What Does the Flag Symbolize?: Thoughts on the NFL National Anthem Controversy and Policy

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting leave and getting away with murder.”

That is the explanation that Colin Kapernick gave to reporters after the third preseason game for the San Francisco 49ers in late August 2016. Fast forward twenty one months later after two full NFL seasons embroiled in a national anthem controversy, the owners have unanimously approved a NFL National Anthem Policy. I’ve read the statement that was given in accordance with the introduction of this new policy. I do appreciate that they acknowledged how unfortunate it was that “on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousand of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case.” That being said that false perception was held and often driven by a number of NFL owners themselves.

At the end of the day the NFL owners ultimately care about the bottom line. I do not believe they really get it, and honestly I’m not convinced they really care. After the mid season closed door meetings with some of the players who had become the leaders of this movement within the NFL they concluded that they would support the foundations and charities the players were involved in within their respective communities. That solution falls short of actually addressing the actual concerns of the wider movement the players are lending their voices to within the United States of America as a whole demanding better policing in communities of color and accountability for officers who are wrongfully kill unarmed citizens. They do not care about there being a universal standard of policing and police protocol. They do not care about police officers whose recklessness and clear disregard for their training in deescalation tactics lead to unnecessary and unjust deaths. These are issues that can’t be resolved by getting behind the local Boys & Girls Club.

But ultimately this isn’t simply about the NFL not getting it or not caring. It’s about a large swath of America not getting it, or simply not caring. They do not care about the inequitable policing of black and brown bodies that can get Tamir Rice shot and killed in two seconds flat, but still armed white mass shooters can be taken into custody without incident hours after they’ve gone on a shooting rampage. They have been drip fed the lie of black inferiority, of inherent black savagery all their lives. These lies date back to the foundations of this country when Columbus discovered a resource far more valuable than the gold he was in search of. He found brown bodies, and with the authority bestowed on him by the crown and the church he sought to own them and make them work for him. If they did not comply they were killed. Thus as far as they are concerned the high profile incidences involving people of color who have been killed by police officers in recent years are just another black or brown body in a heap of millions that has been collecting for five hundred years that should have just done what their master told them to do.

It is not NFL owners who sat on the juries or grand juries who either choose to acquit or not indict Officer Yanez, Officer Wilson, Officer Pantaleo, George Zimmerman, or Officer Loehmann. It was our fellow citizens many of whom are likely NFL Fans, play fantasy football, or have a favorite local team. They are Vikings fans. They were Rams fans. They are Giants or Jets fans. They are Browns fans. Jurors decided and much of America approved.

Lost in all the anthem controversy of the past two years is the actual symbolic meaning of the stars and stripes. The American flag itself has been distorted to mean something else, something that was not originally intended. America has either forgotten or simply does not want to be beholden to the great ideals that America aspires to be and thus what the flag represents. When the colonists first marched into the battles of the Revolutionary War with the flag it was not in honor of the troops who were fighting against the crown of Great Britain whom they believed was a tyrant. They carried the flag to remind them what they were fighting for. The ideal they aspired towards as expressed in The Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It represents what we aspire to be but have never fully been. The pageantry that was developed around supporting troops during war time dating back the World War II has caused us to forget what the flag was meant to signify. It was quite a convenient revision for a nation that fought a war against fascism whilst rounding up Asian Americans into internment camps and sending black men who were legally discriminated against at home across the ocean to fight for the freedom of white foreigners

Truth be told America has had a very slow and contentious march towards fulfilling that ideal for all of it’s history into the present day. By 1776 it had been nearly 130 years since the courts in Virginia ruled that John Punch “being a negro… shall serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life here or elsewhere”. That of course after the Dutchman and the Scotsman who had fled with John Punch got four additional years added to their servitude. In the sixty years after the Joe Punch Decision Virginia codified a series of court decisions that created a radicalized system of slavery with the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705. It effectively embedded white supremacy into law, and the other colonies quickly followed suit. Thus the Declaration of Independence was conceived under the clear auspices of white supremacy. White Supremacy in America has never fully been addressed and dismantled. Thus today we have glaring issues of racial inequality not least of which is the criminal justice system.

