Is the third verse of the Star Spangled Banner racist?
In August 2016 NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat down on the bench during the national anthem in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. This re-ignighted a controversy over the meaning of the Star Spangled Banner’s third verse. Francis Scott Key wrote the patriotic poem shortly after the burning of Washington and the last stand at Baltimore and it was published in a Baltimore newspaper.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said in a statement afterwards.
After doing about five minutes of research I learned the British forced into duty and recruited about 6,000 American slaves, essentially freeing them. They are called “Merikins.”
They also hired mercenaries etc.
Francis Scott Key’s verse mentioning slaves is about British soldiers
There is no clear evidence of the meaning of Key’s verse. One could take it to be slaves metaphorically, British slaves, blacks, or ‘shanghaied’ sailors.
It is clear, however, the mention of slaves in the verse however, referred to these British soldiers and not all slaves nor Amercian slaves. Nor does the verse say anything derogatory about black people.
In my opinion people reacting to the word slave and not taking account context of both the verse and language of the day. The verse is unquestionably about those who fought against America’s freedom from the British. There is no reason to expect flattering descriptions of British soldiers at the time the Star Spangled Banner was written.
“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.”
Often accusations of racism are made by persons who are ignorant to the meaning or entomology of words and phrases. Especially when we consider historical writings and writings of decades and centuries past.
I think Kap’s sit-out was the right thing in the wrong place, but its free speech. Black lives do matter and unwarranted police violence and use of excessive force needs to end. But, I don’t think one or all of the NFL players sitting or kneeling down during the national anthem is going to anything positive. Police groups across the nation have expressed offense at Kaepernick’s actions. The immediate result is more division between the right and left, between blacks and whites.
Kaepernick is protesting the wrong entity
I also feel language like “a country that oppresses black people and people of color” is inaccurate and destructive. The United States has laws that forbid using race to deny opportunities. The civil rights movement success of the 1960s and Supreme Court opinions against segregation demonstrate that our flag and this country does not have an institutionalized policy of racism. (With the exception of affirmative action policies that create opportunities for everyone but whites.) Although Kaepernick is an admired athlete and was an outstanding student, I think this is also a case of ignorance of history. If anyone is going to make life better for blacks and people of color, its going to be the United States federal government, including Congress and the Supreme Court.
At face value, Kaepernick’s statement is blaming the first (half) black president for the racism in police organizations of local municipalities that employ blacks as well as whites, often operating under black leadership and black civic representation.
In 1996 NBA player muslim convert Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (Chris Jackson) protested during the national anthem and his career was ended prematurely. He describes the United States as “tyranny and oppression.” Mahmoud Abdul-Raul supports Kaepernick.
Really? The United States protects more rights than any other nation. Yes, we are imperfect. Yes, we have a lot of room for improvement. But relatively speaking, our troubles are not so drastic.
Kneeling rather sitting
Kaepernick’s action caused a huge uproar. NFL fans, military and former military, political pundants and even other NFL players were angry. Army Green Beret Nate Boyer wrote an opinion piece that appeared in Military Times, expressing his conflicted feelings about the protest. That open letter resulted in the two meeting, along with 49ers safety Eric Reid. At the next game Kaepernick knelt instead of sat. This action achieved what I think he was going for. Kneeling shows respect for the country and the people who dedicate their lives to the nations preservation, but a firm statement that we have to work together to end racism.
Professional athletes are powerful inspiration for our youth and community. I hope to see more social consciousness from them. After all, the fact that our sports are racially diverse and that a black football player has had the opportunities that Kaepernick he has had is proof that we are making progress from a nation that once allowed slavery.