Almost two months ago, Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the National Anthem as a peaceful act of protest, raising questions about patriotism in America.
The national anthem. The pride and joy of this great country and its people. Wherever, whenever, it is sung, it brings tears to the eyes of the masses. Every lyric in the song, every word, holds a special place in people’s hearts. Anyone who does not honor it is immediately scorned and labeled as ‘unpatriotic’. Not only is it a symbol of our freedom, apparently it also happens to be part of our ego as well.
So it came as no surprise that when Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49rs decided to take a knee during the anthem that America, and White Twitter, burst into flames of anger and attacked him with great zeal. Among other things, he was branded an ungrateful and unpatriotic player who should have kept silent.
But that’s not all there was to the story.
Kaepernick wasn’t protesting the whole anthem, but specifically a little known piece of it. Deep within the full text of that beloved anthem lies proof of America’s dark past, that much of America would rather forget: “No refuge could save, the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.” These lyrics, written by Francis Scott Key, reference the slaves who were fleeing to the side of the British in hopes of finally gaining freedom during the War of 1812. These unsung lyrics are the ones, unfortunately, that are ignored and unacknowledged. In fact, until a while back, very little people knew they existed.
This new discovery comes as an additional shot into the vulnerable bodies of Black people. And to rub a little more salt into the wound, when confronted with this information, White people had the audacity to claim that not only should Black people stand for the very anthem whose lyrics relegate them to the lowest class in American hierarchy, but that they should do so out of love and honor and support of the country that continues to rob them of basic human rights. Instead of taking Black people’s perspective into consideration, they demand that Black people go back to Africa if they have a problem with it.
It’s reactions like these that make us question if race relations in this country have truly improved. Kaepernick protested because he refused to stand for such an anthem, for a country where people can be shot in the streets for simply being Black. There was a huge uproar of his ‘unpatriotic’ actions, while people continued to ignore the injustices happening to Black people every day. But why were his actions unpatriotic if he was standing up for human rights? What does it even mean to be a patriot?
Does it mean to blindly support a country that has a history of oppression and racial discrimination? Is a patriot someone who stays silent as he witnesses the suffering of his people? Is patriotism telling an entire race of people who were treated as second-class citizens and arguably are to this day, to keep their mouths shut and be content with whatever freedoms White America chooses to give them?
If we truly are the land of the free, isn’t a patriot one who fights for the freedom of all Americans like Kaepernick did when he took a knee as a peaceful act of protest?
When Kaepernick took a knee, he did it out of devotion to the nation. What better way to show your love than to exercise your rights in order to help your country improve itself? To define his actions as unpatriotic does not make sense, because patriotism itself is simply a feeling of loyalty and attachment people have for a country, and how they choose to convey those feelings through their actions is completely up to them.
In my opinion, the problem here is not really Kaepernick, but how people are so unwilling to let go of past traditions. How can we claim freedom and justice for all when it only applies to certain peoples? How can we move forward if we’re willing to ignore the existence of two lyrics that reduce important members of our society to nothing more than property for convenience reasons? What does it say about us as a country when we continue to uphold traditions that no longer define us as a nation and degrade certain peoples?
Is this what our legacy will be, a country that claimed equality for all, yet only granted those privileges to some?
I think the irony of of this situation is outlined perfectly in the national anthem itself when the two lyrics are then followed with a line we often associate with our great country: “And the star spangled banner in triumph doth wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Powerful words,
…. unless you’re Black.