America's Broken Promises: The Anthem Protest Explained

Photo Credit: Reuters Caren Firouz

Photo Credit: Reuters Caren Firouz

I stand because I can and I respect why you can't.

As a naturalized citizen I stand for the anthem out of gratitude to this great nation for opening its doors to me and mine. I stand because I respect the symbols of the country my parents chose to move us to and I chose to remain in. I stand with my hand over my heart because I truly love America. I stand for the America that welcomed my family and gave us the tools and opportunities to make something more of ourselves, to live with decency and provide for our progeny for generations to come. I stand for the knowledge I have acquired here in this home of science, this beacon of progress for all those who have arrived hat-in-hand at her shores. I stand because I can, because America gave us her hand in friendship and in return for her I stand.

Don't get me wrong, I understand why you can't. When I see athletes who kneel before the anthem in protest I understand. I don't take offense because the anthem represents choice and freedom for me, but for them it represents a lack thereof. For so many sons and daughters of this land the anthem reminds them that their ancestors fought for the birth of this nation in the Revolutionary War only to be re-enslaved once the day was won and the battles were over. They kneel because after the real chains were broken, a more clever means to achieve their subjugation was devised. They kneel because the men of color of America are chattel once again in a prison system seemingly designed for them. They kneel because their brothers and sisters are still gunned down for no reason, like it's year-round hunting season. A routine traffic stop could mean death by cop, and while I understand that, there are many that just can't.

There is more than one America, there has been for some time. All her rival cultures are seething for a fight. Let's explore why so many cannot bring themselves to stand, and you might find that they are justified in their protest. America has broken her promises to her black children time and time again, and I’ll tell you about just some of them. 

Painful Beginnings

Photo Credit: Buildnationblog wordpress

Photo Credit: Buildnationblog wordpress

When slavery is talked about in America people love to pretend it was centuries ago - it wasn’t. It wasn’t even two centuries ago, it ended 152 years ago. Chattel slavery endured from 1619 when it was introduced in the northern colonies by the Dutch until the end of the Civil War in 1865 which put to rest the dispute of whether or not people would continue to be used as property in The Republic. The 246 year-long nightmare was over. However emancipation was far from the end of the struggles black Americans would face in the fight for freedom and equality. 

First Broken Promise: Fight for your freedom

Photo Credit: Worldfuturefund

Photo Credit: Worldfuturefund

In 1775, first sparks of revolution were ignited in Lexington and Concord in the Massachusetts Bay Colony of the Empire of Great Britain. The conflict set off what we now know as the Revolutionary War. According to Gary Nash's book, "The African Americans' Revolution," some 9,000 African Patriot Soldiers fought in The Revolutionary War with the promise of freedom for service. This was in reaction to the Dunmore Proclamation, in which the British Armed Forces struck a deal with all African loyalists willing to serve: they offered freedom, and in the end they held up their end of the bargain. After their defeat, most black servicemen in the British forces and their families were shipped to other British colonies as freed men and women. Not so in the Republic. The Patriots of color, who fought bravely for what they thought would be their nation, were sold a dream. They were told: "every slave so enlisting shall, upon his passing muster before Colonel Christopher Greene, be immediately discharged from the service of his master or mistress, and be absolutely free." They were given no such freedom. By 1786, only three years after the fighting had ended, most of America’s remaining black patriots that hadn’t fled or been killed were back in chains and at the mercy of their masters. 

Second Broken Promise: Emancipation and the Reconstruction

Photo Credit: Tianna Coutu

Photo Credit: Tianna Coutu

Slavery moved out and Jim Crow moved in. The Reconstruction Period was the promise of prosperity after Emancipation. But The South would have the last word on the treatment of freed men and women by enacting a series of laws that would systematically target and separate blacks from the rest of the population. When you see or hear the words Systematic Oppression that’s Jim Crow’s love child. Jim Crow refers to the government-sanctioned, orchestrated and enforced racial aggression against black Americans on U.S. soil from 1877 through the start of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s. Everything about Jim Crow-era legislation was a spit in the face to the notion of equality. Plessy V. Ferguson was a Supreme Court decision reinforcing local state laws in the South which upheld the delusional “Separate but Equal” doctrine, which would ensure constitutional protection for segregationist practices from 1896 up until 1954, when the Brown V. Board of Ed. Of Topeka decision overturned the previous ruling. 

