Op-Ed: I’m a Marine Corps veteran. Now I understand why people kneel for the anthem

Op-Ed: I’m a Marine Corps veteran. Now I understand why people kneel for the anthem
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Editor’s note: This is an unsolicited opinion piece. We’ll occasionally run them from guest authors from the community who view current issues through different lenses. The most recent was by Charlotte native Justin Perry. Today’s comes from Matthew Ridenhour, also a Charlotte native.    

Last weekend I was working in my kitchen while listening to Dave Matthews Band’s latest album. Out my back window I spied my two young children playing together, oblivious to the world around them.

Coronavirus, the unemployment rate, and demonstrations across the country were not anywhere among their worries. Coincidentally, the first song on DMB’s album is about childhood innocence, and a line repeated throughout the song says, “Let’s not forget these early days/Remember we begin the same/We lose our way in fear and pain.”

Have we lost our way through fear and pain?

I could only watch the video of George Floyd’s murder once. I could not stomach the brutality of it, and the fear he felt overwhelmed me. But if it shook me, how much more so does it affect my African American friends? For years they have begged for someone to listen — did I? Did you? Time and again after the senseless murder of an African American I’ve heard non-POC say, “Well, he shouldn’t have been illegally selling cigarettes.” “You know, he had a rap sheet.” “I guess he shouldn’t have been snooping around that home under construction.”


Those are not capital offenses! These videos, and our society’s reaction to them, speak loudly to our friends of color — and it is not a positive message.

When Colin Kaepernick began kneeling for the anthem, I, like many others, criticized him. I said that he and others should stand. I understood in my head why he was kneeling, but believed, it isn’t the right place to protest. Over time, I believe my understanding of his protest has moved from my head to my heart.

I have long had a respect for Old Glory. In the Boy Scouts, I learned how to properly fold of the flag, and how to dispose of it with respect, when the time came. An 11-year U.S. Marine Corps veteran, I have a flag which flew over my hooch in Iraq. From time to time, I still pull it out of safe storage and smell the desert ingrained within its fibers. More often than not, a few tears fall.

I have been on the funeral detail when a flag was presented to a widow. Even now, every Memorial Day morning my kids and I raise the flag in front of our home, play Taps, and salute the flag. For me, the flag is more than cloth. It is a physical representation of the idea of America. Not some Pollyanna version, either — the good and the bad.

My experiences with the flag, and the respect I have for it, mean that I didn’t listen to what Kaepernick and so many of my friends were saying. Oh, I heard them, but I didn’t listen. I heard and agreed with the need for criminal justice reform, but I didn’t listen to their daily experiences living under the American flag.

While I will still continue to stand for the Anthem, and I believe we all should out of respect, I am listening, and I understand the protest. I believe the cause is righteous.

Too many of us think that liberty and equality for all were achieved the day the British waved the white flag over Yorktown. Our founders did not establish a perfect government. By their own words they formed “a more perfect Union.” More perfect. A work in progress. Many in our country do not feel like they sleep under the same blanket of freedom that we do — that I do — and these recent demonstrations are evidence of that.

When I run on the greenway, I don’t see a woman approaching and think, “I better be extra friendly so she doesn’t think I’m dangerous.” When my son becomes a teenager, and he leaves the house in a hoodie, I won’t have to pray extra hard just because of his clothing choice. When I run errands, I don’t wonder if I am going to get detained because I “fit the description.” Those are thoughts that have not and will not cross my mind.

But they are the daily thoughts that my African American friends have. The world in which I live is not the same as their world — because of the color of their skin and the way the world has reacted to it. How long has it taken me to understand that? I, like our nation, am a work in progress. Are you?

Children, not marred by fear and hate, have only love. Let’s not forget those early days. Let’s not lose our way to fear and hate. Millions of people across the country are speaking. For now, people like me just need to listen.

Matthew Ridenhour is a Charlotte native, a Marine Corps veteran, a Republican, and former member of Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners. 

Op-ed submissions: Have a perspective on an issue that goes beyond the standard hot take or Facebook rant? Or unexpected personal insight into a subject that could help our readers understand it better? If you’d like to submit an op-ed for consideration (no more than 800 words), email it to opinion@charlotteagenda.com. We’re unable to respond to all submissions, but if yours has been accepted we’ll notify you and work with you through edits and fact-checking.

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