Columns / Discourse / October 18, 2017

Kneeling for justice in Michigan

The hot topic of today has been whether kneeling during the national anthem is acceptable or disrespectful. My hometown is facing this issue head on.

Fremont, Mich. is a conservative town that has primarily white residents. There is hardly any sort of racial diversity in that area, so when a 13-year-old black boy kneeled during the national anthem at his football game, the community was shocked. He held his ground, even with the loud booing and obvious discrimination chucked at him. He knew what he wanted to do and what he believes, so he knelt.

His proud sister posted this on Facebook: “My 13-year-old brother took a knee at his football game yesterday night and the verbal abuse and booing he’s received from grown adults is sickening. I’m proud of him, that is a hard stance to take in a nearly 100% white town. People can keep pretending that racism isn’t rampant in West Michigan, but the reaction to a young black boy taking the knee should tell you enough. Catch me at his next game cheering the loudest.”

The family has faced an abundance of rude comments and negative feedback, which was expected. But what pushed the limits was the public school in Fremont making a public post on Facebook stating: “Fremont Public Schools does not approve or condone kneeling or anything else during the playing of the National Anthem at sporting events. We believe students, staff and community should stand in attention and face the flag. Hands over hearts. Hats off.” It then proceeded to state the purpose of the protest and how they will not condone anything of that matter. To the family and others in the community who saw the injustice, the post felt like a direct attack.

It is one thing to have an opinion, but to publicly shame a student as a faculty member is stepping far over the line.

Being a graduate from this school, I was embarrassed. I couldn’t, and still can’t, understand how a school that works so hard to show why bullying is bad, publicly displayed an act of bullying to the entire community. The comments caused a whole debate about how Fremont has never said or done anything about the confederate flags flying on the trucks of students or on t-shirts worn in school, but when a black boy speaks up, it’s something worth immediately publishing on social media. The Fremont community argued back with comments such as “white people face racism too,” which shows how consumed in this privileged bubble they truly are.

The boy’s sister shared her feelings about it all with me and said, “It’s a pretty big disappointment that Fremont decided to take a stance on the issue and misconstrue the message so badly that it completely alienates my brother in particular. Fremont has never been the most comfortable place to exist as a black family, but it’s definitely a lot more tense now. I’m glad that people are at least having a conversation about race, but of course, the loudest voices are usually the worst ones.”

The post was eventually taken down, but the impact of it all will not be forgotten, especially by the brave family. I can only hope that their act will encourage others to stand up to fight against the school that caused so much hate towards an 8th grader.


Sadie Cheney

Tags:  kneeling michigan racism

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