Dominic Raab says he has “full respect” for Black Lives Matter campaigners after he was criticised for comments about “taking the knee”.
The foreign secretary said the gesture “seems to be taken” from TV drama Game of Thrones.
He added that he would only take the knee for two people, “the Queen and the Mrs when I asked her to marry me”.
Labour’s shadow justice secretary David Lammy said his comments were “insulting” and “deeply embarrassing”.
Taking the knee is a sign of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Speaking to Julia Hartley-Brewer on talkRadio, Mr Raab said he understood the “sense of frustration and restlessness which is driving the Black Lives Matter movement”.
However, he said taking the knee “feels to me like a symbol of subjugation, subordination, rather than one of liberation and emancipation, but I understand people feel differently about it so it’s a matter of personal choice.”
Taking the knee is a sign of protest against racial inequality and has become widely used by demonstrators following the death of the American man George Floyd.
Mr Floyd died in Minneapolis in May as a white police officer held a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
In 2016 American football player Colin Kaepernick sought to raise attention to racial disparities when he took the knee during the national anthem before a game.
Eric Reid, who took the knee with Mr Kaepernick said: “We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.”
On Wednesday evening, Premier League football players did the same gesture before kicking off the first games since the lockdown was introduced.
And earlier this month Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was photographed taking the knee with his deputy Angela Rayner.
Labour’s Diane Abbott wrote: “Taking the knee began in 2016 with American athletes refusing to stand for US national anthem.
“They were protesting police brutality and racism. But Dominic Raab thinks it comes from Game of Thrones!”
The phrase “bend the knee” features heavily in the popular HBO/Sky series Games of Thrones, in which several factions battle to take control of the Iron Throne and rule over Westeros.
When characters “bend the knee” to heads of these factions they submit to their rule.
Acting leader of the Lib Dems Ed Davey called on Mr Raab to make a “fulsome apology” and suggested he should take the knee himself.
Mr Raab later sought to clarify his remarks tweeting: “To be clear: I have full respect for the Black Lives Matter movement, and the issues driving them.
“If people wish to take a knee, that’s their choice and I respect it. We all need to come together to tackle any discrimination and social injustice.”
In addition to being foreign secretary Mr Raab is also the de facto deputy, and stood in for Boris Johnson when the prime minister was ill with coronavirus.