One thing was true about these laws, they were not equal but they were certainly separate. From schools to hospitals, to restaurants and parks, to any public space that you can imagine - including, famously, transportation - Black Americans were to be kept separate from whites. Their lack of importance and the fact that their lives did NOT MATTER to their white counterparts and the government that represented them was evident in the stark difference between the quality of services and spaces provided for blacks versus whites. Every move was a strategic blow to the psyche of the black family. It was a resounding message of inferiority that read: You are not free and you must know your place and it’s behind us. For some time, our black citizens were gaslighted into believing that. But Jim Crow laws were even more sinister than just separation, they also imposed severe voting restrictions on the black population ensuring that the engineers of these subjugating laws would remain in power and in turn the perpetuity of the laws themselves. Talk about a rigged system. Taking away voting rights from the black community essentially maimed them economically and the thriving black middle class that once existed in the south briefly after emancipation, disappeared entirely. They had no legal voice left with which to fight. 

Third Broken Promise: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Margaret Sanger gives a speech in front of the woman of the Ku Klux Klan.  Photo Credit: Margaretsangernationalhistoryday.com

Margaret Sanger gives a speech in front of the woman of the Ku Klux Klan.  Photo Credit: Margaretsangernationalhistoryday.com

The rise of the Ku Klux Klan was the initiation of an overt and racially-motivated reign of terror. What began as a social club for former confederate soldiers soon became a breeding ground for sadistic ideas for exerting their imagined superiority over their fellow Americans. The Klan’s militant genocide resulted in thousands of deaths and delivered a decisive blow to any hope for political and social organization within a black community. Despite its clear historical and present-day status as an organization that meets terrorist criteria. The U.S. government has yet to classify it as one, (to change that sign here). The KKK has now been in existence for 152 years, it is in effect America’s ongoing response to a black person’s freedom: the constant threat of an unjustified and tortuous death. That’s not really a life; there is no freedom in perpetual fear, and no chance to pursue happiness. Since its inception, the existence of The KKK has given way to 917 white supremacy organizations across the nation that are still operating today.

Fourth Broken Promise: The Civil Rights Movement

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Photo Credit: NPR

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Photo Credit: NPR

America’s children of color demanded a seat at the table. In the 1950’s the Second World War was over. It was peace time and once again Black Americans sacrificed bravely for this nation and for the world. Black service members died in the thousands, but also played crucial roles in aiding the Allied Forces to defeat the Axis. Upon their return Jim Crow was still in full swing, they experienced that same segregation and second class treatment they did while serving and they were receiving the same as payment for their service at home. They were even excluded from the G.I. Bill, which arguably spearheaded the middle class of the 1950s. Enough was enough; America’s black children found their collective voices and took to the streets to exclaim their lives DO MATTER. Non-violent protests and civil disobedience were the markers of the movement that gave rise to the great social leaders of the twentieth century. Names like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X now inspire hope, not only in the black community but for all manner of oppressed peoples in the U.S. and throughout the world. However, at the time their protests and acts of resistance were not met with applause and praise. Rather they were incarcerated, slandered, harassed, abused and many were assassinated for their efforts to move the needle of equality further in the right direction. 

Fifth Broken Promise: Equal Treatment in the Eyes of the Law

Photo Credit: Blue Stockings Magazine 

Photo Credit: Blue Stockings Magazine 

The most evident signs of iniquity in our times are on full display in the very system where they should be most repudiated. Our “Justice” System, and I use the word justice lightly, has been designed and crafted to target and retain as many people of color as possible. Currently, there are roughly two million people incarcerated in the USA, the highest number of prisoners of any country. In fact, the USA retains 22 percent of the world’s prisoners despite representing only 4 percent of the world’s population. Of those two million detainees, some 70 percent are people of color. This was not always the case. Between Nixon’s war on drugs and the evolution of the for profit prison industry stemming from the Reagan administration, the U.S. prison population spiked from .1 percent prior to the 1970s to .5 percent by the turn of the century. There is no surprise in these numbers really, when you privatize a system intended for rehabilitation, you make it financially-dependent on the number of warm bodies filling its cells. Suddenly rehabilitation is no longer the bottom line, money is, and we all know at the end of the day, the bottom line is all that matters. Again it is people of color who bare the heaviest burden in facing the injustices this corrupt system has wrought. Black Americans make up around 13 percent of the U.S. population yet they comprise 40 percent of the prison populace. Sentencing biases contribute greatly to this disparity, along with prosecutorial discretion favoring whites and negatively-impacting people of color. A clear picture of intentional inequity starts to appear. 

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

Finally black Americans are unjustly shot and killed by police at two and a half times the rate as white Americans. The disproportionate mistreatment and abuse of power committed against people of color in the United States of America has come to a boiling point. That is why they kneel. 

In a free society like our own these protests should be seen as a positive demonstration of the type of republic we are. Peacefully choosing not to participate in national rituals that represent freedom only to some and oppression to others is a sign of a great nation where its citizenry is free to assemble, express themselves and effect change. That is something to be proud of.

America already is great, but she can be better and we can make her so together. 

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo