Racism and the National Anthem

Bill Neinast


We just ran a stop sign.  The brake pedal was not even tapped.  Let’s hope, though, that the brakes are functional because a huge chasm looms around the next curve.

The stop sign is new and that is why it may have been ignored.  It was surreptitiously erected earlier this month by the California chapter of the NAACP.

Before describing the stop sign, however, several trivia questions are in order.  First, how many verses are in our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner”?  Second, what fraction of one percent of the population has read or heard more than the first verse of the anthem?

A quick Google search answers the first question with the number four.  Any guess at an answer for question two is as good as any other.

The three preceding paragraphs are linked to the California NAACP’s campaign to remove “The Star Spangled Banner” as the country’s national anthem.  This group claims that this  song is “one of the most racist, pro-slavery, anti-black songs in the American lexicon.”

Alice Huffman, the president of the California NAACP, refers to the third verse of the anthem in support of this assertion.  The words of that offending verse are:

“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.”

Apparently the fourth sentence is the offending language because it contains the word slave.

But what does it mean?  After some research, I concluded that the language is Francis Scott Key’s criticism of freed slaves who were fighting with the British forces and may have participated in the assault of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812.

No other explanation of Huffman’s concern over the words in question could be found.  So it has to go right up there with the millionaire athletes kneeling during the playing of the national anthem.

The purpose of this disrespect to the nation, to its flag, and to the men and women who died to support our freedoms that are envied around the world is not clear to this white man.

Ostensibly it is to protest “white privilege” and racism.  There seems no concern, however, that protests like these are aggravating, not ameliorating, racism.

Unfortunately, racism does persist in this great country. That prejudice, however, did not impede African Americans who did not join the we are victims clubs.  

A colored man (remember the NAACP is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) recently served two terms as President of the United States; General Colin L. Powell, a colored man, served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then as Secretary of State; that office was also occupied by Condoleezza Rice, a colored woman, and now Dr. Ben Carson, a renowned colored Neurosurgeon, is serving as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.  And do not forget those colored Justices of the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall and Charles Thomas.

This very abbreviated list of colored people who did not let themselves become victims does not include that long list of black athletes who dominate the professional sports leagues with multimillion dollar contracts.  So it is somewhat puzzling that these millionaires are leading the pack to disrespect the symbols of the country that gave them the opportunity to amass fortunes.

So here’s the perspective.

The stop signs and speed bumps being erected by the NAACP and professional athletes are not slowing or impeding the growth of racism.  The disrespect to our flag and country and the millions who died to protect it are having the opposite effect.  

In my opinion, racism is worse today than it was 25 years ago.  A major cause of that regression is disrespect of our symbols and attempts to rewrite history to remove any mention of slavery.

Many Americans of all races might like to see the national anthem replaced with one of the beautiful praises of the U.S. that are easier to sing than “The Star Spangled Banner.” 

Demanding that we adopt a new anthem because the word slave appears in one verse that is rarely read or sung, however, places the suggestion right beside kneeling during the playing of the current anthem or shouting, “hands up, don't shoot” in imitation of an incident that never happened.


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