Over a hundred years ago, an extremely accomplished individual named Carl Schurz proclaimed, “Our country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right.” In his famed book The Naked Public Square, Richard John Neuhaus explained, “Note that in both instances it is not the country that determines what is right or wrong. Right and wrong are determined by a context of higher reference. This tension between moral judgement and political allegiance makes possible critical patriotism.” As Neuhaus explains, the true patriot is no fool and suffers no illusions. He understands that his country is not perfect. As a matter of fact, it is precisely the patriot’s very attachment, loyalty, and love for his country that gives him the sense of responsibility to right his country’s wrongs. Patriotism indicates not blind approval but, rather, duty and responsibility.
Apparently, this distinction is beyond Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers (who, as it so happens, was previously penalized by NFL refs for using racial slurs). Kaepernick made headlines when he refused to stand for the playing of the National Anthem before a preseason game against the Greenbay Packers. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick stated. “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Now, of course, one may raise one’s eyebrows at Kaepernick’s activism when one compares his railing against the tragic, but statistically rare, police violence against innocent civilians with his total silence on the far deadlier black-on-black violence. Despite claims to the contrary, the country is not engaged in an all-out war on minorities.
But Kaepernick’s error runs deeper than that. In his view, apparently, the fight against racism necessarily entails public display of disrespect for the symbols of the country he resides in and of the nation from whom he draws his salary. Actually, respect and loyalty to one’s country ought to be the spur of activism, not its conceptual opposite. Our country, right or wrong, Mr. Kapaernick; when wrong, not to be abandoned, but to be put right.