In a room. In a car. At a party. At work. Odds are at some point in your life, you have been in one of these places and had a feeling of discomfort wash all over you. There may not have been anything said or heard to trigger that feeling but in your gut, your instincts were letting you know something isn’t right here. Less than a year ago, I had this feeling overtake me in a gym in central Ohio.
My fiancé and I were in her car, headed home after watching a high school basketball game when I told her something just felt off while the national anthem was playing. Prior to the start of the game, like always I rose to my feet and removed my hat; but that day there was just something about that song that didn’t sit right with me. Over the years I’ve attended hundreds of high school games, either as a player or a fan. I can’t recall feeling any angst at any of those prior contests. I always stood but I never sung along passionately as it plays. I never pictured Washington crossing the Delaware River. I never think about The Boston Tea Party or all the wars fought over the years. I stood because that is what I was taught to do. However that day, the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner led me to question the sincerity of the words. Maybe it was because my mind wandered to the Philando Castiles and Terence Crutchers of the world. Maybe it was because as an adult I was becoming more aware of how things actually work. Or maybe my intuition was telling me there was more to this song.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and 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.
When I expressed my feelings about the good ol’ Star-Spangled Banner to my fiancé, I was ignorant to that conveniently omitted verse. To me, this verse is the holier than thou person you see drunk as a skunk on a Saturday night; it’s that guy that your girlfriend gushes about and you see him on a date with his side piece. That’s what America choosing a song with a racist stanza and holding it up to be revered feels like to me. It's this thing that we are to hold up and have reverence for but it's nothing like what it’s made out to be.
Now let’s dig into the writer of the song and the circumstances that led to him writing these lyrics.
In history class they teach us this – Francis Scott Key was held as a prisoner by the British and wrote the song from a ship while the two countries engaged in battle. Inspired by the resiliency, endurance and heart of the Americans he penned the patriotic lyrics that over 100 years later became our national anthem.
Not “share this post and millions of dollars will come to you” fake news, more – I’m reading this random post on Facebook I’ve seen on my timeline a couple times and it sounds like it could be real but I’m not 100% sure fake news.
Historians say, Key served in the military during the War of 1812. During his time enlisted, he fought against a group of British soldiers that included Colonial Marines. Within the Colonial Marines were bands of black soldiers. And not just any black soldiers, these men were American slaves that had joined the British Army in exchange for their freedom and had inflicted damage against the American forces. Now some people may call these men traitors. However, I’m 100% sure people who call these men traitors didn’t have to work fields day and night. I’m pretty sure they weren’t whipped and beaten. I’m confident they weren’t raped and used to breed like they were animals. I’m almost certain they didn’t have their families torn apart and lastly, I’d be willing to bet my bottom dollar they didn’t have to call another man "Master."
Now, were these men indeed set free subsequent to the War? I do not know. What I do know is if I were enslaved I would be willing to do anything to be free. Call me a traitor all you want. If, from my feeble position in life, this is the only path that has even a remote possibility to get me to my desired destination - I’m taking it.
So with that context let’s turn back to Key. As he sat on that British boat and watched the battle go on, he felt some type of way about those Colonial Marines that he had previously encountered in battle. So in essence that stanza is Key’s clap back to those traitorous slaves. Key felt joy, happiness and pride that the British forces were turned back, especially the Colonial Marines and armed with this knowledge, I arrived at a bigger question for our generation. Are we proud? Not proud of ourselves, or our race but of being an American.
Pride – a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.
Clearly I can’t answer for you or tell you how to feel, but personally, I do feel a sense of pride. Now, after basically saying I can’t get jiggy with the national anthem you may ask - why? Love or leave it people, (sidebar they are the worst) might ask – how? And here is my reason - because my family and I have equity. My mother’s father was a sharecropper, her and her siblings were his labor force, and they worked the fields picking cotton and produce, contributing to the infrastructure of the south. As they became adults my uncles worked on highways all throughout this country for people to drive on, transported goods all over this country for people to buy. My mother later moved north and worked in a hospital helping to feed this ailing members of this country. My other grandfather worked in a factory, building automobiles that transported many people in this country. My father works for the Cleveland Clinic, one of the greatest hospitals in America, negotiating contracts for surgical equipment to keep this country’s sick alive. My uncles built airplanes to help people in this country travel. We pay taxes here to fund the government and its expenditures. We have – satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated. We have pride because we have equity.
In America, opportunities abound while many are marginalized. Advancement appears while oppression lurks. You can be who you want to be, unless that’s someone we don’t want to see. All around we see duality, contradictions and hypocrisy. Maybe the Star-Spangled Banner is the perfect song.