#CutYourChains: Sitting Down To Stand Up. You Wouldn’t Want To Stand For the National Anthem either.
I for certain will not.
In a 2016 preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, Quarterback Colin Kaepernick (AKA “Kap”) of the San Francisco 49ers, made a bold political statement against police terror and the murdering of black people and people of color (If you don’t know, please get caught up.) Kaepernick protested the police terror by staying seated during the pre-game national anthem. This was not a silent protest or a protest of symbolism — this was a protest of livelihood and awakening.
This article is not about how much I dislike the 49ers franchise for leaving San Francisco — which I do. This is an article about how racist the Star Spangled Banner is and the dark history of Francis Scott Key, the creator of the national anthem.
In the press conference after his protest game, Kaepernick made his reasons very clear, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
The oppressive environment of living in this country, seeing black and brown bodies dead in the streets at the hand of police, and seeing yourself in each of those bodies catches up to anyone. Kaepernick made clear his consciousness of all that is happening,“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.”
Kaepernick understood the consequences he might face, but in spite of the lurking shadow of losing money, the hate, and fierce political backlash, he firmly stood by his actions.
“This is not something that I am going to run by anybody,” he said. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
And of course, the ignorant people of this country lost their minds.
Unequivocally, this is the most significant political statement made by any athlete in recent history. In this piece you will know why I stand today and forever with with our brother Kaepernick, and why you all should too.
What Kaepernick did was cut his chains of silence, repression, and self-hate. Kaep showed his love for his people and its now our turn to show him the love he deserves.
Let’s get our lesson started.
Know Your History — Star Spangled Racism
Many of us know the National Anthem ritual at sporting events — the announcer asks all those in attendance to standup and face the United States flag. Many place their right hand over their heart, others take their cap of and place it over their heart, and all uniformed military salute the flag with their right hand. It’s become something of “patriotic tradition” with famous singers asked to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at the beginning of many high profile events.
For many, this ritual is the epitome of patriotism. Therefore, for Kaepernick to stay seated during this so-called “patriotic” ritual is profound and inspiring.
I call it “so-called” because we must first understand the history of the song that became the national anthem in 1931. I must say, I had not known the entire history of the song’s origins, but I have to give thanks to our resident educator and scholar, Dave D. for reminding us that we must always do our research.
What most don’t know is that this song written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key in a Baltimore city bar, is more than just the one verse we sing during the national anthem. In reality, the song is much longer and darker than any of us thought. Even for me, a former college athlete that heard the song thousands of times before, I blindly took my hat off and would place it over my heart. But I ask myself now, why? Is it really to show my patriotism for the United States? Is it truly representing freedom? I argue that is exactly what it’s not.
The first verse of the Star Spangled Banner is what we hear and sing at every sporting event:
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson, made the Star-Spangled Banner the official national anthem by executive order. In March 1931, Congress passed law confirming Wilson’s order. Therefore, the song was adopted at the official national anthem. Let’s be clear, it was not just the first verse that was adopted, it was the whole song. Every word of it. Find the rest of the song here.
Let me share a little about our friend, Francis Scott Key — the bigot, racist, and anti-black attorney that later became the District Attorney of Washington, D.C. Key was adamantly against all abolitionist efforts because he could not stand for seeing free blacks — though he did support free blacks being sent to Africa, because he believed that a country with free blacks would lead to chaos and rioting.
Key was the District Attorney during the 1835 ‘Snow Riots’ (white-led riots against blacks to squash the organizing of slavery abolitionists). To show a strong position against blacks and the abolitionist movement, Key, as District Attorney, filed criminal charges seeking death by hanging against Arthur Bowen, an innocent black man and slave who allegedly entered a white women’s bedroom with an axe while intoxicated. This act of prosecution by Key was an effort to calm the “Snow Riots” in D.C., by making example of a black man and that he took no mercy. This, even after the woman who was said to be assaulted, asked for Arthur Bowen’s pardon.
Key is the epitome of our country’s historical contradictions, a slave owner and a person of the law. He had such disdain towards abolitionists and the abolitionist movement that in 1836, a year after the ‘Snow Riots,’ he served as the prosecutor for one of the “Most important cases ever tried” in Washington, D.C., according to Key. This is the case of U.S. v. Reuben Crandall. In this case, Key tried Reuben Crandall, a white abolitionist, for distributing abolitionist literature in the nation’s capital, seeking to organize and inspire slaves and free blacks to “stir up against slave owners.” Key charged Crandall with sedition (Sedition: the subversion of the constitution and incitement of discontent (or resistance) to lawful authority.)
