By Bernie Bell
This might not be a popular view to present to the readers, but …it’s how I see it….
When I first came across the idea of going down on one knee, in memory of George Floyd, I thought that was a disturbing, mistaken approach. That’s what killed him – that’s what killed the poor man – a policeman, kneeling on his neck. How is that a good way to honour his memory?
And what do I suggest? I suggest – standing straight, as he wanted to. Standing straight, with your hands free, by your side, not cuffed behind your back.
When I first saw the going down on one knee thing, it made me wince, and it still does.
No – stand tall, stand free, hands free. STAND.
And – to me, going down on one knee is subservient. It’s a sign of servility – bending the knee – bowing down to the masters. Again, no – don’t go down on one knee – STAND.
BY SLY & The Family Stone
In the end you’ll still be you
One that’s done all the things you set out to do
There’s a cross for you to bear
Things to go through if you’re going anywhere
For the things you know are right
It’s the truth that the truth makes them so uptight
All the things you want are real
You have you to complete and there is no deal
Stand. stand, stand
Stand. stand, stand
You’ve been sitting much too long
There’s a permanent crease in your right and wrong
There’s a midget standing tall
And the giant beside him about to fall
Stand. stand, stand
Stand. stand, stand
They will try to make you crawl
And they know what you’re saying makes sense and all
Don’t you know that you are free
Well at least in your mind if you want to be
Stand, stand, stand
Writer(s): Sylvester Stewart
If folk choose to go down on one knee, in memory of George Floyd, of course, that’s their choice.
I would rather stand, in memory of him, and stand when thinking of him and when thinking of all those who have been kept down, under the knee of the oppressor, and would have exulted in the freedom to stand.
Malcolm X is quoted as saying ”That’s not a chip on my shoulder, that’s your foot on my neck.”
I’ll stand for George – I won’t kneel, for any one.
I read the transcript of the last words of George Floyd – and I don’t have words for what I felt. To use the words ‘heart-breaking’ – those words are used a lot. This was a different thing. I felt his panic, his confusion – he wasn’t fighting them, he was handcuffed. He couldn’t breathe – he was telling the policeman that he couldn’t breathe, he was choking – I’m familiar with that feeling – not being able to breathe – it’s horrible.
He hadn’t even committed a serious crime, he was only suspected of using a counterfeit $20 note, but, whatever he had done he didn’t deserve to die in that way. No-one deserves to die in that way.
The poor man, the poor man. And all the time that he was begging to be allowed to breathe, one human being, knelt on the neck of another human being, until he died.
I’m not going into the black or white of it – ‘black lives matter ‘ – all lives matter. He could have been black, ‘white’ ( who is ‘white’, for goodness sake?) brown, yellow-ish, coffee coloured, pink etc. etc. What matters is – that one human being, saw fit, under cover of officialdom, to choke another human being to death.
It’s the humanity, that bothers me, or lack of it. And ….the feeling I get when I read his words.
Bernie, you need to understand the cultural history of taking a knee in America. In a nutshell, it began with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem before a game. He was vilified for it by the pseudo-patriots. Trump was beside himself with fury and threats. (You can read about it on the internet) Soon, other players joined in, and in other sports. From there it took off. (It was even done during the playing of the American national anthem at Wembley when the NFL played there in 2017). Remember, during the national anthem, people are expected to stand. Out of respect. Understanding this, kneeling then becomes an act of defiance, not subservience, and the most powerful way to show solidarity..especially now.
Ah-ha – thank you Liz – I had no idea of this interpretation of bending a knee – it did seem more like a cruel mockery.
Your explanation clears it up for me.
Seeing with different eyes – and more knowledge – makes the difference.
I’ll go and read about it.
I see what it means, now.
I think it’s ingrained in me not to bend the knee. For centuries, in many cultures, kneeling was – bowing down, giving in.
I can see this new interpretation though – and applaud the intent behind it.
In those situations, I would go for the clenched fist ‘salute’ – for me, that says ‘Fight the Power ‘ as much as anything does.
