“And where is that band who so vauntingly swore, that the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion a home and a country shall leave us no more? Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, and the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph doth wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
“No refuge could save the hireling and slave…” here has been interpreted as a not-so-veiled threat against mercenaries and Africans who were enslaved in the United States who joined the British after promises of freedom by the British if they fought with them.
By refusing to stand, place one’s hand over one’s heart, remove hats and other apparel from the head (an inherently Christian tradition going against the covering of the head by many other religious communities), and sing proudly the words and tune of this Star-Spangled Banner, Colin Kaepernick and the movement he has spawned has raised important questions concerning what it means to be patriotic and an active participant in our democratic process. In addition, it raises question about the proper place for the playing of our national anthem.
The 50 stars and 13 stripes on our flag of red, white, and blue represent our collective image of the United States of America. In this regard, we can define “patriotism” as: “a love for or devotion to one’s country,” and “nationalism” as: “loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially: a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.”
How many of these people who exaltedly display the flag actually take the time to vote in local and national elections? How many of them volunteer to remove litter from parks or serve meals at soup kitchens?
How many of them write letters to the editors of local and national media, and stay current on issues, laws, and policies affecting their communities and their nation? How many of these people have actually read and truly comprehend the United States Constitution?
How many of them truly understand the histories, the peoples, the governmental and economic systems, the traditions, the languages – for that matter, the actual locations – of many other countries across the planet in contexts other than having to learn about these nations when international tensions arise?
While the United States is a beautiful nation founded on a noble concept, a vibrant idea, and a vital and enduring vision, as a country, it remains still a work in process progressing toward but not yet attaining and not yet reaching that concept, that idea, and that vision.
This is possibly what separates the patriot from the nationalist, for the patriot understands and witnesses the divide and the gap between the reality and the promise of their country and its people. The nationalist, though, is often not aware that a gap even exists between the potential and the reality.
A true patriot is a person who, indeed, loves their country (though not necessarily viewing it as “exceptional”), but also one who sees the way things are, and one who attempts to make change for the better. A patriot also views other countries with respect and admiration, as valued members of an interconnected and interdependent world community.
A large number of citizens proudly display American flags flying and rippling in our strong winds on poles or porches in front yards. But patriotism and true commitment to our democracy takes more, much more; for it demands of us all the needed time, effort, and commitment to critically investigate all aspects of the great gift we have been given in our representative form of government. Anything less would be to waste our enfranchisement, to silence our voices, and to slap the faces of all who have gone before to envision and protect our form of government.
Reading of the intensive backlash against primarily black professional sports players exercising their constitutionally-protected rights to protest brought back painful memories of witnessing the racial strife erupting like a volcano covering Boston and its suburbs with its flowing lava of bigotry during its history of mandatory bussing from 1974 – 1988 to achieve public school racial integration.
One photograph in particular captured the depth of racial prejudice in our city. In horrifyingly stark terms, a white man, enraged expression covering his face, gripped a long pole carrying the American flag as if he were wielding a sharp spear lunged toward a black man who was seized and held by another white man.
Symbolically, many people have grabbed and flung the flag as a weapon of intimidation to silence Kaepernick and others from reminding us of the racism that still continues to saturate our environment as the legacy of the original sin on which this country was founded.
Colin Kaepernich and all the others stand as true patriots by taking a knee because they sees things the way they are by attempting in their fashion to make them better. They embrace John F. Kennedy’s challenge by asking not what their country can do for them, but rather asking what they can do for their country, and reflecting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s. words that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”