At the end of Seton Hill’s annual writers’ conference for alums in June, I attended the MFA graduation ceremony, during which we all stood, hands on our hearts, and sang our national anthem. After singing the closing words, “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave,” I turned to a fellow writer friend and mumbled, “If only that were true.”
It’s not that we don’t have plenty of brave, honorable citizens around. And despite savage attacks on the free press and those who dare to speak up about injustice, we are fortunate to still have a free press and the right to speak up and protest. Yet, when we have the highest incarceration rate in the world that disproportionately affects low income minorities, recurring instances of police brutality, and the forced separation and detention of brown parents and children seeking asylum at our borders—can we really claim to be the “land of the free”? Whatever happened to those beautiful words by Emma Lazarus that grace our Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”?
Millions of Americans aspire to have our country genuinely live up to its ideals of freedom of speech, democracy, inclusiveness, and equality of opportunity. But isn’t it time to admit that in many ways, those ideals remain aspirational?
Just ask Colin Kaepernick. For daring to take a knee during the national anthem to peacefully protest racial injustice and police brutality, he became an overnight pariah in the eyes of millions and lost his football career. Now that Nike has included him in their advertising, the Internet is blowing up with people burning their Nike gear. (As one letter-writer to our local newspaper suggested, wouldn’t it be more helpful for these disgruntled folks to donate their Nike gear to an organization that helps underprivileged youth instead of burning it?)
Yes, please. Donate your gear if you’re that unhappy. But know that in my eyes and the eyes of many others, Colin Kaepernick is one of the brave ones in our American society. We need more of them.