Speaking out against racism is one thing — and a wonderful and admirable thing it is — but choosing to do so by sitting out the U.S. national anthem, and then having others join in, or “come out” as routine national anthem sitters: this is fantastic!
A self-governing republic of thinking people (whose first thought should be “My god, what are we doing to the rest of the planet with all this pollution and all these wars?”) ought to have no use for mandatory flag worship, required hand positions, or enforced recitations of pledges of allegiance to colored bits of cloth. Or if only some people outgrow such practices, others ought to leave them alone about it.
The protest thus far is severely limited, of course. The primary reason that it is useful to break down required patriotism rituals is their intimate connection to militarism. Yet many are claiming other motives and swearing their steadfast allegiance to militarism. That’s OK. It’s still an enormous step, and one that thousands are thanking Colin Kaepernick for taking.
Of course the endless wars abroad fuel racism at home, and vice versa. The endless military budget unloads free war weapons on police, and free trainers in war mentality. The bombs dropped abroad still explode in the ghetto. And militarists are claiming just the opposite, in support of Kaepernick, alleging that bombing Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and Libya somehow creates Kaepernick’s “freedom” to sit out the national anthem while catching hell mostly from enthusiastic war supporters. Nonetheless, breaking a taboo is a tremendous first step to be followed by many more.
My concern with the national anthem and all such related ceremonies is chiefly the obedience and subservience to symbols of mass murder. But secondarily, the lyrics of the full song, and the earlier version of it, are absolutely unacceptable. That the third verse celebrates killing people who had just escaped from slavery, that the earlier version celebrated killing Muslims, and that the lyricist himself, Francis Scott Key, owned people as slaves and supported police killings of African Americans while shouting about “freedom” — these are all insurmountable hurdles if you’re trying to get me to respect or identify with this song that, let’s face it, is also awful as a piece of music.
But strip the song down to its current first verse, and it remains a celebration of war, of the mass killing of human beings, of a war of conquest that failed to take over Canada and instead got the White House burned. And during the course of that valorous piece of blood-soaked stupidity, Key witnessed a battle in which human beings died but a flag survived. And I’m supposed to stand, like an obedient mindless robot, and worship that glorious incident, and it’s supposed to matter what I do with my hand, but not what I do with my brain?
Nations don’t have to find their whole identity in war. The United States could celebrate democratic advances, heroic activists, rights won for all variety of previously disfavored groups. We could sing a song about creative nonviolence, generosity, bravery, kindness, and natural beauty. We could sing a song that offered friendship to the other 96% of humanity. We could have a widely covered national contest for the best new song, and perhaps bump these two hideous presidential candidates off the airwaves for a few moments.
Instead, it’s the Star Mangled Banner over and over and over. And, yes, I’ve been sitting it out for years. Welcome, Colin. We’ve been waiting for you.