The Problem with the Pledge

      I don’t follow professional football. It’s never been something I derive any real sense of pleasure from. Recently though I couldn’t help but notice an increasing number of post on Facebook regarding NFL players. Well, one player in particular: Colin Kaepernick. Apparently he has decided to remain seated for the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem during his games in protest of the way individuals of color are oppressed in the United States. Now, as a white woman who comes from a background of considerable privilege it isn’t my place to comment on the validity of Kaepernick’s protest, or whether or not he is the appropriate person to be making this statement. And, to be completely frank, the political actions of celebrities rarely register as noteworthy to me. What I did notice, however, was the amount of unadulterated rage that people seemed to feel towards this man as a result of his actions. ‘Pissed off’ does not even begin to describe the level of fury seeping out of them. 

      Call me a bad American, but I don’t get it. Our national identity has become so reliant on our citizens’ participation in the worship of our national icons that when someone refuses to conform to this standard our first reaction is to lash out at the individual. But why? Why is our national pride so entangled in our flag, and in our anthem? If I had to guess, it’s a result of our systematically brainwashing children from the moment they enter the school system. Seems extreme? Perhaps, but stay with me.

      I don’t remember a lot about being 4 years old, but I do remember how one of the first things I learned in Pre-K was the Pledge of Allegiance. When I had it memorized I was rewarded, as were all of my classmates who managed to parrot it back. Before I could recite my phone number or my address, I could recite the pledge. Mind you, we weren’t taught what any of the words meant. Only that every day during the morning announcements we were to stand up, put our hands over our hearts, and declare our allegiance to the flag hanging in the corner of the room. Of course, being 4, I didn’t think anything of it at the time. It was just something we did. Never were we made to believe that participation was anything but compulsory. We didn’t understand what we were doing, only that we were supposed to do it. So we did.

      Now think about this: in the United States, a person cannot enter into a legally binding contract until the age of 18. And yet, somehow it is perfectly acceptable to have the youngest members of our society pledge their undying allegiance the nation. We teach our children that they are suppose to love this country, and if they are mentally developed enough to ask why, we give them vague answers, most often some derivative of ‘We are the best country on Earth’ (This is wrong, by the way.  Compared to other developed nations we are #1 at basically nothing. Except for infant mortality). Of course, a 4 year old’s ability to reason is not such that they would see the obvious flaws in this response (in that it isn’t one), and so they accept it as true. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the amount of American Exceptionalism espoused within the school system.

      And not to be tangential, but does anyone else find it strange that in the most Christian country in the world, it is not only encouraged but mandated that public schools begin every day with the ceremonial mass worship of a flag? Somehow people who believe that the worshiping of idol is a mortal sin can justify the act of pledging allegiance to an object. I have been in churches where they begin Sunday service with a pledge of allegiance to the American flag and then, in the same breath, pledge allegiance to the Bible, essentially equating their holy book with a pretty piece of cloth that is likely one of millions mass produced in a Chinese sweatshop. And don’t give me that sh*t about the pledge being a Christian statement because of the “one nation under God” bit. That addition was not a religiously inspired one, but rather a politically inspired one, done in an effort to further differentiate the U.S from the USSR during the Cold War. That is to say, it was done to further assure Americans, particularly American school children, of our exceptionalness. Which takes me back to my original point: we’re brainwashing children.

      I honestly don’t see how else what we’re doing could be defined. I suppose one could argue that we are teaching children to be patriotic, but that doesn’t work if you aren’t telling them why they should be patriotic, or if the reasons you’re giving them are blatant and easily disproven lies. We teach children from the age of 4 that they must participate in the swearing of their obedience to an object, and that people who refuse to do so, be it for religious, ethical, or political reasons, deserve their hatred. And this isn’t instilling patriotism. It’s programing nationalism.

            Look, I don’t give a rat’s about Kaepernick’s protest. It neither pleases nor concerns me. But the ensuing backlash is indicative of a much greater problem. For generations we have been taught that those who do not participate in the Pledge of Allegiance, or in the singing of the National Anthem, are rebellious, evil, and wrong. This is a dangerous mentality, yet it is one that we continue to propagate. We refuse to accept that we might not be the best. We refuse to accept that there are problems that have to be fixed. We believe any opinions we might have about the way the nation is run are superseded by our love of country. And if you don’t see the problem with this, then you are the problem.