“I kneel, in front of the flag and on this floor. I kneel in honor of the first amendment. I kneel because the flag is a symbol for freedom. I kneel because I’m going to stand against racism.”
These were the words of Texas congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee as she took a knee on the floor of the chamber of the House of Representatives Monday morning.
“I kneel because I will stand with those young men, and I’ll stand with our soldiers,” she said. “And I’ll stand with America, because I kneel.”
Through her action, Rep. Jackson Lee joined the growing list of celebrities, athletes, and leaders who have chosen to “take a knee” in symbolic protest of racism in America.
Over a year after NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick first knelt during the national anthem of a preseason football game in 2016, the #TakeAKnee movement has taken on a life all its own.
What began as a focused campaign by Kaepernick to bring attention to the issue of police brutality against African-Americans has slowly ballooned into a much larger discussion about free speech, patriotism, and race in America.
As players around the NFL joined Kaepernick in protest, pushback from those who saw the act as disrespectful set the stage for an enlivened national conversation that extended far beyond football.
Kaepernick, it seems, had tapped into a visceral issue at a time when Americans were reassessing their claim to “freedom and justice for all” in the wake of several high-profile cases of black men being killed by police.
His message resonated with many people all over the US.
Soon after Kaepernick’s original kneel, athletes from around the sports world showed solidarity with his protest, including US Women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe. She was one of the first non-football players to kneel for the anthem, but one year later she would be joined by athletes from basketball and baseball.
Former president Barack Obama also chimed in early on with a defense of Kaepernick’s right to protest.
“I think he cares about some real, legitimate issues that have to be talked about,” Obama said during a news conference. “If nothing else, he’s generated more conversation about issues that have to be talked about."
Opposition to the protest was voiced early on in US President Donald Trump’s political campaign. Trump publicly criticized Kaepernick’s protest, calling it “a terrible thing” in late 2016.
Trump continued to condemn anthem protests after he was elected, reaching a fever pitch last Friday when he suggested the proper response to any protesting player was to fire the “son of a bitch.”
This sparked an enormous backlash across the nation — and marked a true shift in the nature of the #TakeAKnee movement. In the days following Trump’s comments, several celebrities have taken a knee, or showed solidarity with the movement, including
During my Broadway show today, the audience joined w/ me and together we stood in solidarity with the NFL players protesting Trump & owners pic.twitter.com/AFkVSrpHXW— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) September 24, 2017
Proud to be a part of this cast, who took a knee as our curtain closed today. Thank you to our… https://t.co/2F9TFdjAKm— olivia wilde (@oliviawilde) September 24, 2017
In an ironic twist, Trump’s galvanizing comments seem to have given the #TakeAKnee movement more life than it ever had before.
However, some are concerned that this newfound support for the protests represent opposition to Trump himself and detract from the original problem of entrenched racial inequalities Kaepernick set out to highlight.
Shannon Sharpe is too real. Called out one of his best friends, saying he was disappointed in Ray Lewis. pic.twitter.com/0cOTGPMrIN— Jasmine (@JasmineLWatkins) September 25, 2017
Sports commentator Shannon Sharpe called out the hypocrisy of those who only protested the anthem in light of Trump’s comments.
“What were you kneeling for? Are you showing solidarity against racism, or the injustices in this country?” he wondered. “Or are you showing solidarity against President Trump and what he said.”
Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, one of which is achieving reduced inequalities around the world, including within the US. You can take action on this issue here.