U.S. professional football player, Colin Kaepernick, has recently caused a controversy by refusing to stand for the American national anthem. Kaepernick is an African-American. He is protesting racial oppression in the U.S., especially the many killings of young black men by white policeman in recent years.
At the beginning of each game, he kneels on one knee during the singing of the anthem. Public reaction has been heated. Some call him un-American. They say he is being disrespectful to members of the military who have given their lives to defend America’s freedom. These people believe that patriotism means showing heartfelt respect for the U.S. anthem and flag.
On the other hand, Kaepernick has been praised by supporters. They believe it’s important to start an open discussion about racial prejudice in the U.S. These voices say that Kaepernick, like all Americans, has freedom of speech. Those who support Kaepernick do not agree that having a black president makes racial prejudice a thing of the past. They say that black Americans are still second-class citizens.
This issue of how people should express patriotism is not limited to America. One courageous individual in Japan has made a similar protest for decades. Kimiko Nezu, a retired school teacher, refused to stand each morning when Japan’s national anthem was played at her school. She felt the words of the song expressed support for Japanese militarism, which was responsible for the loss of many lives during WWII. Nezu believes it is her responsibility as a teacher to educate the young not to make the same mistakes again.
In a society where citizens are expected to follow the group, Ms. Nezu paid dearly for her protest. She was shunned by her colleagues and friends, her pay was reduced many times, and she faced many suspensions. Despite these problems, she says she loves her country and is proud to be Japanese. However, she believes that forcing children and teachers to sing the Japanese national anthem is a misguided form of patriotism.
The refusals of Colin Kaepernick and Kimiko Nezu to show respect for their national anthems has raised many questions. Are symbols such as flags and anthems sacred? Is showing respect for these symbols more important than protesting social injustice?