’t stand for what America was built off of, and I don’t stand for everything it appears to be now.
In order for America to be united, we have to include those who actually built the foundation of the country. We can stand for equality. We can stand for feminism. We can stand for justice. We can stand for those who can’t anymore because people saw their existence as a threat.
Everything in America comes with a price. If I have to protest my whole life just to ensure the safety of the people like me, I will never stop standing up for my beliefs — even if that means staying seated.