If there was ever a time for NFL owners to see the urgency and seriousness of what the players were kneeling for it was during the first weekend of preseason games in early August 2017. Out spoken white supremacists marched through Charlottesville Virginia and protested the removal of statues depicting rebels and traitors of America. Statues of men who believed it was their divine right to rule over men and women of color. Not on their knees, but with torches. Not with silence but with shouts that they will not be replaced. Not in their uniforms of white hoods masking their faces, but in their street clothes and their pale faces in the open. Not with a posture of submission but with gestures of assault and violent confrontation armed with anything that could be used as a weapon.Yet in the midst of weekly news stories of black people having the police called on them for doing everyday ordinary things, and bigots no longer holding their tongue, they’ve made it clear what matters most.. their bottom line of corporate sponsors and white fans who just want their football without the distractions and for the players to simply comply and give them a good game.

Token Confessions Entry 2: My Daughter Doesn’t Think She Looks Like A Princess

Many have a hard time accepting that White Supremacy exists in modern day America beyond the pockets of robe wearing hate groups, tiki torch carrying white nationalists, and other extremists who give the ideology of white supremacy agency. At it’s core the ideology of White Supremacy is not about hatred. It’s about who and what is inherently superior and therefore who and what is inherently inferior.

My seven year old daughter loves nothing more than wearing a pretty dress and being told she is beautiful. She’ll put it on underneath her bathrobe and come skipping up to me or her mother with that larger than life grin on her face, unveil the dress she has adorned herself in and ask the same question, “How do I look?”, hoping to be told she looks beautiful.

Just the other morning this routine unfolded. She first came to me in the den reading the mornings news. I paused for a moment to gaze into the eyes of my daughter and told her in my understated way, “You look beautiful”. She then proceeded to the office to present herself to her mother and ask the same question to which Emma said, “You look like a princess.” At this Isla replied…

“I can’t look like a princess mummy. Princesses don’t have brown skin like me. They have light skin like you mummy, and blonde hair like you.”

Emma was quick to not simply tell Isla that her brown skin doesn’t render her unworthy or unfit of being a princess, but to also go to google. She typed in “black princess” and scrolled through numerous images of princesses with brown skin and dark hair like Isla. One day Isla will truly be able to appreciate and understand how fortunate she is to have HER pale skinned Scottish mummy as HER mother. In the meanwhile she, freshly seven years old, has already received the message.

It is a message that no one told her. No one has had to articulate it to her. She knows little to nothing about racism nor the history of white supremacy in shaping her native land long before she was born. But she has received the message that white is right, and black is well… less than. Inferior.

My daughter’s response to being told she looks like a princess is an example of how white supremacy works in 2018.

No one told her that black is inferior.

No one told her that black isn’t beautiful.

No one told her that white skin or blonde hair is better than brown skin and thick black hair.

But simply by living in this culture and society she has received the message that whiteness is superior, and black is inferior. That white is the image of true beauty, beauty that she will never be able to attain.

No matter how extravagant the dress, it is on brown skin.

No matter how fabulous the hair is styled, it’s thick black and resting on a brown canvas.

And she has been seven years old for a month.

That is how white supremacy works in 2018.

It is so woven into the fabric of our society and culture. It was a core principle and driving factor fueling colonization and European Imperialism. Due to its central role in shaping the world for nearly six hundred years (see the Papal Bull Statement of 1452) it no longer requires personal agency to ensure its ideology, its tenets, its principles are passed on. It is a well oiled machine that has learned to adapt to new times and challenges.