Crandall was eventually found not guilty by a jury, but in the trial Key did not hold any punches. He goes on to highlight his fear and disgust for blacks. In the transcript of the trial, Key attempts to persuade the jury by arguing, “Are you willing, gentlemen, to abandon your country; to permit it to be taken from you, and occupied by the Abolitionist, according to whose taste it is to associate and amalgamate with the Negro?”
He goes on with the jury, “Or, gentlemen, on the other hand, are there laws in this community to defend you from the immediate Abolitionist, who would open upon you the floodgates of such extensive wickedness and mischief?” We definitely can’t let free black people roam the streets, it’s so scary to even think it! What’s scary is there are people that still believe this nonsense today, too scared to even walk on the same side of the street as a black person. Believe me, I’ve seen it first hand.
But let’s get back to the ‘Star-Spangled Banner.’ What has always been omitted from public performance, yet is still part of the official song, are the verses that come immediately after the first verse we always sing. The third verse in particular provides a clear confirmation of Key’s views of blacks:
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.
(Full lyrics here.)
Who Key was referring to when he penned the words “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave” were the black slaves that fled slavery to fight with the British during the War of 1812. Those slaves were offered freedom to fight against the country that enslaved them, the United States. As he wrote this song, Key was probably in immense fear, seeing free blacks and seeing those same free blacks fight against him! But he made it clear in his song, he wanted them dead.
Even knowing of Key’s violent position on slavery and views of blacks in this country, the song was still adopted as the official national anthem.
We should be ashamed that this crock of a song serves as our national anthem. It is so deeply tainted with racism and pro-slavery history that it’s irreconcilable. The song cannot be seen as one of patriotism, but rather a song rooted in the worst of our country’s history. We deserve better and we must demand better.
Kaepernick may not have known the full history of Francis Scott Key and the Star-Spangled Banner, or maybe he did? Either way, we all know it now.
For the reasons of police terror we face in this country and for the reasons I laid out above, I too have chosen to take the political stance of no longer standing for the national anthem.
As you stand and place your right hand over your chest singing the words of the national anthem, remember it is a song written by a slave owner who sought the death penalty (by hanging nonetheless) against an innocent black man because he wanted to prove a point; and carried such a wretched disdain for blacks that he even put it in the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner. No thank you, I’ll pass, Mr. Key.
We deserve a new national anthem, and we deserve one sooner rather than later. This is not the first request of its kind and it shouldn’t be the last.
Ok, the song is bad, but what about not standing for the flag? That’s the real issue, right? It’s disrespectful to those that serve our country, right? No, it’s not.
The Flag of the United States of American Is A Symbol, not Freedom.
In explaining his protest, Colin Kaepernick stated, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
We must make the very clear distinction between protesting an oppressive government and system and protesting against troops. Never once did Colin diminish the lives that wear military uniforms or that have been killed while on duty. Colin actually made a statement that he understands how poorly our vets get treated after serving in the military, especially those vets of color.
Not standing up for the flag does not mean he disrespected the troops. Quite the contrary. If we take the words of the preamble for the Declaration of Independence, our supposed founding principles, it provides as follows with regards to our unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it….” Additionally, there is no enacted law prohibiting anyone from sitting down during the national anthem in protest.
Therefore, it is Colin’s absolute right to express his protest just as he did. Against an oppressive and violent state as we currently have, not showing faith in our government and the flag is demanded of us. Remember, the declaration of independence clearly states that is is our right to alter our government, and it is effectively our duty to do so; that is, if it’s freedom we’re actually looking for.
We know he has the right to protest the flag and national anthem, but is it the right thing to do? Let’s not forget that terror and oppression can be, and has been, perpetuated in our own country by the same system that points to terrorism and oppression around the world and says we must defend freedom. But who or what protects us from the oppression of the same system that is supposed to defend us? The Police? No. The Military? No. Elected Officials? Maybe, when it’s politically expedient and doesn’t upset the “order” of things, which is usually never. So all we have left is us — The People.
