This Pulitzer Prize–winning photograph, The Soiling of Old Glory, by Stanley Forman is cringe worthy, sickening. It’s 1976, Boston. I heard statements like, well t at didn’t happen here, or that was 42 years ago.The kid wielding the flag is 17 years old.
[Joseph] Rakes vividly recalls the “blind anger” that motivated him—anger aimed, he says, at the urban policies that were ruining the close-knit South Boston neighborhood where he’d grown up. “When the busing started, it was, ‘You can’t have half your friends’—that’s the way it was put towards us,” Rakes says. “They took half the guys and girls I grew up with and said, ‘You’re going to school on the other side of town.’ Nobody understood it at [age] 15.”¹
A few things about this photograph are misleading. The man holding 29-year-old Yale educated lawyer, Ted Landsmark was trying to get him out of harm’s way after he’d been attacked. The flag never made contact with Landsmark.
I was also a 17-year-old when this happened. The joy I experienced just a few days earlier with a college acceptance and engineering scholarship to a predominantly white university in the south vanished in the moment. The residents of Boston, declared they weren’t racist, they were just anti busing. Are you good with that? Should I not be afraid because, there was someone helping the black guy who’d been knocked to the ground? Should I be relieved that the flag never hit Landmark, his injuries were from crowd attacking? The problem is a black man in a sea of white is brutalized. While people are anxious to distance themselves from the optic, can we address the problem?
“I couldn’t put my Yale degree in front of me to protect myself,” Landsmark told a newspaper reporter a few days after the attack. “The thing that is most troubling is that it happened not because I was somebody but because I was anybody….I was just a nigger they were trying to kill.”²
Saturday, I just spent 7 hours developing a business case for one of my projects. I spent a couple of hours clearly articulating the problem to emphasize the power and opportunity with the solution. After a long day that started with 5 hours of yoga and work, i just wanted to relax. That Bill Mahr. He had to show a condensed reel of police violence. He had to mention Colin Kaepernick taking the knee to protest racial injustice and police brutality. And here I am at 2:00 am in the morning, drafting ideas, I have to write.
Look at this photo. Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick are kneeling in with respect and solemnity. What are details behind this?
Eric Reid: In early 2016, I began paying attention to reports about the incredible number of unarmed black people being killed by the police. The posts on social media deeply disturbed me, but one in particular brought me to tears: the killing of Alton Sterling in my hometown Baton Rouge, La. This could have happened to any of my family members who still live in the area. I felt furious, hurt and hopeless. I wanted to do something, but didn’t know what or how to do it. All I knew for sure is that I wanted it to be as respectful as possible.
The problem is represented as “players disrespecting the flag.” There is nothing about the meaning and intent to protest racial injustice and police brutality. How will history view this flash point? In a speech, the president of the United States said:
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” the president said at a rally for Republican senator Luther Strange,
“When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they’re playing our great national anthem. The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium. “I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore, anyway.”
That became the story. The optics then used to incite fans, “you’re paying them all this money and they won’t stand for the anthem…this is unpatriotic….they should be fired.”
His words frame the problem patriotism and obfuscates the issues of racial injustice and police brutality. The new NFL guidelines say teams will be fined if their players or staff do not show appropriate “respect” for the national anthem, but, the team and personnel have the option of remaining in the locker room. The NFL ‘guidelines give the appearance of enforcing patriotism, but, in reality, protects the business interests of the franchises and implement a solution that minimizes the risk of alienating fans and losing sponsors.
Honestly, I feel trepidation that I’ve written on this theme several times. I struggled, do I write about this again and risk appearing militant and angry? My theme is balance and a part of balance is focus. The focus keeps getting lost. I was with a group of people, someone talked about the risk of a Jewish last name and someone else described Nashville Tennessee and how it lacked diversity. I gave that knowing smile, Yes, I lived there. Then someone asked, how did I do it, living in the south. “it’s not a matter of how, it’s why. I learned to be invisible to live.” I guess now at this point, I’m learning to be heard to survive.