Oh, say can you see the America that still hates me? That the anthem Francis Scott Key penned in 1814 was not intended for me?
That upon the 1776 Declaration of Independence blacks in America were still nearly a century from being legally set free. Chained like dogs, we were. Human property. The birth of a nation founded upon American hypocrisy.
Oh say can you see that the red, white and blue woven symbol of freedom was not inclusive of us? That under this nation’s fluttering banner black folks were confined to the back of Jim Crow’s bus. That they’ll still stand up for the flag but still not for us.
In God we still trust. Hopelessly in love with a nation that has so hated us.
By the dawn’s early light, I still see: That nearly 90 years after Independence Day, “Emancipation” at last arrived. Then two more years by 13th Amendment for slavery to die.
That 150 years after Key’s Star-Spangled ink had dried did LBJ sign for Civil Rights. That for all our life we had to fight.
And yet, we stand proudly, pledging allegiance. Embracing the contradiction amid democracy’s malfeasance.
Singing with hand over heart. With patriotic visions of black soldiers — from the Revolutionary War through both World Wars and Vietnam… What so proudly we hailed, even as America called us “nigger.”
Lynched our sons.
Strange fruit on poplar trees. The spirit of Billie Holiday drifts on a Southern breeze amid Lady Liberty’s tease, washing over Colin Kaepernick on bended knee.
Memories of Alabama’s “Bombingham” and Mississippi burning — ring. Conjuring the murders of Emmett Louis Till and Dr. Martin Luther King.
Our visionaries, oh beloved nation, thou hast slain. Our faith in God and dreams of the Promised Land all that kept us sane.
And we sing: At the twilight’s last gleaming… Even with police brutality live streaming. Can’t you hear our cries? State-sanctioned murder of black lives. Insatiable thirst for innocent blood of the black male. Same old centuries old American tale.
Segregation. Black life criminalization. Mass incarceration. Urban isolation.
Economic suffocation. Death of one nation by white privilege’s creation. Land of Liberty laced with abominations.
And still, we stand and sing: …Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight. Even as we mourn o’er no justice for Tamir Rice. Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Philando Castile. For Laquan McDonald — 16 shots. For the destruction of Black Wall Street in the Tulsa plot.
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
I can still hear Eric Garner screaming: “I can’t breathe…” See Mamie Till Mobley’s agony — stricken to her knees by the sight of those white men’s savagery.
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air… Even through the Klan’s blazing crosses and the Tuskegee syphilis affair.
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. And the souls of black folks, wearied and in despair, still stand and sing: O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave; O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
It is the song of black folks, wearied and worn, though no longer enslaved. The anthem we sing as those Americans choked, beaten, brutalized and marginalized — from cradle to grave.
Even as this symbol of hope above our nation waves. Even amid a president who would now dare tell us how we should behave — underneath the shadow of hypocrisy, behind that great American veil called racial hate. While freedom, equality and justice still make us wait.
Oh say can you see, why it might be, that even in this home of the brave and land of the free, why a brother might be inclined to just take a knee?
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