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The Lie of the Anthem and the Flag

James Harrison punching Hitler, one of the most popular comics we ever did at

Being an American means I get to bitch and moan. Today I am going to bitch and moan about America.

If you joined the military to “fight for the flag”… well, I’m sorry that you were lied to. I don’t automatically thank you for your service. I don’t think you automatically deserve my respect… in fact, it’s quite possible that I don’t respect you at all. I’m sorry if that gets under your skin. I will happily live my life complaining about shit that I don’t like and sometimes that might include you. And it sucks that you have to deal with that… I’m just kind of a dick. I mean… I’m not going to stop or anything… I’m not even going to slow down. Because my right to complain and bitch and moan is what you actually fought for. This kind of sucks for you. And it’s not your fault. Because you were lied to.

My grandfather was a WWII veteran and member of the fabled Red Ball Express (a predominantly black military convoy that has the distinction of being an early example of mass whitewashing in Hollywood film, but that’s a story for another day). When I was a kid, there was a big controversy about flag burning as free speech. Whenever my grandfather heard someone say that flag burners should prosecuted because “people fought for the flag” or “people died for that flag” he would say “I didn’t fight for a flag. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. If you fought for a piece of cloth you’re an idiot.” See, he understood that he was fighting to protect the interests of a country. A country that in 1944, quite frankly didn’t give a shit about him. A country that treated him like he was somehow less than human because he was black. But he did it anyway. Why, because he had another saying. Something that I, my mother, my uncles, my brothers and cousins heard quite frequently… “who ever told you life was fair? Point them out to me so I can tell them they lied to you.” And he was right. Life isn’t fair. But in my grandfather’s case he was also fighting for a dream. He was fighting for the hope that one day I would get to have a better life in that county. A life where maybe I wouldn’t be treated as less than human because of the color of my skin. And for the record… for that, he gets my respect. I’m not saying he should have your respect. He wouldn’t want it. You didn’t know the man. I respect him because he was my grandfather and I loved him. He earned it. And part of his earning it, for me, was his understanding what he was fighting for. More on that later.

Lets do a little history lesson.

In 1773, a group of terrorists in the city of Boston got together and rioted against their sovereign government because they felt that their tax structure was unfair and that it wasn’t right that they weren’t allowed to complain about it. There were protests, bitching and moaning, civic disobedience and a fair amount of breaking the law. This would eventually lead to them illegally openly revolting against that government three years later. After a bloody seven-year war, they won and formed their own country. One of the founding principles of this new country being the idea being that everyone was equal and had the right to bitch about whatever the fuck they wanted to.

Of course, “everyone” was kind of limited to white men who owned land. The land owning thing was dropped through people protesting a couple years later, but it would take about 80 more years for the white part to be dropped. And it didn’t happen easily. Getting there involved a lot of protests, bitching and moaning, civic disobedience and a fair amount of breaking the law. On both sides. In fact, the people who wanted to maintain the status quo of NOT treating black men as human beings actually revolted and separated from the country. There was a war over it and everything. And in the end, the side that was fighting for more rights for more people won.

Well, not all people. It still didn’t include women. That took another 50 years. Somehow this happened without a war. But it did take a lot of protests, bitching and moaning, civic disobedience and a fair amount of breaking the law.

And that’s not all, even with the right to vote technically guaranteed by the 15th amendment, Jim Crow laws effectively shut down this right (among others) for black people in many cases until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And it wasn’t until the Civil Rights Act of 1991 that black people got the right to protection from work discrimination. And these anti-discrimination acts didn’t apply to sex, sexual orientation or gender identity until TWO FUCKING YEARS AGO. And each and every one of these things required a lot of protests, bitching and moaning, civic disobedience and a fair amount of breaking the law to happen. It also required a lot of people being killed before anyone paid enough attention. And these are just big popular ones. I could go on and on.

