Respected musician Stevie Wonder knelt during an improvised rendition of the national anthem at a performance at the Formula One Grand Prix at Austin, Texas, on Oct. 22.
Wonder opened his set by telling the audience, “I’ve never seen the color of my skin, nor the color of your skin.” [Wonder has been blind since birth]. “Not to get political, because I don’t like to do that. It is time for the leader of this nation, the leaders in the varied political positions that they hold, the people, we as artists—all of us come together as a united people of these United States of America.
“What I want you to know is that we are in a race, we here, all of us here, a race against time … [so] it’s time for all the leaders, all the people, all of us to come together in the spirit of unity so we can move this world to a positive form.”
After performing several of his famous hit songs with his band, the 67-year-old musician performed a version of the “Star Spangled Banner” on harmonica—on one knee.
According to eyewitnesses, many in the crowd joined Wonder in kneeling.
Wonder knelt in solidarity with various sports figures who have chosen to protest racial inequality by kneeling during the national anthem of at the start of their games.
The trend began when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the anthem in 2016 to protest the acquittal of white police officers who shoot unarmed black men.
Wonder’s remarks in Texas echo what he said in an interview with celebrity website TMZ.
Wonder told TMZ, “People want to be respected—the Constitution’s about everyone being respected. It’s about stopping all this—putting one group against the other group.”
He said that kneeling during the anthem didn’t mean disrespect to the flag. “People have died for the flag—everyone, every culture, every ethnicity—so it’s not about not valuing the flag.”
Wonder also took a knee during his performance at the 2017 Global Citizen Festival in New York’s Central Park on Sept. 23, 2017.
With the help of his son Kwame Morris he knelt down on stage before saying a prayer for “our planet, our future, our leaders of our world”.
“Tonight, I’m taking a knee for America,” Wonder told the audience. “Not just one knee, but both knees in prayer for our planet, our future, and leaders of our world.
“Our global brothers and sisters, I didn’t come here to preach, but I’m telling you, our spirits must be in the right place all the time.”
Many people have tried to recast the #takeaknee movement as disrespectful of America, the flag, and U.S. veterans.
As Wonder reiterated, the protests are designed to call attention to racial inequality, and specifically to the number of unarmed and unresisting black men shot by white police officers. Many of these incidents have been caught on video, and in almost every case the white officers have been acquitted.
Kneeling during the anthem is a powerful gesture of protest precisely because it touches such important symbols: the flag, the anthem itself, and America’s history of honoring the flag and associating the flag with fallen soldiers.
Because each person interprets symbols differently, it is easy for people to confuse the meaning of the protests with the form of protest.
The protests have apparently reduced attendance at NFL games during the 2017 season.