In response to my previous post, in which I called on people to get up off their knees: My reader/commenter Benjamin (who always keeps me honest) pointed out that this particular anti-racism gesture probably originated with a football player named Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick has a huge afro and has been politically active for some time. I had not heard of him prior to this, because I don’t follow football. But apparently, back in the day, Colin staged a rather remarkable protest against racism and police brutality, by crouching down on one knee while the American national anthem was being played.
This totally makes sense, in that context, as an act of protest. When the anthem is played, Americans are expected to stand, put their hands over their hearts, babble along with the words if they can, and shed a tear or two of pure patriotic pride while pasting a look of pure exaltation on their dumb faces. Hence, Colin did the opposite of this, namely crouch lower instead of taller. The equivalent in, say, a stadium or auditorium, might be to remain seated instead of standing up; this would also be an effective act of protest. Given that they were outside and already standing, then Colin and his friends chose to crouch lower. You want me to kneel? I’ll stand up tall! You want me to stand? Then I go low. It all makes total sense, to do the opposite of what “The Man” demands of you!
As a trained Linguist (and remember that Scientific Linguistics is a branch of Semiotics) I should have understood that a particular symbol or gesture can mean different things in different contexts; or even in different cultures. Which brings me to the Ukrainian issue.
Like many Russians, I have a knee-jerk (haha – get the pun?) reaction to seeing people getting down on their knees; because it reminds me of Ukrainians. Kneeling is a big part of traditional Ukrainian culture: Ukrainian peasants were forced to kneel to their Polish overlords (called “Pans”). It’s all part of the slavish culture. In modern times we have seen Ukrainians kneel before American army instructors and pay obeisance to the American flag. During the Maidan riots, captured Berkut riot police were forced to kneel and fake penance to their captors.
The Ukrainian kneeling technique usually involves being right down there on both knees. Which can be very hard on the joints, if one is not wearing pads! More sensible people use the “opera aria” knee-bend, which involves going down on one knee, with the other one cocked, so it’s easier to push yourself up again from the stage.
Is there a semiotic difference between the double-knee bend and the cocked-knee crouch? Why, I reckon there must be! The former is just plain groveling, but the latter can include the connotation of “ready for action if needed”.
Next, I have this piece from VZGLIAD by a Russian reporter named Elizaveta Bulkina. The piece is astoundingly obnoxious and yet, sadly, reflects the majority Russian public opinion on what is happening in the U.S. American readers might be surprised to know that (1) Most Russians could care less, and the events are not covered all that extensively in the Russian press; and that (2) online surveys show that a majority of Russian readers (about 60/40) support the American police and not the protesters. This may have something to do with the Ukrainian Maidan events, which saw the forces of law and order humiliated by rampaging violent mobs; and those events are still fresh in Russian minds. Plus, the fact that most Russians are simply “law and order” types by nature. Oh, they get that America is a brutal police state. But they also figure that a brutal police state is better than “mere anarchy” loosed upon the world, to coin a phrase.
Why Can’t Colored People Just Assimilate?
Bulkina interviews retired Major-General of the FSB (sort of Russian FBI) Alexander Mikhailov. Who is not at all thrilled about the American riots and has no sympathy whatsoever even for the protesters, let alone the rioters. Mikhailov, a cop to the marrow of his bones, is horrified to see the American police treated like Ukrainian Berkut, forced down on their knees begging forgiveness, as if they have done something terribly wrong. He believes that this will demoralize the forces of law and order. Now, what would really demoralize them, is to have their collective asses kicked by the urban mobs!
Although I personally believe that American cops could use a dose of humility from time to time, I also believe that the individual cops are not really the problem. It’s the system, stupid. It’s those damned police-state laws which give cops the right to shoot and kill if they even suspect their little pinky is at risk. Repeal those laws, and half the problem goes away!
Another great idea, which I heard some black pastor propose on youtube, is this one: Force the police departments to purchase the “malpractice” insurance to cover civil claims; instead of having the cities pay those out. That should really incentivize the police forces to get rid of bad apples who cost them a ton of money.
Anyhow, where the Major-General really gets my goat is with this quote, concerning some incidents in the American riots: “Officers themselves will never [voluntarily] get down on their knees. Which means that their higher-ups ordered them to kneel. One sees a simple picture playing out here: Having lowered the dignity level of the police troops in the eyes of the rioters, they think to lower the emotional level and, in this manner, buy some time. You know there is the saying — to save the whole, one must give up a small portion.
“But this does not solve the problem. It’s just a tactical move that will have no effect. The mass of marginals will not stop with this. These are the representatives of the colored population, who don’t want to work, they don’t want to adapt to the USA, they only want to receive benefits from the American government, giving nothing in return.”Ouch! I don’t even know where to begin… Possibly the Major-General is confusing African-Americans with immigrant Muslims? Don’t want to adapt… LOL. Aside from the fact that African-Americans were among the first on these shores (not counting the Indians)… and that also goes for the Hispanic population.
I don’t know if Major-General Mikhailov has ever been to the U.S., but that bit about “colored not wanting to work” is completely unfair. Anybody who travels throughout the U.S. can see with their own eyes that, wherever they go, it’s the black and brown people doing the lion’s share of all the real work that goes on.
Be it road crews, working in shops, cleaning and maintenance, every form of construction, every possible profession, wherever useful work is happening, you will see black and brown crews earning their place in the human hive. The people who don’t want to work – well, you’ll find those guys on Wall Street, methinks.
In conclusion: That minority of “colored” people who are marginals and criminals, are not at all representative. I personally know tons of African-Americans, I have black neighbors, friends, work colleagues, etc. And with just one exception (this guy I worked with at my last job, he was a real asshole), I found them all to be pretty nice people, gentle and humorous on the whole. And tremendously devoted to their families. Which is another reason why Mikhailov is being really unfair here, in my opinion. He only sees the rioters and looters. But once again, the Russian experience is completely different, which is why the two cultures just don’t understand each other most of the time. And so probably shouldn’t opine too much, one about the other.