George Floyd’s death was not subtle but has made me consider our society’s many subtle racist attitudes.
Our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” is ironically symbolic of the underlying subtle unspoken racial bias that permeates these United States. This anthem was derived from a poem written by Francis Scott Key in 1814, a man who owned Africans as slaves and was an avowed racist who considered Africans an inferior race. He tried to stop Abolitionists from even voicing their opinion about slavery.
The third stanza of his original poem referenced seeking out and killing “hirelings and slaves” who were fleeing to the British to seek their freedom. Clearly, the “land of the free” did not refer to African slaves whose descendants are now “African Americans.” Despite this, “The Star Spangled Banner” became our official national anthem in 1931, despite the abolition of slavery almost 70 years before. Racism was much less subtle then; just ask any Klu Klux Klan member. It took another 33 years before the Civil Rights Act was passed, but even then, racism was more open and less subtle.
Fast-forward to 2016, when an African American athlete sits for the national anthem and other athletes follow suit by kneeling. There has been an uproar among mostly white, but even some blacks, that this is disrespectful to our flag and country and those in the military who defend us. I wonder how many of those opposed see the irony in a society that holds on to an anthem that was so disrespectful to African slaves and now expects their descendant African Americans to stand and pay respect to the same anthem. I’m surprised that any true American, let alone an African American, would not demand there be a change. And this is just a song, a tradition. It is a symbol for all the other under-the-surface ways our society holds onto our subtle racial biases. We should all kneel and pray we find a better way.
Robert Baker, Carmel