Mike Pence’s NFL Walkout: Clueless Hypocrisy or White Male Supremacist Posturing?

Note: This story originally appeared on my blog on October 9, 2017.

Mike Pence walked out of an Indiana Colts game yesterday afternoon after several football players knelt during the national anthem. Full of righteous indignation, Pence tweeted “I left today’s Colts game because President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem…I stand with President Trump, I stand with our soldiers, and I will always stand for our Flag and our National Anthem.”

Later, Trump revealed that he had put Pence up to it. Several hours later, internet news sites were ablaze with even more developments on the story. Apparently, Pence’s exit was nothing more than a poorly executed (and expensive) PR stunt; reporters were tipped off that Pence would be leaving early.

WTF???

Why would he do that? Pence claims to revere Martin Luther King, a black American who made a career (literally) out of nonviolently protesting racial injustice. Yet Pence is villifying other black Americans who, following Dr. King’s example, are also non-violently protesting racial injustice.

And just who told Mike Pence that Americans needed his permission (or even approval) to exercise their First Amendment rights? Yes, Pence is the vice-president of the United States but the whole point of the First Amendment is to guarantee that Americans who want to express unpopular, controversial, or even repugnant beliefs can do so without interference (or even comment) from government officials.

And why is Pence so hot and bothered about the flag and the anthem anyway? While the American flag had fewer stars in the antebellum era, it was flying high when slavery and its concommitant brutality was legal. The Stars and Stripes was flying from flagpoles all over Washington, DC when the Supreme Court affirmed “separate but equal” in Plessy v. Ferguson. The American flag flapped in the breeze in every state of America when Ida B. Wells was documenting the racially motivated lynchings of thousands of African-Americans at the turn of the 20th century. The flag was prominently displayed in public spaces all over the country when a young John Lewis was getting his skull split open on Bloody Sunday, when Martin Luther King was composing his “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” when Rosa Parks was getting arrested for refusing to surrender her bus seat to a white man. And children all over the country were pledging allegiance to the flag when the bodies of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were found in the backwoods of Mississippi.

The American flag was prominently displayed in schools, libraries, government buildings, and even churches when the United States prosecuted imperialistic wars against people of color around the globe. (Why else do anti-war protesters burn it?) The flag is in every courtroom where African-Americans, already the victims of disproportionate policing, are unfairly sentenced. And just about every cop who shot an unarmed African-American during a questionable stop had an American flag insignia sewn onto their uniform.

The anthem also signifies racial oppression. Written by a slave-owner, the Star-Spangled Banner’s ambiguous third verse seems to support slavery. And its not even a good song. Chromatically wild with sharps and flats all over the place, the anthem’s words were set to the tune of an English drinking tune.

Whether Pence admits it or not, the anthem and the flag are symbols of racist oppression and the anthem protest is a direct response to racially oppressive police brutality.

Then again, it is possible that Pence is fully aware of the fact that his actions don’t align with his professed beliefs. Maybe Pence’s walkout had more to do with the fact that young black men were challenging the prevailing white (male) supremacist power structure of America. After all, the thrust of “Make America Great Again” was the reassertion of white male hegemony, hegemony that men of color and women of all races have been openly questioning and challenging for several decades now. What better way for Pence to endear himself to the MAGA crowd than to walk out on a protest initiated by a mixed race man of African descent?

Regardless of Pence’s motives, he made a complete fool of himself yesterday. Not only did he provide rabid Trump haters with yet another example of wasteful spending by the Trump administration, Pence also made it even harder to distance himself from his corrupt, incompetent, and maybe even crazy boss. And I’d be willing to wager that those NFL players he walked out on will continue to kneel during the anthem regardless.