Why do I bring that up? You see, it’s simple. In each and every one of these cases, the country… that is, the government… was on the wrong side of what we, for the most part, now consider basic human decency. That means every time someone, including my grandfather, fought a war to protect the sanctity of the United States, they were defending something that at the time was wrong and inhumane by our standards today. Why did things change? Because people, not the government, not the armed forces, and in many cases not even citizens yet, protested, bitched and moaned, engaged in civic disobedience and broke a fair amount of laws. They did this until enough people paid attention and changed their mind… and then waited for the people who refused to change their minds to fucking die. Because cultural change is hard. I could go into a lot of the reasons why. I could explain hegemony and cultural shift and backlash… but the details don’t matter for what is already going to be a very long post. The point is, change happens… people gain rights… the world gets better… because a lot of people bitch moan and piss off the people who would attempt to maintain the status quo and deny those rights. That’s how it works.

One of the big civil rights things going on right now is #BlackLivesMatter. Because in 2017, some 152 years after the end of the civil war, it turns out we still have a problem with police randomly killing black people. I don’t want to argue this point. I’ve done it before. It’s not what this post is really about. If you don’t think that happens … just… fuck you… really… Fuck you!

Anyway, a couple years ago, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, started silently protesting in favor of #BlackLivesMatter by refusing to stand for the national anthem during a preseason game. He’d actually been sitting for a couple games before anyone noticed, because it turns out no one really gave a shit about the 2nd string quarterback for the worst team in the NFC West during preseason. But once people noticed, this became a big story because it pissed off a lot of people because … uh… “how dare he protest something by disparaging the soldiers who died for that flag?” See, told you I’d get back to this. Several other players joined him. And some complained that he was being disrespectful. But really, the big deal was the random people across America that it pissed off.

This weekend, Marshawn Lynch did the same thing. Once again the controversy flared up. Oddly enough, some people were actually more pissed about this than they were the tragedy in Charlottesville this weekend. An irony that was not lost on the internet which helpfully made a lot of memes explaining how stupid it was for people to be more upset about player protests than they were about a fucking Nazi riot. I prefer to not make the equivocation. They aren’t the same thing. That said, if you do actually think that Marshawn Lynch not standing was the most important thing that happened this weekend, again… fuck you.

Anyway, something interesting happened to me yesterday. I spent the better part of the day arguing on Facebook with someone (who I won’t name here, but is welcome to out himself) because they posted a link to an article claiming that James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers said in an interview Sunday morning on KPLX radio that “Anyone on my teams sits for the national anthem, they better be in a wheelchair.” This immediately rang false to me… for one thing, I know who James Harrison is. I’m a big fan, in fact. But he’s not particularly known for being patriotic. In fact, this is the guy who told THE LAST TWO US PRESIDENTS to fuck off when they invited him to the White House after his Super Bowl victories. It didn’t seem like something he’d do. So I did about two seconds of research and found that there was another claim that Harrison had said something similar last year. That also turned out to be fake. And then I thought it through and remembered that I live in Pittsburgh… and there is no station named KPLX here. See, KPLX is a country radio station in Dallas… which is… uh…. not Pittsburgh. And their Sunday morning programming is a local news show followed by a nationally syndicated country music countdown show. There was literally no place for Harrison to have even done this interview. It was clearly a fake news article (so fake that in less than 24 hours, Lockerdome, the website where it was posted, has taken it down).

I informed the person who posted it that it was fake and how I knew and that he’d been trolled.

This set off a big argument. See, the guy who forwarded the article was very much of the opinion that it “doesn’t matter whether he said it or not. Because he should have said it.” I pointed out that the problem was that he’d likely not like Harrison’s actual politics and that there are plenty athletes who actually ARE against the protests. Harrison just apparently isn’t one of them. By posting an obviously fake news article he actually weakens his point. It makes him look like he’s not very smart. This was apparently unimportant to the guy. See, this person is a big armed forces supporter… very much of the “you owe veterans respect. You owe it to them to stand for the national anthem. And if you don’t like it get out of the country or just die.” This devolved into me kind of making fun of him, including making a reference to him being Col. Jessep from A Few Good Men, which he apparently took as a compliment because he seems to not realize that Jack Nicholson plays the villain in that movie.

