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Sporting stars’ knee gesture is wrong– its meaning has been totally lost

PUBLISHED: 06:30 01 August 2020 | UPDATED: 11:54 01 August 2020

Cricketers take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement during the recent Bob Willis Trophy match at the Kia Oval Picture: John Walton/PA Wire

Cricketers take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement during the recent Bob Willis Trophy match at the Kia Oval Picture: John Walton/PA Wire

PA Wire

Broadcaster and writer Michael Cole pulls no punches in a look at stories making the news

The friendly handshake was originally an open palm showing you were unarmed. The fascist straight-arm salute was copied from Ancient Rome’s “Hail Caesar!” The Communist clenched fist is also a feminist symbol but it’s the librarians’ emblem when combined with an open book; complicated.

“Taking the knee” began when Afro-American footballer Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for The Star-Spangled Banner and kneeled in protest against racial inequality. It has since been adopted by Premier League footballers to support Black Lives Matter.

Insulting the national anthem matters in America, where school children every morning pledge their allegiance to the flag. For a nation mainly of immigrants and their descendants, respect for the symbols of nationhood is important.

I was once on the golf course at the American air base in Ramstein, Germany, when “Taps” was played by the bugler for the flag-lowering at sunset. Everyone stood to attention, players holding golf caps over their hearts.

Kaepernick’s gesture was a calculated insult to a country that has been our closest ally for more than a century. During two world wars and conflicts from Korea to Kabul, Britons and Americans have fought and died together defending freedom.

I choose not to insult America, its flag or anthem. I would never perform a gesture that has now been hi-jacked by political extremists demanding the abolition of the police and destruction of “capitalism”, even though that would destroy the life chances of America’s racial minorities.

I have visited America more than 100 times since 1974. It has a huge, successful and thriving black middle class. I worked with black cameramen and journalists 46 years ago. Race is no barrier to any ambition. Everyone can rise to the highest positions, as Barack Obama proved 12 years ago.

Black lives do matter. That’s why black-on-black knife crime is so tragic, wherever it happens. Shouting slogans may allow people to polish their halos but doesn’t improve anything. That takes work.

“Equal Justice under Law” is written in stone on the pediment of the US Supreme Court. America means it and its Constitution guarantees every citizen’s right to pursue happiness in their own way.

But kneeling is a gesture of servitude that went out when that same Constitution freed the slaves in 1865. Kneel to God, if you will, but to no other.

Supported by James Monroe, America’s fifth president, Liberia was founded for freed slaves who wished to return to West Africa. Few did.

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Harry’s game: I worry about Prince Harry. His absurd attacks on imagined racism in the Commonwealth reveal woeful ignorance.

The Commonwealth of Nations may be pretty useless but it is not and never has been racist.

Somebody should send him a photograph of his grandmother dancing with Kwame Nkrumah, the firebrand President of Ghana, back in 1961. The Queen has made inter-racial fraternity central to the Commonwealth she loves, and not just because it was always a nice place to visit in winter.

I took part in a debate in Westminster on the future of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth Head should not be a hereditary position, I argued, but elected by the 54 member states, giving the organisation democratic legitimacy and therefore greater influence.

But it looks like Prince Charles will succeed his mother. If so,
he should speak to his younger son, who as a student prince at Eton didn’t excel at GCSE history.

Fight for the BBC: Thee BBC is preparing to tear the heart out of regional and local broadcasting.

Budgets that are already slim will be slashed to save money for national programming.

We’ve been here before. In 1980, savage cuts to regional broadcasting were announced.

I was elected the founding Father of the Chapel – aka chairman – of the National Union of Journalists’ new East Anglian broadcasting branch.

We launched a campaign. We lobbied regional MPs and councillors. We printed leaflets which I helped hand out.

We highlighted the flagrant waste of money in BBC departments protected from the “economies”. We won. The cuts were quietly forgotten. But we had had to fight.

There are many more East Anglian broadcasters now. They must fight too or we’ll lose the local broadcasting we actually value.


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