When Taking a Stand Means Kneeling Down
By Rafael Barker

“It’s not about unreasonable force by the police or unethical profiling of specific ethnic populations in our country! It’s not about equality, or seeking to rebalance the national, cultural landscape. You’re disrespecting the flag! You’re disrespecting our sacred symbol for “the land of the free”. How dare you disregard ‘the home of the brave,’ who have fought so valiantly to give you everything you have!”

These are the words I’ve been reading in our social media landscape. And each time I see this sentiment, I feel a bit of my humanity chip away. This movement of kneeling as the national anthem is played all started, specifically, to draw attention to “a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” as stated by movement originator Colin Kaepernick. Now, a year later, it has been reduced by President Twitter-Dee to a statement against patriotism and a direct challenge to our armed forces and their service to our country.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Mr. Kaepernick, himself a mixed-race child who battled with issues of identity his whole life, learned, as a result, to carry himself with respect for others and to think critically about how he represented his community. His decision to call attention to the broad, confusing, challenging issue facing people of color as they try to regain their cultural identity is a brave one. He may not have known it would lead, ultimately, to his unemployment and apparent banishment from the league. Even so, he recognized he was calling attention to a struggle for which we non-blacks have little frame of reference.

As a Colombian-born, adopted, young man with parents who moved to West Virginia in their early twenties, I’ve been blessed to view the community from a different lens. One of an outsider raised within; now a full-fledged member of my community. Even so, my status as a minority does not give me the life experience of other, more traditional ethnic minorities. Why, you ask? For one, I didn’t have my Hispanic culture when I arrived in the US. I assimilated easily as a young child into white culture. I have been blessed in ways innumerable by that white privilege. I am reminded of this every time a black friend tells me of the struggles they experienced in their youth. Of the struggles they now face.

It’s scary to admit a significant portion of our population walks in fear every day of wrongfully being accosted by the police. It’s horrifying we live in a world where our Misogynist in Chief gets to laugh away his comments regarding women and the presumed power his celebrity affords him over them. I’m scared most of all because this isn’t, all of a sudden, a new America. We’ve had these issues from the beginning. Kaepernick, like others before him, is simply trying to shift the balance of power so it provides our minorities a greater sense of agency and self-identity.

If we truly want to champion the ‘land of the free’ and ‘home of the brave,’ perhaps we should start by acknowledging the difficulties facing our ethnic minorities. We West Virginians, most of all, know what it’s like to feel oppressed by a country that has left us behind. Would it be so difficult to sit back, listen to understand, and allow the truth others speak to resonate within us, too? Maybe then, we’ll free ourselves of whatever veil has blinded us to the truth. And we can move forward. Together, we’ll rise.