Different approaches – same intent – and that’s the main thing.
It’s always about context, Bernie. But I also appreciate what you mean about the negative associations. Do you know the origin of the clenched fist, at the 1968 Olympics? That was one incredible moment, i remember it well. Tommie Smith and John Carlos. This is where it all started, the first symbol of Black Lives Matter.
If you’re interested, you can watch Jane Elliott’s various talks on YouTube (recently interviewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSAD2DbhtNY&list=LL-ls7DuamOWnYnAsi3IJusg). Incredible human being, a civil rights activist since i can remember. Jane visited the UK as well. (https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2009/oct/18/racism-psychology-jane-elliott-4.)
I am heartened to see so many nations joining in solidarity. But it musn’t stop there. Every nation must confront and challenge racism in their own communities, in their histories, their politics, their faiths. Change will only come when the people demand it.
Good morning Liz – yes, I do remember – I was 13 years old, and my brother was watching the sport on the telly – he was a games teacher. He drew my attention to what was happening.
A few aspects are involved here –
One – I think I wasn’t aware of the sporting origin of taking the knee, because I have no interest in sport – don’t follow any of it. I only see as much of the news as I need to – otherwise, I think I would go under. So, the sport is at the end of the news – I don’t watch it.
But – my brother was mad keen on sport, so he watched a lot of it – which is how I came to see the winners at the Olympics, do the clenched fist salute, and Tony explained it to me.
The other aspect here, is – my brother, and my family. Tony was aware – a member of CND in the 60’s. We are Irish – my Mum and Dad lived through the troubled times in the South of Ireland – they were born when Ireland was ruled by the English. This all helps with an awareness of oppression, and not standing for oppression.
Boarding houses in England, used to have signs saying ‘No blacks. No Irish.” And they got away with it!
The point I’m hoping to make is – a lot of what matters, is those around us – how families, parents, siblings, make us aware of inequality and fairness.
My mum used to, absolutely genuinely, say “Sure what have they got against the black man? He never did anything to them.”
The clenched fist, was also used by anti-fascists in the Spanish Civil War, and is still used by Republicans in Ireland. And women. And………
I risk rambling on at you. You’ll get my meaning – I hope you get my meaning!
It starts at home – awareness – not taking shit from, or giving shit to, anyone, is how I was brought up. Living from that viewpoint, we try to be fair and to treat folk right. And animals, too – kindness, and fairness, is kindness, and fairness. If a person has that way, or adopts that way – the rest, should follow – just living.
Oh dear I have rambled.
By the by – Tony also got my parents to let me stay up to watch the moon landing with him.
I use the past tense, as he passed from this life over 30 years ago. He was a good person to have, as my big brother – teased and pestered me terribly! I suppose that taught me some coping mechanisms, too!
Here I am again…..
I saw the pictures of the police in Miami, going down on one knee to honour the memory of George Floyd. I can see that this is fitting. It would be incongruous if they did the clenched fist salute.
As it is, it’s as though they are kneeling to something bigger than themselves – bigger than the police force – bigger than the laws of the land. Maybe kneeling to honour our shared humanity.
As you say, Liz, it’s a matter of context. In that context, kneeling is fitting.
I’m going to tell you a story. It’s not making light of what happened to George – it’s to do with – context – and different ways of seeing.
Years ago, I worked for the Forestry Commission, in Mid-wales. One of the Estate Management men, was originally from Edinburgh. We were talking about the book and film ‘The Pride of Miss Jean Brodie’, and he told me the tale of how, one day, he was standing with his aunt – who was very much a stern Edinburgh matron – watching a Catholic procession go by.
The young Alistair, seeing all the people genuflecting as the procession passed, went to imitate them.
His aunt yanked him back into a standing position, and said, witheringly … “Alistair………….. Presbyterians do not bend the knee, to Rome.”
The Catholics were kneeling to honour their God. Alistair’s aunt forbade him to acknowledge their religion.
Well, Liz, this has become a real exchange, and I don’t know where you are. I’m here on Orkney, and I thank my lucky stars, that I am.