ON “TAKING A KNEE”

 

Let’s talk about symbols. Whether of words or gestures, symbols are important. Therefore let me say that the current, all-consuming national tragedy began with someone “taking a knee” – on the NECK of a fellow American. It turned into a deadly act of subjugation by a man radically and fatally abusing his civil authority. The image –and the symbol – lingers. Once upon a time, along with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., we STOOD UP to declare our mutual love and we KNELT on both knees before a loving and all-powerful God. Powerful, affirmative symbols! We prayed together for deliverance from the sin of racism. We passed laws to that effect. King was murdered – a shocking and abiding symbol of how much work we had left to do. You can’t make people love one another. But since then, in our better moments, we’ve linked arms, tried (most of us) to obey those laws in the loving spirit in which they were ratified and again declared our respect for civil authority and for the symbols – such as the flag or the anthem – that unite us at public events, never pretending that our work of unifying was complete or that the fellow American to my right or left, however much I might disagree with him politically or religiously, did not continue to deserve my love, tolerance and understanding — especially if I expected him or her to love, understand and tolerate me. I think they call that the Golden Rule. The Colin Kepernick-generated symbol of “taking a knee” was an act of protest, yes (there’s nothing more American), but also an act of separation and disunion during very public demonstrations of unity and mutual respect, albeit enforced by both tradition, consensus and, in the case of the NFL, regulation. But Kaepernick’s gesture, disagree if you like, created needless tension and division and abides in my mind as a repudiation of our common bond of tolerance to which the national media, a craven, faceless monster of group-think, is now lending its imprimatur. It seemed to me to be a public act of anger. I know about anger. I’m often an angry person, for well or ill. But anger, along with sheer gleeful malevolence, is also why we are waking up to a ravaged nation of debris and death today. It’s also a sin. Meanwhile, the latest prominent soul to be swept before this wave of intimidation and political correctness run amok is Drew Brees, a seemingly decent and humble but patriotic family man who regularly puts on a uniform with fellow African-American teammates. I detect not a speck of racism in him. He simply loves his country and believes there’s a better, equally public, forum for powerfully airing grievances over lingering problems occurring at the intersection of police power and African-American civil and human rights. On NFL Sunday, Marathon Monday and many other times – we are together. And a week ago we were almost entirely together in our disgust and were loudly and peacefully protesting the outrage in Minneapolis. By contrast, the pronouncements and gestures of Kaepernick and his supporters, to my mind, play off the themes of white guilt and black power – all equally poisonous as claims of white supremacy. So – let’s not take a knee on one another’s necks. Let’s stand up – together.

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