It was a quiet statement, probably unnoticed by the people standing next to me. One hand holding the Sunday hymnal, one hand holding onto the church pew in front of me, knees shaking slightly at what felt like disobedience, I scanned the creeds and hymns to see which parts I could honestly say or sing. I’d decided not to speak the parts I no longer believed. It was the best way I knew to stay inside of my spiritual integrity. I knew these were ancient words, loved and honored by Christians, but I had too much respect to utter ones that no longer felt true.
Forty years later, I don’t remember exactly which phrases I refused to repeat. But I do remember the conviction that I could no longer go along with the crowd and speak what was out of alignment with my beliefs.
I’ve thought of my quiet protest, one that was heartfelt but required little public notice, in these months as people are taking similar—but very public—actions regarding our national anthem.
I know it is easy for white skinned people like me to feel included in the words of the national anthem. Francis Scott Key, the author of this anthem, believed blacks to be “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.” Most EuroAmericans at the time agreed with him.
That sort of blatant racism is rare today but it is far from gone. The black community and other communities of color have felt its brunt continuously since Key wrote the anthem. Far too slowly, racism in America is coming out of the shadows, finally forcing white skinned people to examine the generational impact of decades of redlining and limited access to education and jobs, mass incarceration disproportionately of blacks, and police shootings of unarmed black men.
Even today this nation’s laws, and how those laws are carried out, is set up to make sure that light skinned people are freer than those with darker skin. Unfortunately, our US culture still keeps us divided, thus hindering white skinned people from knowing the reality of the lives of black and brown people–and so many people who look like me deny that this injustice still exists.
Colin Kaepernick could no longer in integrity stand during the national anthem, an anthem that never included him. Neither could the Beaumont Bulls. These, and others like them, are standing in good company of those across the generations along side others who have loved the soul of America enough to call her to truly become the land of the free for everyone.
Protesting the national anthem to stand against racism and violence against black youth and adults is a brave and patriotic act. An act of the brave among us.
I am grateful. Thank you, those who kneel during the national anthem, for calling our country to finally live into the beautiful values of freedom and justice for all.