The California chapter of the NAACP has a solution for the NFL take-a-knee flap: Get rid of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The organization is urging Congress to jettison the national anthem after passing a resolution at its Oct. 26-29 state conference describing the tune as “one of the most racist, pro-slavery, anti-black songs in the American lexicon.”
A second resolution was passed in support of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a leader of last season’s protests during the national anthem.
“We owe a lot of it to Kaepernick,” California NAACP President Alice Huffman told the Sacramento Bee. “I think all this controversy about the knee will go away once the song is removed.”
The NFL kneeling began as a protest against the deaths of black men at the hands of police, not the lyrics of the national anthem, and has since grown to encompass social-justice issues in general.
Those who argue the song is racist point to a rarely sung and little-known line in the third verse that says, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave/From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.”
“It’s racist. It doesn’t represent our community. It’s anti-black people,” Ms. Huffman told CBS13 Sacramento.
The passage’s meaning is the subject of debate. Critics argue that the line celebrates the deaths of black U.S. slaves who fought with the British during the War of 1812, while others say it condemns anyone who fought on the side of the British regardless of race.
“No one has ever seen any racial overtones. There aren’t any in the song,” said Fox News host Tucker Carlson, adding that, “the truth is it’s not inherent to the text. It’s not there.”
He sparred over the issue on his Wednesday night show with University of Maryland professor Jason Nichols, who said that “we shouldn’t argue tradition for tradition’s sake. That’s the argument that people made for Jim Crow.”
California Assemblyman Travis Allen, who’s seeking the Republican nomination for governor, denounced the idea.
“Our flag and national anthem unite us as Americans,” said Mr. Allen in a statement. “Protesting our flag and national anthem sows division and disrespects the diverse Americans who have proudly fought and died for our country. Real social change can only happen if we work together as Americans first.”
Critics note that “The Star-Spangled Banner” didn’t become the national anthem until 1931, although it had been recognized by the U.S. Navy in 1889 and President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, according to Wikipedia.
Marc Clague, musicologist of the University of Michigan and board chairman of the Star Spangled Music Foundation, has argued that the song is not racist.
“The social context of the song comes from the age of slavery, but the song itself isn’t about slavery, and it doesn’t treat whites differently from blacks,” Mr. Clague told The New York Times in a September 2016 interview.
“The reference to slaves is about the use, and in some sense the manipulation, of black Americans to fight for the British, with the promise of freedom,” he said. “The American forces included African-Americans as well as whites. The term ‘freemen,’ whose heroism is celebrated in the fourth stanza, would have encompassed both.”
The issue has received more attention in the light of the NFL protests as well as efforts to take down statues celebrating U.S. historical figures who were slave owners.
The anthem’s author, Francis Scott Key, who penned the lyrics about the battle of Fort McHenry, owned slaves in Maryland.
The California NAACP is still seeking legislative sponsors to rescind “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“This song is wrong. It shouldn’t have been there, we didn’t have it ‘til 1931,” Ms. Huffman said. “So it won’t kill us if it goes away.”