Patriotism: America’s New Religion -This playbook is all too familiar to African Americans.
Several statements have been used to define the religious foundation of America, such as “America was founded on Christian principles” or “America is a Christian nation.”
This has caused many people to use the Bible as a benchmark for their every decision and every action – both for good and evil. Some have even gone to the extreme with their religious beliefs, using both the Bible and their belief in it, as a means to push positions that they will go to great lengths to defend, even if it means ignoring or hurting other people in the process.
This form of religious extremism has proven harmful, and oftentimes fatal, throughout the course of American history, especially as it relates to African Americans.
Now, there seems to be a newfound obsession with the American flag that has been embraced by patriotic extremists in this country that rivals the way religion has been used over the years as a tool to oppress and disenfranchise African Americans.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, ‘patriotism’ is defined as the “love for or devotion to one’s country.”
It is no secret that African Americans have a strong love for this country and have been devoted to it since inception. However, African Americans have also been the unwilling victims of racism and systematic oppression in this country since its inception, and sadly, many people have used religion as a tool to perpetuate even more racism and systematic oppression.
Interestingly enough, in the same way religion was used as a tool, now this false narrative about disrespecting the American flag has become the latest systematic tool to justify racism and the systematic oppression that African Americans continue to face in this country.
People who profess to be so incensed with NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to protest police brutality and systematic oppression in this country by choosing to peacefully take a knee every game, have noticeably treated him in a way that is totally the opposite of others who have used their platforms to protest, primarily because he is an African American taking a stand concerning issues that impact African Americans. Those who are so adamant about Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee are actually using this American flag narrative as a way to change the conversation in order to avoid dealing with the real issues that Kaepernick raised as a result of his protest, as well as ignore systemic oppression in the U.S. in the process.
Sadly, the response to Kaepernick’s protest is eerily reminiscent to the responses many Americans had during the days of slavery and during the height of the attacks on African Americans by the Ku Klux Klan, where they used religion to justify their brutal and targeted attacks on African Americans, choosing to turn the other way and ignore the root issues and realistic concerns that were being brought to their attention by African Americans.
This playbook is all too familiar to African Americans, in that patriotism is now the substitute for religion, and the Bible has been replaced by the American flag. Same concept though.
One would need to look at the core of the country’s foundation, along with the historical treatment of African Americans in this country, in order to better understand how Black people have always had to deal with religion being a tool to justify their enslavement and ill-treatment.
Following the slave revolts in the early 19th century, states like Virginia and others passed a law requiring Black congregations to meet only in the presence of a White minister. Many Black slaves didn’t want to be constrained to having a White minister that served as their spiritual overseer, while justifying their enslavement in the process. Racist slave owners used select scriptures from the Bible to justify and legally sanction slavery.
For instance, people of African descent were considered the children of Canaan and the Bible scriptures found in Genesis 9:20-27 have widely been used to justify the enslavement of Africans for centuries. The passage reads: “When Noah exited the ark, he planted a vineyard. He sampled too much of his wine, got drunk, and lay naked inside his tent…….Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham had a son named Canaan. Ham saw his father’s nakedness, but his brothers walked backward into the tent to avoid the sight. When Noah awoke, he put a curse on Ham’s son, declaring that Canaan “shall be a slave to his brothers.”
Other proponents of the abuse and oppression of African Americans used scriptures from the Song of Solomon 1:5-6 to justify their racist positions, which reads: “I am black but beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem . . . Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has gazed on me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards.”
That verse of scripture has been used by American religious extremists as biblical justification that dark-skinned people, or people of color, are somehow cursed and beneath everyone else, therefore occupying a lower position on the racial ladder and are destined to be slaves and serve others. This caused the most extreme racists and racist organizations to flourish in this country, with no accountability.
In 1863, Brigham Young, who was the founder of Salt Lake City and a prominent and well-respected leader as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) from 1847 until his death in 1877, is reported to have said: “Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.”
It was nothing to see Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members dressed in their robes and attending church. The burning cross is synonymous with the KKK and has been used as a symbol of intimidation by the KKK. The burning of the cross was used as a symbol of Christian fellowship, and its lighting during meetings was steeped in Christian prayer, the singing of hymns, and other overtly religious symbolism.
During the Civil Rights movement, the majority of the White evangelical leaders refused to get involved and speak out against the atrocities faced by African Americans, and were noticeably absent during most of the marches, protests, bus boycotts and voter-registration drives.
Prior to NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick choosing to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem back in 2016, it is clear that this level of conversation, attention and controversy surrounding what it meant to respect the flag and display patriotism was not nearly as intensified as it is now. The United States Flag Code, written in 1923, had penalties in it for mutilating or stomping on the flag, which included a fine and up to a year in prison, but that all changed in 1990 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that burning the American flag was protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Many of the people who have created this false narrative about Kaepernick allegedly “disrespecting the flag,” have seemingly found no issue with addressing other people who have utilized freedom of speech in ways that show disrespect to the American flag, along with other forms of disrespect to people and other sacred things, such as the burning of a cross or supporting the rebel flag of the Confederacy or the comments made from the person currently occupying the office of the presidency.
We live in a country where we have witnessed thousands of mostly White Anti-Vietnam War demonstrators, burn the American flag in the 1960s as a powerful form of free speech. We have also witnessed musical artists like Kid Rock perform at an NFL Super Bowl halftime show while wearing an American-flag poncho, with a hole cut out for his head to come through it, as a form of free speech. Most recently, we have even seen Houston Astros baseball player, Josh Reddick, take off all his clothes, with the exception of some American flag speedos, all while being drenched with champagne after they eliminated the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS last month.
So, while these actions initially drew the ire of some, they did not nearly reach the same level of reaction as the controversy surrounding the false narrative attributed to Kaepernick, along with the negative attention this young man has received.
Kaepernick’s words have been completely ignored and swept under the rug, as if he didn’t tell everyone why he was taking a knee from the start. Many Americans are seeking to hold Kaepernick, along with those who support his efforts, to some standard that the average American is not held to, and have taken on a ‘holier-than-thou’ approach, as to what they believe respecting the American flag and what being “patriotic” actually means to them.
It is time for these patriotic extremists to be called out for who they are – a newer version of religious extremists who are using the American flag to replace the Bible as the latest tool to justify racism and the systematic oppression of African Americans in this country.