The Anthem, Police Brutality or Both?

Colin Kaepernick

An Opinion Piece By Elisha Brown

It’s no secret that Colin Kaepernick is making history by protesting police brutality during the national anthem. Let’s be clear before we go on further, Kaepernick is not protesting the anthem, he is using the anthem as a vehicle to bring attention to his cause, which is police brutality.

Earlier this week, I was frustrated that Rico LaVelle chose to sing the national anthem while kneeling. The debate I encountered on twitter was whether they could take the money to sing the anthem and protest at the same time. However, I strongly feel that singing the national anthem sends a stronger message, than any opposing message you could make while singing it. In my opinion, the best message to send is by not singing it at all.

Let’s briefly review the history of the national anthem. The national anthem did not become the national anthem until more than a century after it was written and was originally named “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” The first stanza is the stanza we sing as the anthem. However, there are four stanzas. The song is about the war against the British in 1812 and the war was over territory. Since England eradicated slavery before America did, American slaves fought on the side of the British in order to obtain their freedom. In the third stanza, the line reads, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave. From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.” When I hear “bombs bursting in air” I don’t feel patriotic, those lines represent death and despair. We just have to throw the whole anthem away.

Now that we know what the national anthem means, it disturbs me seeing black people sing the national anthem and think they’re making a statement bigger than that of taking money to sing it in the first place. You cannot sing that song of oppression and then kneel in order to send a message of liberation. I have heard people say that at least they’re “securing the bag.” If they really cared about sending the correct message, they would not take the offer. Let’s be honest, anyone taking the offer to sing the anthem is more concerned about making money, fame, or considers singing the anthem as an honor. If you are a celebrity, you already have a platform where you can get your message of liberation across without contradicting that same message with the performance of the anthem.

Colin Kaepernick chosed to protest police brutality and the injustices against black people knowing he could lose his job. He was making millions of dollars and knowingly risked it all. He could have continued to make money and mind his business, but he knew that protesting was more important than the money. Jay Z declined an invitation to perform at the super bowl in solidarity with Kaepernick. He could have taken the money and wore a Black Lives Matter shirt while simultaneously taking money from the same people that are complicit in oppression. I’d also like to compare how Jesse Williams, although not an athletic comparison, but the message is the same, never took a stereotypical role of black men so he wouldn’t contribute to the misrepresentation of black people. That limited his income and the amount of roles available to him, but he understood sending the correct message required some sacrifice.

Let’s also quickly address the fact that athletes having to stand for the nation anthem was not a practice until 2009 when the government paid the NFL to have the players stand for it. This is called “paid patriotism.”  The practice of standing for the anthem isn’t so old that it cannot be changed.

Now, although Kaepernick is not and never was protesting the nation’s anthem, he used the national anthem as the vehicle to drive his protest. In doing so, he shed light on what the national anthem really translates into…oppression. Again, the national anthem isn’t something so old and ancient that it cannot be changed. Let’s change it completely so it’ll allow us to honor our veterans and not disrespect the people that built this country for free at the same time. The anthem does not represent what it preaches, which is being the land of the free and home of the brave. Who was free in 1812? Definitely not black people.