There are many things about being American or living in the United States that clearly set apart the experience from any other. Often, these experiences are marked with mass-circulated symbols, such as the United States national anthem that coincides with the expectation of a certain corporal reverence that speaks to patriotism and the Second Amendment.
American football quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, sparked debate and controversy when he began sitting – which eventually turned to kneeling – during the national anthem in the 2017 pre-season. This was aimed to be a silent protest to show support for people of colour being oppressed in the United States. Kaepernick said: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour.”
Ten years ago, most of the country would have agreed with the statements President Trump made against kneeling during the national anthem. But times are changing, and as times change, society must react and reform. A poll from 2006 displays that almost half of white and black respondents said they knew someone who was racist. In 2007, hate groups in America rose – capping a 48% increase since 2000. Americans take standing during the anthem sincerely as a part of their patriotism. The national anthem is still just as powerful and valuable of a symbol; but the symbol is being pressured by social issues. Social issues from unjust police violence and prosecutions, thus the symbol and the issue are prioritised to a make a statement.
The NFL Superbowl 2017 had an average of 114 million views, so why not use it as a tool? This isn’t the first time sport has been used as a platform for social issues. In October 1968 at the Mexico City Olympics, Tommie Smith and John Carlos accepted medals in black socks and one black glove. During the Star-Spangled Banner, they raised their fists in a Black Power salute – signifying the Revolt of the Black Athlete.
People of colour don’t want to die over avoidable violence within the police force. Period. The stories are alarming; black people were killed by police at more than twice the rate of white people in both 2015 and 2016 – Americans want this to stop. NFL players are leading a reformation to plead for change; they are rejecting violence and unjust prosecutions against African Americans. The anxiety of being black in today´s America cannot be washed away by symbols anymore. Another hugely respected mass-circulated symbol in America today makes a point of reformation, the Second Amendment. A total of 53 people in Europe died from mass shootings in 2016, while a massive number of 392 died in the United States. With Europe’s stricter gun laws, it is much more likely that many shootings and terrorist attacks in today’s America could have been prevented. If we went back in time to ten years ago, most Americans would have been outraged at the thought of taking away the right to carry a gun. In 2007, the United States had 90 guns for every 100 citizens. The most recent results in 2017 show 79 guns for every 100 citizens. People are slowly beginning to reform.
The political and social context that made the Second Amendment necessary have changed, yet, the symbolism it carries today cannot be taken away. It is essential to consider how important these symbols are to an American, in order to put it in perspective. Symbols and myths are reminders of endurance, triumph, and identity. There is no denying that American lives today are at risk: of disenfranchisement, exclusion, even dying at the hand of reckless law enforcement. What is yet to be determined is what role do symbols of American identity play in this, and how can they be reworked to better the nation and ensure a different future.
Words: Lisa Telle
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu