What does patriotism look like?I secretly enjoy being almost late bringing my kids to school. If you time it right, you can be there right when the entire school stops what they are doing, stands up, and sings the national anthem.

The best place to be for this event is the elementary school side of the building where the kids still actually sing (the middle school kids are too cool for it). I love to belt out “The Star Spangled Banner,” and you don’t get too many chances to do that in the regular course of things. My kids have learned that if the national anthem is playing, we will be on our feet, hands over our hearts, and (most likely) mom will be singing as loud as she can (while simultaneously getting a little misty).

Not everyone displays their patriotism in this manner. I’ve only come across one other person at school who sings with the same gusto (though my oldest daughter happily sings a soft harmony alongside me), but I don’t think I’m any more patriotic than anyone else — just more sappy and loud.

I noticed, though, that when we said the Pledge of Allegiance, two staff members consistently stood silent, with hands over their hearts. At first it really bugged me that they didn’t recite the pledge along with the rest of us, but I didn’t say anything. It seemed a petty thing to make a big deal out of it — especially when being in the good graces of school staff can make a mom’s job easier.

But still it bugged me, so I did the next best thing: I asked my friends on Facebook if they would be bugged.

The answers surprised me because not only weren’t they bothered, most people who commented cited several reasons why a good citizen might be uncomfortable saying the pledge. Growing up, I had only ever heard of Jehovah’s Witnesses not saying the pledge, but I had never investigated why, and until these staffers I had never seen anyone abstain from saying the pledge. It changed what patriotism looked like for me, and it wasn’t the most comfortable shift.

This is why I don’t get too worked up over the idea of disrespecting the national anthem when people don’t display their patriotism the way I do. We live in a country where you can wear the flag as hot pants. How is kneeling or sitting during the anthem more disrespectful than actually sitting on the flag? It becomes a bigger problem because patriotism is the trigger but not the issue. I’ve heard all sorts of angry rants about the national anthem protests at football games, but they seem to all come down to a few arguments: Do your job, be like me, and you don’t have the right to speak. Put yourself in the football players’ shoes: You don’t have the right to speak because you make more money than I do? (It’s an argument I’ve heard a lot.) Whether or not football players are overpaid has no bearing on their rights as citizens. Resenting the income disparity ends up being a pretty convenient way to brush them off rather than a legitimate argument.

Also irrelevant is whether or not you would choose to speak this way. There are other ways to protest injustice (maybe as many ways to speak as there are people speaking), but there’s also this way. Sometimes we need to focus more on what is being said than whether or not this is the venue through which you would choose to say it.

Are football players shirking their duties by making a statement before playing the game as they always have? To those who say “shut up and play,” I’d say “shut up and watch.” I’m not a fan of football, but you’ll note that not one second of playing time was affected by this protest. You’re not getting any less of the entertainment you paid for. The difference is that you’re a little uncomfortable before the game starts. A little of the difficulties of the world around you have seeped into your escapist recreation. This is the part of the job that protesting football players shirk — the job of providing an uninterrupted escape, a total release. And is that really their job? To shed their feelings and basic rights (their humanity) and be a pure instrument of pleasure? Is “we don’t pay players to protest” the new “I don’t pay you to think”?

And now that everyone has been triggered by these protests, the kneeling litmus test is being applied broadly to other high emotion situations. I saw this as a meme last week: “When the bullets started flying in Las Vegas, no cops took a knee.” How is that even a comparison? No lives are endangered by football players protesting and, as said before, everybody in this scenario is still doing their jobs. Drawing this false comparison (cops do their jobs but football players — black people — don’t) puts the stakes and consequences behind taking a knee too high.

Put simply, nobody is dying because of this protest; this protest occurred because people are dying. In this hubbub of who gets to decide what patriotism looks like and who has the right to speak, this fact is lost: what sparked the protest in the first place. Watching this controversy unfold can help us all understand some of the breakdowns in communication on the subject of race. Instead of being triggered and immediately setting up sides (cops vs. minorities; white vs. black; patriots vs. traitors), we really should stop and listen to each other. That, to me, is what true patriotism looks like.

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