The George Floyd protests might not actually be patriotic, and that’s okay. In 2016, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem in order to peacefully and powerfully protest pervasive racism in the United States, and the nation quickly erupted in pride for some, and outrage for others. There is debate over whether or not Kapernick’s protest is patriotic, and Mychal Denzel Smith’s 2018 article from The Guardian asserts that this is besides the point. Kaepernick’s personal feelings about the US aside, he chose to support those who have been violently oppressed rather than honor the country on the day he took a knee. Choosing to act unpatriotically is a valid and effective form of protest when people’s lives are at stake. Smith says, “Patriotism is not a higher virtue than justice.”
According to an article written by Sociology professor Lilian Bobea in The Conversation, the current protests in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd have a lot more in common with Latin American protest than they do with American culture. She explains that protests throughout Latin America do not have the same pop-up nature they do in the United States; they are rather more often part of “sustained movements… [that] seek regime change or an entirely new constitutional order.” They seem far less symbolic and in support of upholding constitutional ideals (although Bobea recognizes the power of this kind of protest) and are much more rooted in a desire to overthrow the system. Oftentimes, these protests last for multiple years.
Now, says Bobea, the United States is employing this mode of protest, which turns its back on patriotism. Bobea makes the point that while democracy is now prevalent in Latin America, authoritarianism has also survived. The United States, she says, is experiencing a very similar case with the current leadership of President Donald Trump who is bluntly contentious and demanding, whether or not one agrees with his policies. Bobea notes that George Floyd protests have outnumbered the massive women’s marches of 2017 and they have gone global. They are not in defense of the constitution, they are not asking leadership for a fix; rather, they are asking for the United States to rebuild. These protests, like Colin Kaepernick, choose the people over the state.