Tuesday, September 6, 2016

the national anthem and how things change

If you haven't heard, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat in protest during the National Anthem. He said he would not honor a song nor "show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." After a discussion with those affiliated with the military, Kaepernick has chosen to genuflect; as to not disrespect fallen warriors. 

Since then, there has been much debate and polarization towards the subject and I have been thinking a lot about the issue. Let's break it down in parts.

Part 1: The history of the National Anthem

The national anthem itself comes from a poem called, "The Defense of Fort McHenry". The poet, Francis Scott Key, was inspired by the American flag after a marine battle against the British he witnessed in 1812.

Here is a stanza from the poem,which was not included in the anthem itself. But, ironically did have mention of slavery.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havock 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 foot-steps' 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.
It wasn't until 1931 (more than one hundred years later) that "The Star-Spangled Banner" became America's National Anthem. The Star-Spangled Banner was brought to congress six times by John Charles Linthicum. He spent ten years spearheading an,"one man mission" to have the song recognized as the national anthem. It wasn't until a petition was signed by veterans and woman came to perform the song in front of Congress that the bill was finally passed. Interestingly, another song "Hail, Columbia" that was the more popular national anthem. The song was created for George Washington's inauguration and is much more appropriate for including all races in American nationalistic fervor.

This is the chorus from "Hail, Columbia".
Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.
Part 2: The history of nationalist etiquette

There are no specific laws regarding the national anthem for civilians. However, there are very specific requirements in regards to The Flag Code and the national anthem.
A civilian is expected to stand and face the flag (if there is one) and place their right hand over their hearts. Military personal and veterans should stand and salute. 
There are other mentions in the flag code that would cause most of this country to serve jail time (if it was at all prosecutable).
  • The flag should not be used as "wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery", or for covering a speaker's desk, draping a platform, or for any decoration in general
  • The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed, or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use. Advertising signs should not be attached to the staff or halyard.
  • Ordinarily it should be displayed only between sunrise and sunset, although the Flag Code permits night time display "when a patriotic effect is desired" and the flag is illuminated. Similarly, the flag should be displayed only when the weather is fair, except when an all-weather flag is displayed.
We have this idea that tradition and etiquette is completely unmovable. Yet, it is us that decides what suits (or doesn't suit) our needs. Even out practice of saluting has changed over the years. If we were still staunchly connected to tradition we would use the Bellamy Salute.

Children Performing the Bellamy Salute                Image Courtesy: Mental Floss
The Bellamy salute was known as the flag salute until Italian fascists and Nazis began using similar salutes. In 1942, Congress amended the flag code replacing it with the aforementioned right hand over the heart.

Part 2: The history of protesting

Any action of peaceful protest in this country is an American utilizing their undeniable rights. 

Protesting is a way for the marginalized to gain power and our forefathers wanted it this way. Because they too were marginalized.

I cannot help making a comparison to Rosa Parks and her choice to make a stand (or a sit as it is more appropriate). She represented a sentiment. Her act was one of many. She and others like her, gave voice to those who couldn't. They brought about change. This can be seen in the actions of protesters around the world such as, the Chinese in Tiananmen Square or even Gandhi's salt march protesting British rule.

I mean, would America be the same without the Boston Tea Party? That action and many others like it were a way of us separating from British rule.

Part 3: Final thoughts

The issue seems to be that people are offended by a man who would disrespect our national anthem. A national anthem with racist roots. A national anthem that was not the popular choice. That this man could deign so low as to step outside of our ever changing rules of nationalist etiquette. That he would use his rights to give a voice to the popular sentiment of his peers.

I have heard people say that because Kaepernick is in the NFL, that he should be held to a higher standard. He doing just that; creating a higher standard. He his giving a voice to those who don't have one. Or as the great Martin Luther King once said, "There comes a time when silence is betrayal."

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