OMYR: Symbols Over Substance

Colin Kaepernick’s refusing to stand for the national anthem. Is that upsetting? Is it offensive to you?


It amazes me that his quiet protest, which only came to light recently so that he had to explain himself, is imploding heads.

It’s such a shallow form of patriotism that can’t accommodate dissent. It’s a patina of patriotism. It’s the oxidation on the Statue of Liberty.

Here’s the crazy part. It seems like the people who are most offended have nothing to say about all of these proud, haughty displays of the Confederate battle flag.

I mean, talk about symbolism. Literally flying the flag of a breakaway nation — secessionists — fighting against the United States in order to preserve an economy based on enslavement. The losing side of a civil war. And having the nerve to bash someone else’s patriotism?

When conservatives talk about making America great again and how our military is weak and our economy sucks and we’re unemployed, they’re greeted with cheers and votes (as long as they’re using the right scapegoat).

When minorities talk about wanting America to live up to its ideals, we’re accused of being unpatriotic, America-hating, wanting-something-for-nothing thugs.

It disturbs me that people think they have special ownership of the flag and the military and even the country, as if others haven’t served and aren’t serving and sacrificing every day.

Updated to add: Oh wow. I just had a revelation when I went to the bathroom. Ownership. You know how you can criticize a relative but if anyone else does you get offended and possessive? Because that relative is your blood, your family, your people. That’s how a lot of these patriots and “patriots” feel about America. It belongs to them. It’s theirs. That’s why they have the right to be critical. Whereas the rest of us are — what?

This is the double standard we’re talking about. This is the privilege we’re talking about.


Let’s put things in perspective, though. People risk their lives to come here and for good reason.

I’ve talked to people from around the globe who have settled here and they’ll tell you that there’s no place like it. In many ways the USA is the best place to be for freedom and opportunity. Truly.

I mean, there are people coming from countries where citizens would be tortured and killed for saying the wrong thing or being in the wrong profession at the wrong time. Or where civil wars and infighting have turned major metropolitan areas into literal, demolished and dilapidated war zones where rape, slaughter, mass murders and executions, and other war crimes are rampant and unchecked.

From that perspective, America is a dream. Then you get here and everyone’s squabbling, whining and complaining about how oppressed they are. Everyone.

America is the land of opportunity.  America is a land where you can protest and you have rights. If those rights are violated you have recourse to pursue justice. America is a land where Kaepernick can shun the national anthem and not be sentenced to 30 years of hard labor in the Badlands. In America, you can fly neo-Nazi and white supremacist flags, banners and paraphernalia while carrying rifles, marching down the street to an NAACP building and get police protection along the way.

Imagine that happening in Germany. Imagine armed wannabe-Nazis marching in front of a Jewish organization in Berlin. They’d be arrested, charged and jailed for inciting hate.

So while we can all complain about everything that’s wrong — and there’s a lot — we often take for granted that we’re living lives of relative privilege. Human-history-superlative levels of comfort and privilege.

It’s not equal, for sure, and a lot of people are being left behind. This is the problem. It seems like there’s always an underclass and sometimes it feels like we’re teetering on the brink.

At the same time we have the privilege of having the time, energy, resources and the opportunity to deal with inequality and deal with ourselves.


So I never intentionally disrespect the American flag or ignore the national anthem. I’m sure I have, though. I’m usually wearing a hat, for example, and I don’t remember to take it off until someone nudges me or I see a bunch of other people doing so. I forget to not joke around with friends when I’m at a memorial, some of which are intended to be somber.

I don’t actively avoid public acts of patriotic respect, though, out of respect for and a belief in our ideals. Beyond the oligarchic intent of our founding fathers, even. More in the ideals of a framework designed to grow and improve and tear off its abominable skin of by-any-means-necessary avarice.

This whole thing — the flag, the songs, our founding documents, our military — how do I say this.

There’s so much that needs to change. There is so much wrong. Our history is so ugly. It really is. Our present, our now, is still shameful in a lot of ways but we are far down the road from where we were. Sometimes stuck in a ditch on the side of the road. I can’t say I know what’s at the end of it but we’ve come a long way.

We are far afield but every day we, as a country, are trudging towards them. Some of us are being dragged kicking and screaming along the way and others have planted themselves proudly and firmly in the past like a bunch of Archie Bunkers but without the humble, put-upon likability.



You could make a living off of being offended and outraged. You can devote your life to exposing the crimes and injustices our country (and any country, really — behind every great fortune is a great crime) is guilty of, if you wanted to, and you wouldn’t be wrong.

You can’t control what other people do and what life throws at you. You can only control your own actions and reactions. Be angry. Be motivated. Feel hurt. But let’s not neglect ourselves and our principles.

Let’s not give in to malice and self-radicalize. Let’s fight the urge to segregate and only congregate in our ideological bubbles. Let’s not be blind to our shared disenfranchisement and common goals.

Think of all of the innovation, beauty, resourcefulness, resilience, generosity, respite and variety you have access to. Think of the people you love. All the things you like to do. The people you connect with. Think of all the things you love about yourself. Even being able to leave, explore the world and cultures and come back home. Those are all aspects of our flawed world, country and system, too.

It’s important to confront our skeletons. I’m sure Uncle Sam’s therapist or confidant would tell him the same thing. Deal with it. Make amends. Not out of kowtowing weakness but with strength and dignity.

Come on, Uncle Sam. You got this.


1 comment

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  1. wisdomseason

    Crazy, isn’t it? We truly do live in a society that has deified its celebrity class. Please tell me why I should give any more weight to what a professional athlete or actor thinks or does than I do to the opinions and behavior choices of the guy that just shared an elevator with me.

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