Stewart: A black veteran’s daughter’s opinion on kneeling for the anthem

While reading a recent column by Paul Rutecki titled “Kneeling for the national anthem is disrespectful” I tried to keep an open mind. Unfortunately I found that it deeply upset me, not due to our differing opinions, but because I felt the logic was flawed.

First, I’d like to point out that the analysis of the history of the national anthem was very biased. Yes, as Rutecki stated, the Union advocated for the abolition of slavery, but that was not a main cause, as many were taught to believe. The purpose of the Union was predominantly economic, with the abolition of slavery being a secondary bonus and incentive for the states in the north.

Second, the impact of police brutality on the black community was not properly acknowledged. In fact, it is almost downplayed when he quotes veteran Rep. Brian Mast as saying “[I] have … taken a knee in front of the Soldiers Cross as we mourned a fallen brother…” Is that not exactly what Kaepernick and the other NFL protesters are doing? Our brothers and sisters are being slain in the streets and we mourn them just like anyone else.

My father served in 1994 as an Airman first class. As a black veteran he is able to have a unique perspective on the matter. Black veterans are not shown the same respect as their white counterparts, as can be seen by President Trump’s recent blunder with the pregnant widow of a fallen soldier. I’ve seen my father profiled in the streets. I’ve seen the way people react with fear to a man that fought to protect them from forces that they should fear much more.  We say we respect our veterans, but what about our black veterans?

After talking to my father about the article on the phone, he said something that really stuck with me. “As a black man and a veteran, I’m perfectly fine with [kneeling during the anthem]. How [does he] know what’s disrespectful to [black veterans] when he isn’t one?” The veteran that Rutecki quoted did not have a deep understanding of the struggles of the black community.

Yes, the flag and anthem’s history is rooted in the military, but it has come to represent the police officers, firefighters and all the serviceman of this country. Yet the black people of this country are being neglected this service. The men and women who are supposed to protect us are harming us. For black Americans, the flag is representing the people who are failing us.

We are in no way claiming that America is bad or that we disrespect the military. Many of the people who kneel are military veterans. We are protesting for the flag to once again represent freedom and honor rather than fear and oppression. We are protesting for the flag to once again represent a country of opportunities, the country people flock to for a better life: a country envied by others. We protest not the flag, nor the anthem. We protest for the American ideals.

Though I can see where people could believe that kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful, I would like to ask them to stop and think about why. We want the flag and anthem to represent the America we know and love, not one where police kill people in the streets and veterans are not respected simply due to their skin color. We want an America where we can stand and proudly say that America is the best it can be. I want my country to love me as much as I love it. We protest for the veterans of color, their children, the men and women slain in the streets and the families they’ve left behind. In the America we know and love, we protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We are fighting to protect life, and will continue to do so until it is realized.

Yannique Stewart is a second-year student majoring in biology and Japanese. She is an activist, founder of The Sisterhood, an organization for the empowerment of black women, and self-proclaimed nerd.