Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,
“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
–The Oxen, Thomas Hardy
Kneeling is everywhere we look or listen right now. Professional football players have been kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem at games, in protest of police brutality against minorities. This has conjured an immense nation-wide reaction. On one side, people say these men are using their first amendment rights to peacefully protest. On the other side, people say they are disrespecting the flag, our freedom, veterans, and America.
I honestly don’t see how you can have one without the other, but there is another point it seems many have missed: since when is kneeling a sign of disrespect?
In the legend of Hardy’s era, the oxen in their stalls, on the most holy of nights, are struck to their knees at the glorious revelation of God to mankind. We kneel to pray as a gesture of humbleness before God. In Rome, there is a flight of 28 marble steps inside a small chapel. It is the Scala Sancta (Holy Staircase), brought from Jerusalem, and it was a part of the palace of Pontius Pilate. It is believed that Jesus himself walked up these stairs, on his way to be tried by Pilate. Since the 4th century, Catholic visitors to Rome have come to the Scala Sancta, to climb them on their knees.
I read an article about a woman in China who went to an official in the environmental protection office, carrying a canister of contaminated water from her local river. She went to show him what her town was dealing with, and tell him how it was affecting their health and lives. When she was shown in to his office, she dropped to her knees as she begged him to listen and to help her community. The writer of the article was aghast at this demeaning display. He explained that in Chinese culture, it is almost unheard of for someone to kneel to anyone. For her to do this, to kneel before an official, meant that she was truly desperate.
Are kneeling athletes showing a lack of respect for our flag, our National Anthem, and our country? Or are they on their knees, supplicating the world to listen, to help their community? They could remain seated (which is under certain circumstances acknowledged as a sign of disrespect— for example, everyone stands when the President enters a room). They could turn their backs. They could shake their fists. Let’s face it, they could moon us all on national television.
But they kneel. A posture which is universally recognized as a gesture of respect, humbleness, or desperation.
Of course, there is a much bigger issue here — what are they kneeling about? Police brutality against minorities. They have been very clear about this, even though some people are choosing to ignore it, and instead insist these protests are against patriotism. A man on a call-in show this morning, who is angered about the “take a knee” protests, talked at length about veterans, homelessness and single mothers — all of which are great things to be concerned about. None of which have anything to do with this particular protest movement.
“But,” people will say, “that isn’t really a thing. Police kill more white people than black people.” Even though statistically that isn’t accurate (an unarmed black man is 5 times more likely to be shot and killed than an unarmed white man), let’s take a look at that statement: “Police kill more whites than blacks.” So then the BIG QUESTION I want to ask here is this: Are you saying you’re okay with that? Are you saying that since, if you look at the numbers without taking population percentages into account, there are more white bodies than black bodies, no one should be speaking out?
According to a Washington Post article published July 11, 2016, at that point in the year police had shot and killed exactly the same number of white, and black, unarmed people: 50 each. Is everyone okay with that? Really?
What I want to know is, why isn’t everyone kneeling?
I am all for supporting our police forces. I am also all for holding people accountable when they make bad decisions. Some of those shootings were not justified. Some of them were the result of fear or hot-headedness. Some of them were outright mistakes. And yes, some of them were influenced by the fact that the person in the crosshairs was not white. The data shows this to be true.
If no one speaks, no one knows there is a problem. If no one knows there is a problem, it will never be addressed. If it is never addressed, it will grow. Ours is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It is our responsibility to speak up when something isn’t working. Right now, certain professional athletes are making use of the fact that they have a public platform to peacefully, and I would argue, respectfully, speak up.
I implore everyone, from here on my knees, to listen.