What do the national anthem, the flag, and the pledge of allegiance mean to me as a 60 year old black man? In these United States, they are all symbolic creations aimed at demanding blind loyalty and devotion to the beliefs and values of European Americans. That devotion is demanded regardless of what atrocities have occurred in this country against black people. European American institutions attempt to impose these symbols upon us to define who has authority over us. The symbols start in the school system at an early age. These symbols and customs have found their ways into our sports entertainment. The NBA, a league where over 74% of the players are black, created specific rules to dictate how players must behave when the national anthem is played. The motive for the creation of these rules apparently is to ensure the majority of the fans who actually attend the games, those being European Americans, are not offended by protesting black athletes.
I have no reason to be blindly devoted to a country that supported the kidnapping of my descendants from Africa to perform hard labor for European Americans. I have no reason to be blindly supportive of a country that still to this day fails to acknowledge how it carried out the annihilation of the Native American people who were originally here.
For dialogue purposes I would like my fellow European Americans out there to answer these questions:
1. Why should current day black descendants of enslaved people stand to honor a country where a black man can be murdered without cause by the police?
2. Why should a black person pay respect to a country that allowed the lynching of black people and continues to allow discriminatory practices solely based on the color of a person’s skin?
3. Do you acknowledge that your majority status in this country is based on the total obliteration of Native Americans by European Americans via illegal appropriation of their land and resources?
For me that is the starting point of any discussion on race and the protests against the flag and or the national anthem.
Does the national anthem need to be played at sporting events or any public event? No it does not. Sports are supposed to be a distraction from our everyday lives. We go to watch athletes play a game that provides us entertainment. The introduction of flag waving and national anthem playing is not why people pay to attend events. If you see someone not standing when the national anthem is playing or refusing to face the flag, understand that they have a reason for doing so. You do not have to accept their reason, only respect it.
If military institutions want to play the anthem at military events, feel free to do so. But stop using us non soldiers to visually show support for a country by making us stand at any event you feel demands a support of loyalty. If democracy is about freedom then give us that freedom and do not impose loyalty tests on us at various social/entertainment events.
The issue of people protesting against the playing of the national anthem or protesting the flag of the United States of America is not a new event. In 1916 the President of the United States and then in 1931 the US Congress authorized the “Star Spangled Banner” as the official national anthem of the United States of America. Only the first verse is traditionally sung.
In 1892, the pledge of allegiance, which we all may have recited in elementary school, was written. It was modified in 1923, and 1954 to add specific reference to the flag of the United States and reference to God. Prior to World War II, students in school would salute while reciting the pledge in a manner that was very similar to the German Nazi salute in World War II. So the “Nazi” salute was replaced with a hand over the heart stance. Actor Louis Gossett shared the story of how he would recite the pledge in school but instead of reciting the line “…for which it stands..” he would say “.. for Richard Stands…” not knowing what he was really saying!
Protests against the national anthem are documented well back into the 1900s. The reasons were many. Anti nationalism, anti war, civil rights, even a protest against spending money on building a sports stadium rather than for a drug treatment program. The protests were by people of various races and beliefs.
As a black man I understand fully why Colin Kaepernick said enough is enough and no longer robotically stood during the playing of the national anthem. It was a time when month after month a black man was being killed by police. European Americans need to put themselves in our position. How would you like it if you were systematically stopped for no real reason other than your skin color? Would you stand for a system where the police are not trained to deal with their biases and not taught how to diffuse a situation to avoid killing someone?
Being “patriotic” always seems appropriate especially after such events as 9/11. Patriotism that turns into blind loyalty is dangerous. Blind loyalty fails to see the truth. As a 60 year old black man, I recall the events of the 1960s and the civil rights era. I still firmly believe that the protest at the 1968 Olympics by Tommie Smith and John Carlos was a courageous action. Many people died during and before the civil rights years of the 1960s. They died in pursuit of having the same rights as European Americans in this “land of the free”. They spoke up against and protested against racial discrimination. Unfortunately some of the civil rights struggles that existed in the 1960s continue today. That is why people like Colin Kaepernick take a stand. That is why a black man like myself does not feel obliged to stand and place my hand over my heart as the national anthem is played.