Ah, yes. We all remember when the famously pacifist Game of Thrones popularized the act of non-violent protest!
The ongoing protests against police brutality and racism sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by police officer Derek Chauvin have spread across the world, and the UK has not escaped having to reconcile with its long (long) history of systemic racism—that’s what you get for basing much of your nation’s cultural identity on centuries of Imperialism and the ongoing ramifications of that, I guess—as the Black Lives Matter movement and its allies have once again brought the conversation of race to the fore.
Across the nation demonstrations and debates have seen institutions and corporations alike express their own response to people’s rightful anger. Last night for example, the return of the English Premier League for the first time since official soccer matches were postponed by the novel coronavirus pandemic opened with players from the participating teams—Aston Villa vs. Sheffield United and Arsenal vs. Manchester City—taking to their knees for a moment of silent protest against systemic racism, wearing special kits that replaced player names with the simple statement of “Black Lives Matter.”
You know, like American football star Colin Kaepernick did, in a move that got some really racist people so riled up he lost his place at the San Francisco 49ers, the same racist people who are now looking at angry protests in this latest backlash against racism and go “why can’t these people just be mad peacefully???” Anyway.
This act of anti-racisim demonstration in an institution as beloved in the United Kingdom as kicking a ball about for 90 minutes naturally needed commentary from a member of Parliament. Speaking to talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer about the Black Lives Matter movement and nonviolent protest this morning, Dominic Raab, Boris Johnson’s Foreign Secretary (i.e., the person in charge of the UK’s diplomatic relationships with the rest of the world, a crucial role in a time when the UK is actively setting its relationship with its nearest continental neighbors on fire via Brexit) made his stance on the act of protest clear: he would not take a knee in support of Black human beings being systemically oppressed, but he would do so for the Queen and his wife.
Also, they took it from Game of Thrones.
“I understand this sense of frustration and restlessness that is driving the Black Lives Matter movement,” Raab’s bizarre response began, before immediately going off on the dumbest pop culture tangent British politics has seen since Boris Johnson compared himself to the Incredible Hulk. “I’ve got to say on this taking the knee thing—which, I don’t know, maybe it’s got a broader history but it seems to be taken from Game of Thrones—it feels to me like a symbol of subjugation and subordination.”
What Raab is actually referring to of course, is the concept of “bending the knee,” which comes up many, many times across Game of Thrones’ eight seasons, because it’s what the people of Westeros and beyond do to pledge fealty to someone—like, say, one of the zillions of people vying for the Iron Throne. It’s where he also gets the idea of it being a form of submission, because that’s what people are doing in Thrones when they kneel before their ruler. But it’s also absolutely not what protesters are doing. It is, in our cultural moment, and has been for several years since Kaepernick bought the act to renewed prominence in 2016, a peaceful expression of protest.
To dismiss it as some nerdy Game of Thrones thing, especially from a prominent member of the government, is more than ignorance, and undercuts the powerful issues that protestors are taking to the streets for in the first place. It’s also just incredibly, incredibly dumb. But it’s not the first time that Game of Thrones has been wielded like a cudgel by dangerously incompetent people in office, and likely won’t be the last.
Looking for ways to advocate for black lives? Check out this list of resources by our sister site Lifehacker for ways to get involved.
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