What oppression is Colin talking about? I don’t know, let’s think about what that flag of the United States has stood for over the years. We’ll start with the constitution that clearly stated slaves would only count for 3/5ths of a person; allowed hundreds of years of slavery and exploitation, and that’s all before the 1900’s. Let’s not forget the gruesome experiments done to the Tuskegee Airmen, when women couldn’t vote and still, today, make less than men, when Japanese citizens were forced into concentration camps, crack cocaine was introduced into poor black communities by the government (we know what happened with that), and the thousands of Blacks that were hanged in this country — for being Black. We also have the under education of our children and the over criminalization of our poor communities and communities of color for economic interest of 21st century prison slavery (I’ll write a separate piece about this).
And don’t let a black community or community of color have a thriving community in this country, they might burn it all down. Take a look at, Atlanta, Tulsa, Chicago, Rosewood, and others.
Speed up to 2016 and we have more people dying at the hands of police than we do dying at the hands of soldiers dying at the hands of “terrorists,” and that was in 2013.
Today, the number of dead soldiers is 4,491; in 2013, the number of people killed by U.S. police since 2003 was 5,000.
In 2014, 1,039 people were killed by police.
In 2015, that number rose to 1,199, with 574 of those being people of color.
In 2016 alone, 709 people have already been killed by police.
Adding up the numbers, since 2003, 7,947 people have been killed at the hands of police. That is over 3,000 more than the number of soldiers killed in war. We have to ask the question, is there more than one war happening? Is there a war here at home? Who’s blood are we forgetting when we see the red stripes on the flag?
Look, we need to get our priorities straight here. Standing, singing, and looking at a flag will never bring us freedom, it never has. And as was made clear from the inception of our country, freedom is reserved for only certain group of people. While our troops are fighting on the front lines around the world, poor people and people of color are fighting a war of their own back here at home. A war against poverty, racism, exploitation, patriarchy, xenophobia, homophobia, and economic oppression. A war of government sanctioned violence.
Red, White, and Blue. Red, White, and Blue are the official colors of our flag. As always, there is meaning. Well, in this case, the meaning has evolved. The founding members of this country weren’t as clever or intentional as one might think. In 1777, when the flag was adopted, there was no official meaning to the colors of the flag. Story goes that the three colors were used because they were similar to the colors used on the British flag. Eventually, the colors received unofficial meaning. In 1986, Ronald Reagan took a previous interpretation and made his own. “The colors of our flag signify the qualities of the human spirit we Americans cherish,” Reagan said. “Red for courage and readiness to sacrifice; white for pure intentions and high ideals; and blue for vigilance and justice.”
The struggle to make this country one of high ideals, justice and equity is just as patriotic, if not more, than blindly singing a racist song towards the flag as you place your hand over your heart. The resistance of oppression by Kaepernick, Black Lives Matter protestors, Muhammad Ali, Juan Carlos, the Black Panthers, Young Lords, Young Patriots, Malcom X, Assata Shakur, Dr. King, Harriet Tubman, and all those unsung heroes and heroines that have lost their lives struggling for justice “signify the qualities of the human spirit we Americans cherish,” as Reagan said. These social justice warriors embody the red of of the flag, showing courage and sacrifice. We must appreciate that the red of the flag also means the blood lost for freedom on our soil by those who resist oppression and violence against poor people and people of color.
And we must all agree on what freedom means. Does it mean we get cheaper oil from the middle east? Does it mean we flex our oppressive views on other countries because we can in the name of freedom? I think not.
For me, freedom is when the hands that stitch the red, white, and blue cloth of the flag together can make enough money to provide for their family, and not poverty wages. Freedom is when the dignity of a black person in this country is not only perceived equal, but is actually equal. Freedom is when women do not have to constantly fight tooth and nail to make the same wage as their male counterparts. Freedom is not Colin Kaepernick having the right to protest the national anthem; freedom is when Colin Kaepernick has no need to protest the national anthem.
This country was founded on serious contradictions that cost the lives of many. This country is an imperfect social experiment that was supposed to be grounded in the values of Life (taken from many oppressed people in this country), Liberty (aka freedom, something many people in this country have yet to find — look at the prisons, schools, and economic inequity), and a Pursuit of Happiness (Is this supposed to be a constant pursuit? Or is it only reserved for a few people that can afford it?).
This country has failed to acknowledge its original sins, hides from it’s moral corruptness, and stands on a warped pedestal of 21at century manifest destiny. The social experiment of the United States has proven ineffective for so many — let’s reexamine our hypothesis and deliver the justice this country has always promised but fails to deliver.
I sit & stand with Colin Kaepernick and you should too. It’s our responsibility to cut our chains of oppression.