By Victor Rivera
What is authenticity? My personal take is that when it comes to people, authenticity is the behavior that comes from a person which is natural to them and relates to people in a way that that is upfront and honest. I finish my personal definition by adding that this behavior is not forced or coerced. To be a small child and be told that you have to hug your older relative is a nice gesture, but that doesn’t come from a place of authenticity.

Another question: What does it to mean to make a pledge to a flag?

Obviously, it is an outward show of loyalty to the country that you live in or organization that you belong to. There can be a degree of groupthink, or this display can come from somewhere authentic within you.
I am a veteran. I have served in the U.S. Coast Guard for five years. During the time I served, the 9/11 attacks occurred. From one of the ugliest moments in our history came one of the most unifying and inspiring displays of American patriotism that I have ever seen. We were all American, and that was the only thing that mattered. Your patriotism was shown not just by pledging to a flag, enlisting in the military, or being involved in the rescue efforts, but also by fundraising for your fellow citizens, attending parades, or painting a mural on a wall that showed those great colors of red, white and blue.
I reminisce because as Americans, we can not just remember one part of what makes it great to live in this nation. We have to remember all of it, especially our freedoms. Those freedoms include the ability to say that you disagree with an elected official, to gather with others and protest, and to choose not to stand for the national anthem. We can’t authentically claim to be proud to be an American and say we have freedoms, then disparage others for using those freedoms in a way that does us no harm.

Shouldn’t we want people that stand for the national anthem to do so in a way that is not forced?

Shouldn’t this patriotic act be authentic? If a person is forced, doesn’t that pledge lose its value? Is it only done so you don’t have to ask yourself questions and confront the ugly truth?
I personally will always stand for the pledge of allegiance and the national anthem. This comes from somewhere inside of me and does not have to be compelled. But if someone else chooses to not stand, I won’t stop them. I prefer to be surrounded by individuals who make authentic acts, even if they may disagree with mine, rather than those who only casually understand what it means to be actually be free.
The act of taking a knee by Colin Kaepernick was done to create a conversation. Like him or not, that conversation is happening. As we discuss what it means to be an American, I can’t think of anything more American than that.
Victor Rivera is a U.S. Coast Guard veteran who is now studying communications at UNLV. He lives in Las Vegas.
Cover photo by Austin Kirk, and licensed under Creative Commons.