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Editorial: A Profile in Courage
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Toni Smith: A Profile in Courage
As bombs rain down on innocent people across the Atlantic, with the fear and risks facing the Iraqi people barely touched upon by the mainstream media, I can't help but think about Toni Smith.
Smith is a basketball player for Manhattanville, a small liberal arts college in the suburbs north of New York City.
Maybe you have heard about her. During the national anthem before each basketball game, Smith turns 90 degrees away from the flag, standing quietly in defiant protest. It's a strong statement, particularly during these "patriotic" times. But it's an important statement, and one that has been misinterpreted and misrepresented by the media, particularly in the sports world.
Most notable to me was ESPN's Dan Patrick who, during one of his radio shows in February, rambled on about how, as an American, you have a right to protest. But then he went on to say you shouldn't turn your back on the flag.
Why not? Prior to our slaughter of Native Americans in order to claim this land as ours, many of our ancestors turned their backs on the British flag to create a nation that allows dissent and protest. American soldiers have fought for that right.
Instead, the news and sports commentators said Smith didn't respect America and didn't respect our troops who, at that time, were starting to mobilize for a forthcoming attack on Iraq. But this was simply untrue. They either failed to listen to what Smith actually said about her demonstrations or chose to ignore them in order to further their own jingoistic idealism.
During a press conference in late February, Toni Smith spoke out:
"The flag means to me, first it means, it stands for the millions and millions of indigenous people who were massacred to claim it. It means the millions of those who slaved in order to build it up. And it means the millions of those who are still oppressed in order for it to prosper. It also does stand for those who fought and gave their lives in order for this country to prosper. But I don't think that for any specific purpose I should comprise my beliefs to accommodate people's personal offenses."
At a time when our government seems to be acting with selfish interests, her protest is extremely timely. Her feelings about the flag are not only justified, but accurate. That is the history of our nation. It is bloodied with inequality, century after century. It is sour with the stench of manifest destiny; it's about preordainment and taking what is our "God-given" right.
In a statement released on February 20th, Smith wrote,
"For some time now, the inequalities that are embedded into the American system have bothered me. As they are becoming progressively worse and it is clear that the government's priorities are not on bettering the quality of life for all of its people, but rather on expanding its own power, I cannot, in good conscience, salute the flag."
Now, as we are at war, with much of the world's citizens firmly opposed, her actions speak louder than ever. We, as Americans, must realize that patriotism is not measured by the amount with which we blindly accept our government's actions. Instead, it is measured by the amount of courage we have to speak out when we feel that our government is wronging its citizens.
"The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naive and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair." -- H.L. Menken
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