The Politics of American Protest, With a North Korean Twist

Gwen Berry lately protested the taking part in of the US nationwide anthem by turning away from the flag and holding up a shirt that learn “activist athlete.” The protest came about on the Olympic trials in Oregon the place Berry had positioned third within the hammer throw competitors. Her motion instantly drew offended responses from the right-wing facet of the political spectrum.

A lot of right-wing politicians and commentators known as her unpatriotic and demanded that she be kicked off the Olympic staff. As Tom Cotton, the Republican senator from Arkansas, put it: “If Gwen Berry is so embarrassed by America, then there’s no purpose she must compete for our nation on the Olympics.”


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Conservative outrage at protests towards the American flag and the nationwide anthem just isn’t uncommon. When NFL participant Colin Kaepernick knelt through the nationwide anthem within the 2016 season to protest racial injustice in america, he was roundly criticized in conservative circles. When he grew to become a free agent the following yr, no soccer staff would signal him, regardless of his apparent abilities as a quarterback.

Taking a Stand

Gwen Berry and Colin Kaepernick are each African People. At one degree, they’re protesting the historical past of racial injustice in america, represented by the nationwide anthem. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written by Francis Scott Key, who as soon as declared that black folks had been “a definite and inferior race.” His composition features a verse, hardly ever sung, that criticizes black People who fought on the British facet within the Conflict of 1812 so as to acquire their freedom from slavery. “The Star-Spangled Banner” grew to become the nationwide anthem solely by the efforts of teams that supported the dropping Accomplice facet of the Civil Conflict.

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At one other degree, Berry and Kaepernick are protesting the present racial injustices in america, notably the police violence towards African People. The homicide of George Floyd in Minneapolis in Could 2020 is simply probably the most well-known instance of the brutality that African People have skilled by the hands of police forces all through the nation.

Berry and Kaepernick aren’t alone of their outrage. The demonstrations within the wake of Floyd’s homicide, which concerned between 15 and 26 million folks, had been the most important in American historical past. Protests additionally unfold to over 60 international locations around the globe. So right-wing critics aren’t simply responding to the symbolism of those athletes taking a stand. They’re deeply uncomfortable with the recognition of these sentiments. Most of those critics are the white women and men who dominate the Republican Celebration and the right-wing media. However one voice raised towards Gwen Berry’s motion was really surprising. It got here from a North Korean defector.

Yeonmi Park is a human rights activist who was born in North Korea and left the nation as a teen along with her mom. She has acquired a world repute on the idea of a number of speeches and a e book that particulars her harrowing experiences leaving North Korea and making her approach, ultimately, to america. Her story has additionally generated appreciable controversy for its quite a few inconsistencies.

Park has change into one thing of a star in right-wing circles in America. After Berry’s protest, Park appeared on the Fox Information present “Fox & Buddies” to denounce the American athlete. “If she did the very same factor at this very second, if she was North Korean, not solely herself might be executed, [also] eight generations of her household will be despatched to political jail camp and execution,” Park declared. “And the truth that she’s complaining about this nation, probably the most tolerant nation, she doesn’t actually perceive historical past.”

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Park’s feedback are exceptionally unusual. By her reasoning, nobody ought to protest something in america as a result of the circumstances listed below are higher than in North Korea. And American protesters shouldn’t train their freedom to protest … as a result of no such freedom exists in North Korea.

A Higher Place

After all, the other is true. The power to protest peacefully is what makes america an ideal nation, and Gwen Berry and fellow protestors are proving that time, time and again. Certainly, the nation has made nice strides as a result of of peaceable protests, not regardless of them. The civil rights motion, the ladies’s motion, the peace motion, the LGBTQ motion: All of those protests have made America an infinitely higher place. America just isn’t a very tolerant nation, because the response to Gwen Berry’s protest demonstrates. Nevertheless it has change into a extra tolerant nation over time due to this historical past of protest. That’s the historical past that Yeonmi Park so clearly doesn’t perceive.

There’s one other implication in Park’s phrases: that the struggling of African People is one way or the other much less painful or reliable than the struggling of North Koreans. “I used to be a slave,” Park informed the Fox program. “I used to be offered in China in 2007 as a baby at 13 years outdated … There’s precise injustice.”

Struggling just isn’t a aggressive sport. What many North Koreans expertise of their nation and North Korean defectors undergo in China is really terrible. And what many African People expertise in america can be really terrible. They aren’t comparable, nevertheless. They need to be understood in their very own contexts. And activists should struggle towards these injustices right here, there and in every single place — ideally collectively slightly than at cross-purposes.

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The unhappy reality is that Yeonmi Park has change into a mouthpiece for the American proper wing. Fox Information delights in showcasing her views. On one program, as an example, she compares her research at Columbia College to the brainwashing that she skilled in North Korea, main her to conclude that the US future “is as bleak as North Korea.”

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On one other event, she mixed each her personal data of North Korean rhetoric with the similar-sounding nationalist slogans of Trump supporters when she informed Fox Enterprise that the American ”schooling system is brainwashing our kids to make them suppose that this nation is racist and make them consider that they’re victims. It’s time for us to struggle again. In any other case, it is perhaps too late for us to deliver the glory of this nation again.”

Since she is aware of a factor or two about brainwashing, Yeonmi Park may need to take a extra essential have a look at the propaganda of the American proper wing. If she does, she may simply see that Gwen Berry’s protest is what makes America nice. And she or he may perceive how the nationalism and intolerance of Fox Information and the Republican Celebration are pushing america ever nearer to the North Korean actuality that she so despises.

*[This article was originally published by Hankyoreh.]

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Honest Observer’s editorial coverage.