The California chapter of the NAACP wants Congress to drop “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem. The groups passed a resolution at its October 26-29 annual state conference that described the anthem as “one of the most racist, pro-slavery, anti-black songs in the American lexicon.” Furthermore, the organization passed a resolution supporting former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick who became a leader of last year’s protests against the tune that commences NFL games.

According to the Sacramento Bee, California NAACP President Alice Huffman said, “We owe a lot of it to Kaepernick.” She added, “I think all this controversy about the knee will go away once the song is removed.” Huffman told CBS13 Sacramento, “It’s racist. It doesn’t represent our community. It’s anti-black people.”

While kneeling began among NFL players in protest of slayings of black men by police, it has grown to include other causes, including the national anthem. Opponents of the national anthem, whose verses were composed by an eyewitness of the British shelling of an American fortress in the War of 1812, point to the little-known third verse. As composed by Francis Scott Key, it reads: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave/From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.” Some contend that the verse celebrates the death of black slaves who fought on the side of the British during the war, while others believe it condemns all persons who fought against the nascent United States regardless of color. 

On Wednesday night, Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson argued with University of Maryland professor Jason Nichols, “No one has ever seen any racial overtones. There aren’t any in the song.” Carlson added, “the truth is it’s not inherent to the text. It’s not there.” Nichols said that “we shouldn’t argue tradition for tradition’s sake. That’s the argument that people made for Jim Crow.”
“The Star-Spangled Banner” became the national anthem  in 1931, and had been used by the U.S. Navy in 1889 and President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. According to The New York Times, University of Michigan professor Marc Clague -- a musicologist and chairman of the Star Spangled Music Foundation -- also claims the anthem 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,” Clague said in a 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.”


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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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