Anthem speaks to who we are

By Vanessa Primer - Guest Commentary



Many people of color like myself, do feel included by the national anthem.

Frederick Douglass believed in embracing our origins and loved our national anthem.

New York Giants Rashad Jennings told New York Daily News, "It's nice to know that we live in a country where sitting down during the anthem won't land you in jail or worse."

He is proud to stand and supports the values in the anthem.

He points out the four verses end "the land of the free and the home of the brave" not "land of the free, home of the slave."

Francis Scott Key was not a man of his time – he was progressive, paid by slave owners, yet taking cases pro bono for slaves, Supreme Court arguments that slavery was wrong, and buying slaves to set free with the American Colonization Society; Key was surprisingly inclusive and worked to hasten change.

As to the anthem itself, the third verse was not likely to have been about escaped slaves, nor probable that it referenced the Colonial Marines; it is most likely to have been about enslavement of people by the monarchy.

The anthem is about the battle of Fort McHenry, and the Colonial Marines did not fight at all in this battle.

Rather than referencing people that were not present, our anthem taken in context is wholly a creation of its time and refers to all people under a monarchy as enslaved, including our citizens pressganged by the British – one of the reasons for this war.

The French national anthem also written in that era referenced slaves, people being owned by a monarchy, and they were not referencing black slaves in America.

The only blacks at this battle were fighting for the U.S., liberty, and freedom.

Verse 4 refers to "freemen", and is grateful for our survival as a country with the forward thinking promise of freedom for all people.

The national anthem is not about slavery.

It celebrates the heroism of military heroes without regard of race.

Saying our anthem celebrates white victory over escaped slaves is at best an oversimplification of complex history and a dishonesty at worst.

I am baffled by the conflicting ideas that we have the freedom to protest and stand up for things that are wrong… but that the very anthem celebrating this freedom we enjoy is racist.

Baltimore/Fort McHenry was defended by both black and white against an invader that press-ganged people into slavery; every time we sing this song we take this anthem for us, something to live up to.

Savio Pham spoke at the forum on being a refugee, experiencing lack of liberty and freedom, and on what he feels as an American that truly represents the American ideal.

Like him, I want the anthem at my graduation.

I want to ask the question the anthem asks.

As we exit school and enter the world with our degrees in hand… Are we brave? Are we free? Divisiveness is splitting our Nation, one founded on freedom - are we winning this battle for freedom?

Is the type of liberty and opportunity for which America proudly stands worth fighting for? Ideas should be defended, especially audacious ones like American liberty.

Our symbols need to live up to what we have become but we also need to live up to what our symbols deserve.

America is not a perfect nation. No nation is without flaws and failings.

However, our anthem communicates our values... those of liberty, democracy, and independence from tyrannical governments.

This is an anthem worth keeping. I want to have this song at my graduation.

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