In America we consistently make the mistake of thinking the Emancipation Proclamation abolished the idea of inherent white superiority. It only abolished slavery while leaving the ideology that birthed it intact. Unchecked and unquestioned it has enormous power to shape how we think without us being aware it has taken hold. Even with the recent increase in white nationalism white supremacy is most effective in and insidious in its subtle forms.

It’s Time | Women in Church

C3ED8C30-6BCF-40A0-9424-C87ADE9A5E5DNote from the author: I wrote this post a year ago for a church blog but we decided under the circumstances that it would be best for the women to have the voice exclusively. Hear we are a year later with the Harvey Weinstein revelations and the trending of #MeToo on social media, and I thought it might be a good time to share this on my own blog site.

 

We have had nearly a week to process and digest the very disturbing viral video of Donald Trump describing how he knowingly and intentionally makes unwanted sexual advances against women with impunity. To say that it has triggered massive amounts of trauma developed from lived experiences of women is an understatement. The amount of energy being expended by he and others to defend what he said, or diminish his shocking confession to little more than lewd words, is confounding. All leading to the virtual dam of silence cracking at its foundation as women are telling their stories of unwanted sexual advances, sexual harassment assault and rape. History may look back on the release of that video, and see it as a tipping point in so many realms of American society. Hopefully one of the areas of our society in which it will serve as a tipping point and catalyst for long overdue change is the church.

There is so much one could say about the fact that Donald Trump has received not simply endorsements, but moral imperatives from prominent Evangelical Christian leaders and thinkers to Christians to vote for Trump (Jerry Falwell Jr., and James Dobson among them). In essence they are saying, “If you don’t vote for Trump you are sinning against God.” Some have seemingly come to their senses and issued a wholesale revoking of their endorsement of him (Wayne Grudem).

However, I believe this all says less about Trump, and less about the decline of the Religious Right, than it does something else far more significant and in need of change. I believe the past five days says so much more on how we are long over due for women to have a more prominent role, and voice in the local church and evangelical organizations. It is long past time that women truly share in the leadership and authority in the local church and evangelical organizations. It is time for the ceiling of children and women’s ministry and the mission field be removed. It is time for more churches to appoint female deacons and elders. It is time for women to be given the chance to be executive, lead and even teaching pastors.

For too long the church has demeaned the full imago dei of women because Eve listened to the serpent.

For too long we’ve been ignoring the biblical narratives of God elevating women alongside and even in front of men, not simply because there was a void of male leadership but because they were chosen by God and they were the most qualified.

For too long we’ve given women the title of director instead of pastor in fear of offending the old guard.

For too long we’ve stifled the radicalness of Jesus affirming Mary’s choice to shun the kitchen in favor of sitting at the feet of Jesus, not as some star struck groupie but as a disciple. If Jesus believed Mary could learn to do what he does, then what is stopping us from letting them do what he does (Luke 10.38-42)? In reality it shouldn’t even be an issue of giving them permission. If not are we then guilty of ignoring what Jesus says to Martha, “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” If Paul believed that a new expansive understanding of how we are to see ourselves in light of the work of Christ included a loosening of conventional gender roles, “there is neither male nor female” (Galatians 3.28) have we crafted a subversive gospel message for women to get them saved and keep them in their place?

I don’t say all these things and pose all these questions to sound controversial. I say them because I’m convinced that we weren’t meant to be steeped in centuries long marginalization of women in the name of patriarchy in which the church has been complicit and often taken the lead. Then it wouldn’t be so hard for us in the church to know how to respond to Trump and those who defend his demeaning of women because women who lead alongside men in the church would be right at the forefront of our response (which is why this wasn’t posted when it was originally written because we wanted the reply of women at the forefront). Their voices would be heard from the nursery and from the pulpit. Their unique stories and lived experiences would be shared in first person before communities of men and women of all ages together. It’s not too late though for us to finally begin to model in the church what Paul says in Ephesians of submitting to one another in Christ. But this I am certain, it is long past time for it to happen.