Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Bigger Question Inspired by Colin Kaepernick: Should Black Americans Ever Stand Up for the Star Spangled Banner?

Colin Kaepernick is now part of a long and honorable tradition in which black athletes use their high visibility to stand up (or in this case sit down) in protest of racial justice and equality. On his much-discussed decision to not stand for the national anthem, Kaepernick explained:
I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
The reactions to this truth-telling have been predictable.

[Slate has a nice roundup here.]

Sports talk radio and Right-wing hate talk radio have an amazingly high level of overlap between their audiences. Thus, the howls of complaint about a black ingrate who is not a real patriot but takes the white man's money were loud and extreme. Those people who understand how the lives of black and brown people are imperiled in America--and have been since before the Founding--are largely in agreement with Colin Kaepernick's act of silent protest.

But, I have been pondering a more basic and fundamental question. Should African-Americans (or any person of conscience) stand or otherwise show respect for The Star Spangled Banner?

Francis Scott Key, who wrote the national anthem, was a rabid and unrepentant slaver who fought to protect that cruel business and his profits from the blood and misery and labor of black human property. The song itself celebrates the deaths of the African-American self-manumitted slaves who fought on the side of the British.

Or, as Christopher Wilson suggests at The Smithsonian Magazine, have black Americans and others taken the song back from its racist origins and, as they have done in some many other areas of American life, somehow forced it to live up to its best and most democratic possibilities?

The Star Spangled Banner is a horrible song--difficult to sing, not very pleasing to the ear, and long overdue to be jettisoned from the American patriotic canon. What song do you think should replace it?

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