It also involved me trying to explain logic to him (yeah, yeah, I know… losing battle… and I’ve pointed that out before… but still). He claimed he didn’t care whether it was true or not because it doesn’t matter what the image is, it’s the message that is important. I asked him if he’d feel the same way for any image. Would he have still forwarded the post if it had been attached to an image of Hillary Clinton? He said of course he would, and in fact it would be even better but that he would never live long enough for “her to say something that made that much sense.” I pointed out that he hasn’t lived long enough for Harrison to say something like that either. He reiterated that if he had photoshop he would have added a pic of Hilary to the quote right then and there. Because it’s the message that counts not the image. So I posted the most recent tweet from @PresVillain, a great Twitter feed that simply adds actual quotes from Trump to comics featuring the Red Skull.

He didn’t seem to like that at all!

So he called me an asshole (I am) and then once again complained that I deserved to die because I don’t respect the tradition of standing at NFL football games. You know, that age old tradition that dates all the way back to 2009. Oh, you didn’t know that? Yeah, 2009 is when the NFL started having players stand for the national anthem. Before that the players weren’t even on the field until after the anthem, and for the most part everyone in the crowd just ignored it. They mostly didn’t play it on TV, except in big games like the Super Bowl. It was just a thing that people vaguely knew happened and nobody cared about. So if you care about it now, it’s not really tradition… unless of course you’re really married to an idea that happened “a little while ago”. No, what you care about is disparaging the black guy who is basically doing nothing except annoying you because he won’t step in line to your expectations just to point out the hypocrisy of the fact that you think your non-tradition is more important than his right to NOT DIE.

And that is kind of the point. That is why the flag protest matters. The specific thing that he is fighting for is to NOT fucking die. To show people that what he deserves is basic human decency… and to NOT DIE. A lot has been made of “well, then he should protest some other way.” But see, that’s the key to a good protest. The entire point of the protest is that it bothers people that you don’t agree with. Sure, Kaepernick could protest in a way that doesn’t offend people who don’t agree with him, but that’s not much of a protest. See, there’s one kind of protest where people go and march somewhere… and that’s all well and good. But the most useful protest isn’t the one that energizes the people who agree with you. It’s the one that pisses off the people who don’t. That’s where change happens. Why? Because at the end of the day, all Kaepernick is doing is… nothing… He’s literally just doing nothing. It’s not very notable. Where all the press comes from is people who disagree with him complaining. They’re the ones doing all the work! The brilliance of Kaepernick’s protest is that his press is generated almost entirely by people who don’t agree with him.

When my grandfather returned from WWII he came back to a world that still didn’t give a shit about black people. Because veterans don’t automatically get respect. When veterans came home from Viet Nam, people literally spit on them. Again. No respect. And the flag? Well, the Supreme Court ruled that the flag was so not sacred that it’s completely ok to burn it just to piss people off way back in 1989… you know, two whole years before the country decided that as a black man I had an actual right to a job. And all of these things are because the actual foundation of this country… the actual ideology behind us existing in the first place, the very thing that soldiers are actually going to war for and dying for, is defending is the right to complain about things you don’t like. Specifically, you are defending Kaepernick’s, Lynch’s and even my right to complain, bitch and moan, and generally not respect you! You are defending our right to engage in civil disobedience just to make things better for ourselves whether you like it or not. That’s why it’s called service. Because you serve.

And for that part, I actually am thankful. Thank you for spreading the message inadvertently with your poorly conceived complaints. Every time you do, other people… people we cannot reach, see your complaints and think “wow, that guy sounds really, really stupid. Maybe I don’t want to think like him” and cultural change happens. I am thankful… but I’m also sorry.

I’m sorry that you were lied to. I’m sorry that you were made to believe that you were fighting for a piece of cloth. I’m sorry you were made to believe that serving entitled you to some level of respect. See, because if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t think Kaepernick should be allowed to kneel… if you’re the kind of person that is offended by it… well, then frankly, you were tricked. You shouldn’t have served to protect the rights of a country and an ideology that you don’t believe in. You were tricked into serving a country that you don’t actually understand. You were tricked by being sold a bill of goods wrapped up in some pretty colors and a catchy tune. You tell me who told you this so I can go and tell them they lied to you. It kind of sucks and it wasn’t fair. And life isn’t fair.  Sort of like being born black in America. And so I’ll make you a deal. And I’m betting Colin Kaepernick will agree with me… I’ll start respecting you and the flag and standing for the national anthem… as soon as cops stop killing black men.

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