What If I Told You the Pledge of Allegiance You Learned in School Was a Complete Lie?

Time to admit that the Pledge of Allegiance is not about patriotism. It’s another way to maintain a very outdated tradition.

In America, we love our flag.

We love our flag so much that we start every major sporting event with it. We honor it in our songs. We even make bandanas and bikinis out of it.

I mean, compared with other countries around the world, our flag is pretty cool when you break down the design and its meaning. But the reality is that, for some of people in this country, the flag means something totally different.

That’s why I found a recent viral Instagram post that showed up in my feed so interesting.

The video starts off with a young woman asking her followers a seemingly innocent question. The woman asks in her “I don’t see color” voice: “What is something they told you in school that you found out was a complete lie?”

Then the post turns to a video response from a Black woman sporting a Black Power afro, Afrocentric accessories and an “I’m about to take you to school for real” facial expression. What happens next reminds me of an episode of “The Mad Real World.” The Black woman responds with a line from the Pledge of Allegiance: “One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Ouch!

All the people of color who saw this video immediately understood what it was saying.

But for those who aren’t on a mission to advance racial equity and inclusion, I’d like to share my perspective on the message behind this post and why we all need to rethink the Pledge of Allegiance.

A lot of things we were taught in school aren’t relevant to everyday life anymore

Do you remember taking Trigonometry in high school?

Me neither! By the time I finished high school, I was taking Calculus — and even I don’t remember what Trigonometry was supposed to prepare me for in everyday life. All the advanced math I learned in school is a bit obtuse to me now.

What’s my point? Certain things were drilled into us as kids because that’s how the traditional American school system is set up. It was set up to model the factories that were popular during the Industrial Revolution. In other words, the modern-day public education system was created to prepare American youth for the 20th century industrialized economy. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but we’re now in the information era — meaning most people aren’t working in factories anymore. It also means a lot of the subjects teachers cover in school are outdated because they don’t help us keep up with the global digital economy.

This is not a knock on the public school system. But most kids won’t ever get a full history of the United States in a classroom. So why do so many people think they’re historians when the U.S. history they learned when they were kids is flawed?

See what I mean?

The Pledge of Allegiance is more about peer pressure than anything else

It’s worth being said — again and again — that the Pledge of Allegiance is not a legal requirement. No one’s going to jail for refusing to recite it.

Why? Because it violates the First Amendment, which protects free speech.

Over the years, several court cases have stated that no one can force another person to salute the American flag or say the pledge. Doing so would violate their First Amendment rights.

I haven’t even thought of it until recently, but who knew that the phrase “under God” wasn’t added to the pledge until 1954, during the Cold War, when members of Congress reportedly wanted to show everyone that the United States was nothing like the atheistic Soviet Union.

But let someone be the sole person at an NFL game or highly publicized political meeting who doesn’t stand for the flag or recite the pledge.

You can bet they’re going to be called a traitor.

All this is peer pressure. There’s actually a term for this in psychology. It’s called the bandwagon effect, and it’s why people tend to follow the crowd in most situations.

For example, if you’re out and about and, all of a sudden, you see a whole bunch of people running past you in a frenzy, you’re most likely going to start running for your life as well without questioning why those people started running in the first place. If you’re the curious type, you might take a moment while you’re running for your life to ask the person next to you what everyone is running from. The person next to you is likely going to say, “I don’t know. Somebody said they were shooting,” as you both keep running for no reason. If you’re not familiar with this scenario, you probably didn’t grow up around a lot of Black people, which is OK.

Let’s agree to disagree on this: The Pledge of Allegiance is not about patriotism. It’s definitely not about individual freedoms. It’s another way to maintain the status quo.

The lie no one wants to admit about the pledge

So if it’s not about patriotism, then what is the pledge really about?

Well, here’s what the Instagram video was trying to say: It’s time for folks who defend the Pledge of Allegiance to admit that the controversy has always been about pledging allegiance to an America where white people are the only ones in charge.

As long as you can admit that, you’re good in my book because at least I know you’re being honest with yourself. If you can’t admit that, it’s probably because you’re starting to understand that the United States is going to be comprised of a majority of people of color pretty soon, and you aren’t ready to let go of the days when white people held nearly every position of power in our society.

That’s how systemic racism works, by the way.

So I know what you’re probably thinking at this point: “You’ve never served in the military. You’re not in law enforcement. So you don’t understand the sacrifices people have to make to maintain our freedoms in this country.”

I understand that belief.

But you and I both know that what makes America great is not our flag or a memorized saying. It’s about how we treat people. If you say you believe in American values, then you would do your part to make sure everyone has the opportunity to enjoy liberty and justice for all.

Until that happens, prepare to have your vanilla PSAs interrupted by Black Twitter every now and then.

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Martin Ricard

Martin Ricard

I write about social entrepreneurship and comms for the culture. Learn how I’ve helped other social enterprises succeed: https://communitysymbol.com/case-study