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The Color of Patriotism

Brittney Griner is free!

The news was immediately attacked by people who question the deal that set her free, the timing, her imprisonment, her ordeal, and her marriage. Most strikingly, critics complain that Griner doesn’t deserve freedom, because it somehow comes at the expense of the imprisonment of Paul Whelan.

The newfound outrage over the continued imprisonment of Paul Whelan reveals much. Like Griner, Whelan was detained in Russia on a pretext and sentenced harshly. ln exchange for Whelan, Russia demands the return of a prisoner who is being held in Germany, a complication that requires negotiation between three governments. Comparisons to the deal that freed Griner are misplaced, but the critics never seemed to know (or care!) about Whelan’s plight until Griner came home.

“Will Brittney Griner finally stand for the national anthem?” they ask. Brittney Griner kneeled for the national anthem before her WNBA games, so she is painted as an ingrate who “hates America.” When Colin Kaepernick began the kneeling protest, he did so after consideration that, according to military protocol, taking a knee was a respectful gesture. The whole concept of a kneeling during the anthem started out of a desire to respectfully protest. Remaining seated during the anthem is the universal gesture of disrespect, not kneeling. Players in every sport took a knee, but cue this particular outrage, because of the skin color of the person protesting.

While critics question Griner’s patriotism, Whelan was born in Canada, holds citizenship in three countries besides the US, and has a bad conduct discharge from the Marines. However, he is held up as an example of a true American more deserving of rescue, and it’s not hard to guess what earns him automatic acceptance. The previous administration made no effort to secure Whelan’s release, but critics point to Griner’s release as somehow demonstrating preferential treatment of Black lesbians over straight White men. “Replacement theory at work!” “Woke diplomacy!” they cry.

Not one American is satisfied that Paul Whelan and Marc Fogel remain held as political prisoners in Russia. These men are our own, and they belong here at home. But it is a disturbing reality that there are many Americans who refuse to cheer that a political prisoner has come home, simply because of who she is. Imagine if we could all just be happy for one of our own. Imagine if we could all see her as one of our own.






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