OPINION: Kneeling has not lost meaning, it’s just missing education.

PUBLISHED: 11:04 03 August 2020 | UPDATED: 15:24 03 August 2020

Norwich supporters of Black Lives Matter taking the knee at the Norwich protest.Photo: Roo Pitt

Norwich supporters of Black Lives Matter taking the knee at the Norwich protest.Photo: Roo Pitt


To say that taking the knee has lost its meaning, shows a lack of understanding for what it truly represents. This is a direct response to the opinion article by Michael Cole published by the EDP on August 1.

Norwich supporters of Black Lives Matter taking the knee at the Norwich protest.Photo: Roo PittNorwich supporters of Black Lives Matter taking the knee at the Norwich protest.Photo: Roo Pitt

First and foremost, Mr Cole cites that taking the knee originated when Colin Kaepernick, an NFL player, knelt during the American anthem back in 2016. This is not entirely accurate.

The real question is; is kneeling in sports simply tokenistic, or can it be utilised to generate meaningful discussions leading to progress?

The origins of this action can be traced back to the 1700s and a drawing of a Black slave which became synonymous with the British abolition movement. The drawing entitled: “am I not a man and a brother?” shows the man in chains kneeling. The kneel became a symbol of hope, showing that people will not stand for slavery.

Much like Kaepernick, whilst it can be seen as an act of defiance, it is really more about not standing for a society, nation, or ideal that oppresses anyone of any creed, especially Black people and people of colour.

Norwich supporters of Black Lives Matter taking the knee at the Norwich protest.Photo: Roo PittNorwich supporters of Black Lives Matter taking the knee at the Norwich protest.Photo: Roo Pitt

It is clear that the act of kneeling is not new but present throughout history including one famous example when Martin Luther King Jr. knelt outside the Dallas County Alabama Courthouse alongside a group of civil rights activists in 1965. They had been on a march, and after they were arrested for ‘parading without a permit’, Luther King Jr. knelt to lead the group in prayer. More recently, Lewis Hamilton has criticised Formula 1 for the tokenistic actions taken by the sport to kneel before races and the seemingly disorganised nature of the gesture and constant flip flopping on the topic by organisers.

If sport really want to demonstrate support for the BLM movement then its participants need to be educated on why they are kneeling, and that education needs to be further extended to the spectators. As those who believe that kneeling is an act of servitude again fail to recognise the true meaning of the action today.

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Closer to home here in Norwich, The Norwich Movement start every demonstration by taking the knee for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, the amount of time that the police officer who killed George Floyd had his knee on Floyd’s neck. An activist from The Norwich Movement told me “we know it feels like a long time and you may feel discomfort whilst kneeling for this amount of time, but you have the choice to get up, George Floyd did not have this choice”. It is a moment to take stock and think about the oppression faced by so many within our society. Kneeling for that amount of time is uncomfortable, but encourages thought to how uncomfortable Floyd would have been with a knee on his neck.

Suggesting that this gesture has been hi-jacked by political extremists and thus suggesting that supporters of the BLM movement are such, shows ignorance to the very purpose of the movement. The Norwich Movement have repeatedly highlighted they are not a political movement but one of a community supporting each other.

Over the last eight weeks I have been following the BLM movement here in Norwich and covering The Norwich Movement’s events closely as a photojournalist. During this time, I have heard harrowing stories from our community, and I have witnessed passionate speeches proving injustice against the black community is not just an issue in America. The Norwich Movement themselves recognise that shouting slogans and demonstrating each week does not equal change or progress, but it starts the conversation. The group are moving towards a demonstration, even celebration, of culture and education about Black history and the need for progress by including displays of Black culture at their events.

Looking at Mr Cole’s words again; saying that “race is not a barrier to any ambition” is true, but what he fails to go on to recognise is that without white privilege, it is incredibly difficult to turn these ambitions into reality and make it in the industries he mentioned.

Similarly, Mr Cole’s article fails to recognise that it is not the action of kneeling itself that has lost meaning, but rather the symbolism of kneeling today has not been communicated by those reporting on the most recent events.

The origins of many gestures have and will continue to be disputed and their meanings are likely to change over time. The handshake, the fist and various salutes are examples of this. However, their significance rarely diminishes.

Right now, in this year, taking the knee is a mark of solidarity, to show that you will not stand for racism or oppression of any 
kind, nor will you stand by and watch people in your community suffer.

After all, this is a movement, not a moment.

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