To Stand or Not To Stand: Colin Kaepernick

How could anyone forget the historic pose by Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City, a time when black unity flourished due to the humiliating treatment blacks were receiving at that time. Ever since then blacks have been under a microscope when it comes to honoring the nation’s anthems especially when they’re featured on a national platform. In 1968 and now in 2016–17 it has created a firestorm of controversy in the media world. Is this really a big deal, especially when the United States Constitution allows such rights? Maybe it’s completely justifiable why at particular times in history, honoring the flag in a traditional way becomes untraditional. Most recently the “Star Spangled Banner” has created racial uproar to an already divided America. More so even when it was written, (September 14, 1814) it was at a time of hostility and division in America (The War of 1812). This was a war between America and the British in which Blacks were at the center. Well, has much changed; blacks seem to be still at the center, the center of police brutality, the center of racial injustice, the center of living in poverty but ironically at the back when it comes to everything else. So what’s the real issue that’s creating hostility by standing or not standing for the flag? Maybe we should examine the language of the 1st. Amendment to the Constitution, it do say “It prohibits the making of any law impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble”. Did I get it wrong? So again what is the real issue? Maybe we should dig deeper to understand why at times in America; Blacks choose to express themselves differently. Maybe it’s because they’re reminded of the hidden racism laced within the National Anthem. Maybe…..nol maybe not, for I know that most people don’t know there’s more than one verse to the national anthem, and if they actually read the third stanza many probably wouldn’t have stood to begin with. Furthermore, in general, Americans typically don’t know much of the history when it comes to knowing our “patriotic songs”. Besides, most black folks don’t even know “the Black National Anthem ”Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing — written by James Weldon Johnson. But In the case of our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” perhaps not knowing the full lyrics is a good thing. It could be interpreted as one of the most racist, pro-slavery, anti-black songs in the American lexicon, and maybe you should evaluate it before you add it to your Fourth of July playlist.

Now let’s examine the history to understand the full “Star-Spangled Banner” story, but first you have to understand the author. Francis Scott Key was an aristocrat and city prosecutor in Washington, D.C. He was, like most enlightened men at the time, not against slavery; he just thought that since blacks were mentally inferior, masters should treat them with more Christian kindness. He supported sending free blacks (not slaves) back to Africa and, with a few exceptions, he was as pro-slavery, anti-black and anti-abolitionist as you could get at that time. So you can imagine that Key was very much in his feelings seeing black soldiers trampling on the city he so desperately loved especially as so many blacks choose to fight for the British due to their promise of freedom.
What Key witnessed inspired him to write the third stanza,

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

In other words, Key was saying that the blood of all the former slaves and “hirelings” on the battlefield will wash away the pollution of the British invaders. With Key still bitter that some black soldiers got the best of them, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is as much a patriotic song as it is a clap back to black people who had the audacity to fight for their freedom. Perhaps, maybe that’s why it took 117 years for the song to become the national anthem (March 4th. 1931).

So to come full circle and reflect most recently, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the National Anthem, he believed he could no longer remain silent in a country where young, black men are too often shot by overheated cops, and where blacks are forever asked by whites to rise above obstacles that whites themselves created. He received a lot of backlash for his decision, but to say what he did was un-American is to lose sight of what it means to be an American. And although Kaepernick became the latest public figure to speak out against the imbalance, It may be safe to say that if America doesn’t show progress he won’t be the last. For I could recall, it was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that stated “The greatness of America is the right to protest for rights”.

Thanks for reading,
Historian Derrick (CEO) Caples