Politics, Sports, United States

Is The National Anthem Racist?

How would you feel if you saw Oak Ridge athletes kneeling for the National Anthem to take part in protesting the treatment of African Americans? The National Anthem is a song written to evoke patriotism, state historic facts, and show the struggles of the citizens of the United States during the time. The Star Spangled Banner became the national anthem for the United States in 1931 and it soon became a  tradition for it to be sung at sporting events such as baseball and football games. Recently, people have found in the full lyrics, a hidden connection to slavery and racism towards African-Americans. Some of the population believe that the Star Spangled Banner is racist and instead of standing for the national anthem, they have chosen to sit. The National Anthem should be rewritten to promote equality for everyone instead of promoting racist ideals and images.

Battle of Fort McHenry

The Star Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key. Francis Scott Key was born on August 1, 1776, and during his life he was an attorney and a poet before he was drafted into the War of 1812 where he served in the Georgetown Light Field Artillery for two years (biography.com). The War of 1812 started because of Great Britain’s disagreement with France. Both countries tried to cut off supplies from reaching the enemy so they aimed to block the United States from trading with either country. Impressment was a huge issue throughout the war. Impressment is “the act in which men were captured and forced into naval service” (study.com). During the war, African American slaves were given the opportunity to be free from slavery if they joined the navy. The Star Spangled Banner was written on September 13, 1814 during the Battle of Fort McHenry at Chesapeake Bay, Maryland. In the Battle of Fort McHenry, the British were continuously bombing the fort but weren’t able to destroy it which resulted in a cease of attack. What inspired Key to write the Star Spangled Banner (originally titled “The Defence of Fort McHenry) was seeing a single American flag flying over the fort at dawn. The image of the American flag caused Francis Scott Key to write the line: “And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there” (history.com) which would remind him to finish the rest of the poem the next day. The Star Spangled Banner indicates the strong feelings of patriotism after seeing that flag flying over Fort McHenry. Verse one uses alliteration in stating “the rocket’s red glare” and “the bombs bursting” to describe the rapid fire of cannons from Britain’s navy firing towards the fort. The flare from the cannon fire allowed Americans to see that the flag was still flying and the British hadn’t won the battle. Verse three is where the controversy of whether or not the anthem is racist, many people have read that stanza as glorifying the defeat of a group of black slaves that were recruited to fight with the British to gain freedom. This act is similar to the Dunmore Proclamation, which allowed black slaves to fight for the other side in order to gain freedom. Before being enlisted, Francis Scott Key was a wealthy slave owner that thought of African Americans as an inferior race that were the worst thing to happen to a community. He most likely didn’t have the African American portion of the population in mind when he wrote the lyrics “land of the free” which might’ve been due to some hatred towards those soldiers that fought against the US. Enslaved African Americans during the time of the War of 1812 were given a choice to either defend the United States, or join Britain and fight for the King. Most chose to fight for the King hoping to become a free man after the war was over. In order to join the British side, families would canoe over to Britain’s ships in the harbor and the soldiers aboard had to welcome them and try not to start a dispute with slave owners. The promise of freedom gave African American soldiers more fire to fight harder to gain freedom. When the war was over, slave owners demanded something in return of their “lost property” and became angry when the British refused (PBS).

Many Americans know the lyrics to our National Anthem, but only a few know the actually meaning behind them. The song is said to be “one of the most racist,

SSB full lyrics

pro-slavery, anti-black songs in the American lexicon” (The Root). The third stanza of the “Star-Spangled Banner” talks about the slavery that went on in this time period. Recently, there have been many peaceful protests; especially during football games. It started when Colin Kaepernick began a notion, which became popular last year, when he decided to kneel during the national anthem. Several people took notice of his actions and followed his example. As each game in the NFL continues, more and more players take interest in this peaceful protest by kneeling alongside, sitting, or standing with a fist in the air; but many fans are not taking a liking to this. There are people that feel the flag should receive more support and respect it deserves from its crowd, no matter what. These commotions that were created before a big game, or any game in that matter, caused the fans to make their “claim that those two-and-a-half minutes before the game is actually more important than the game itself” (Rollingstone). There are those who feel that this is unjust for players to publicly protest in this way since it shows that these players can simply do what they please without punishment. Now imagine our very own football players, peacefully protesting during our high school games. The students in the crowd would either support our players or simply go against their views. Either way it would divide our school instead of uniting us as one. Despite all the negativity the protest had brought, it is America after all. Therefore, players of any league,  have the right to protest for what they believe is to be true.

Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem (abc news)

The fans should not worry much of how their favorite team chooses to view the National Anthem. Instead they should just enjoy the game that they paid a good amount of money to watch. This country is all about the people’s freedom and those football players choose to use their fame as an advantage to get their ideas to other people. Not many Americans, especially those that claim to be very patriotic, know the full meaning of the lyrics to the national anthem and so these players wanted to find a way to inform everyone exactly what they are preaching. In this case, it would be slavery. The protest is peaceful and nobody’s getting hurt by anyone so let them be. Let their voices be heard.

Article by Olivia Helbling and May Graellos

Works Cited

Arthur, Kenneth. “Why Fan Reaction to NFL Protests Is About Racism, Not Patriotism.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 2017,

     www.rollingstone.com/sports/news/fan-reaction-to-nfl-national-anthem-protests-about-racism-w505387. 5 Oct. 2017.

“Francis Scott Key.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 2017, www.biography.com/people/francis-scott-key-9364165. 5 Oct. 2017.

Johnson, Jason. “Star-Spangled Bigotry: The Hidden Racist History of the National Anthem.” The Root, www.theroot.com, Apr. 2016, www.theroot.com/star-

     spangled-bigotry-the-hidden-racist-history-of-the-1790855893. 5 Oct. 2017.

“Key Pens Star-Spangled Banner.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/key-pens-star-spangled-banner. 5 Oct. 2017.

“The Story Behind the Star Spangled Banner.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, Jan. 2007, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-story-behind-

     the-star-spangled-banner-149220970/ 5 Oct. 2017.

Willingham, AJ. “The Unexpected Connection between Slavery, NFL Protests and the National Anthem.” CNN, Cable News Network, 2017,

     www.cnn.com/2016/08/29/sport/colin-kaepernick-flag-protest-has-history-trnd/index.html. 5 Oct. 2017.

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