Is “taking the knee” still misunderstood or are Brits just racist?

Written by on 14/12/2020

Taking the knee first originated with a group led by Martin Luther King Jr (MLK) where they took the knee in prayer before MLK was jailed at Selma. It then became widely associated with the civil rights movement as a symbol of peaceful protesting. Colin Kaepernick, an ex NFL player popularised the symbol when he took the knee in 2016 at an NFL game whilst the American national anthem was playing. He explained “I am not going to stand up and show pride in a flag and country that oppresses Black people and people of colour”. He said “I consider the services it is honouring to not be acting correctly (the police) I decided rather than sit through these anthems I would knee, so as to remain respectful whilst I peacefully protested”. This man, ahead of his time, lost not only livelihood but the respect of many Americans due to a lack of understanding of what he knelt for. 4 years on and a whole 2020 year later we still find ourselves in the position of the same lack of understanding.

It is the last month of what has been a year no one expected it to be and we at The Black Card Talks have said over and over again, 2020 gave us a vision clearer than we anticipated. The murder of Ahmaud Aubery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor lifted the veils from the eyes of many of us who thought racism was something experienced by the minority of minorities. Over the course of 2020 we have seen progress in understanding and confidence in being able to call it out. But we have also seen ignorance and misinformation perpetuated by those in positions of power and poor / failed attempts to resolve these situations by those that should know better. So we ask the question: is there still misinformation or are Brits just racist?

In our opinion in Britain we have seen the one of the most brazen disregard for a universal symbol of peaceful protests with our Secretary of State – Dominic Raab. On the 18th of June Raab said in an interview “I’ve got to say on this taking the knee thing, which I don’t know, maybe it’s got a broader history, but seems to be taken from The Game of Thrones, feels to me like a symbol of subjugation, subordination, rather than one of liberation and emancipation. Here we see the second most powerful minister in the country belittle the Black Lives Matter narrative whilst also confess to not knowing much about the foreign affairs and politics of America (his whole job). In this statement live on air he projected misinformation on the general public from a position of power without due attention but rather a disregard for the effects his words could have on others. He referred to the action as akin to the Game of Thrones – I mean gas-lighting much? Furthermore he defined and dismissed the symbol as one of subjugation (the action of bringing someone or something under domination or control). He therefore made a peaceful protest action a conversation about power not equality, emphasising the power of language when it comes from the oppressor. He made these statements with no willingness to to understand it, irrespective or his job, or to be corrected by it, when called to apologise, rather he said it is down to peoples discretion as to whether they should do it or not take the knee, further emphasising that he would not. So you tell us, misunderstanding or racist?

Fast forward to the 5th December, the first football match with Millwall fans back in the stadium we see Millwall and Derby players take the knee for approx 8 seconds before kick off. This was met with a chorus of boos by onlookers which echoed across the stadium despite the limited number of fans allowed in. There has been widespread condemnation of the behaviour of Millwall fans with the FA saying it “supports all players and staff who wish to take a stand against discrimination in a respectful manner, which includes taking of the knee, and strongly condemn the behaviours of spectator that actively voice their opposition to such activities”. MIllwall football club have since said they are “fully supportive of the efforts to rid sport, and society, of all forms of discrimination … Taking the knee, for us, is in no way representative of any agreement with political messaging or ideology. It is purely about tackling discrimination.”

So it seems like we are moving forward, the language and misinformation around this is being reset. But just when you think there is progress we see that Dawn French aka the Vicar of Dibley is to deliver a Black Lives Matter sermon and take the knee in the Christmas special of the show is already receiving backlash before it even airs. Based on what we have seen this year with regards to public outcry against speaking in support of Black Lives Matter on national platforms, Ashley Banjo on Britain’s got Talent, A Black family at Christmas with the Sainsbury’s advert, we anticipate this to be another chance for Britain to show how far we still have to come.

But the light in this is that we can see it, name them and call them out because before this, we never knew which Brits really felt this way.

We’ll be back with our thoughts on the episode of the Vicar of Dibley when it airs. But what are your thoughts, misunderstood, controversial or just plain racist?

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