Knees and National Anthems: Blackness at the mercy of Whiteness

This morning, at 1:30 am, I played the National Anthem — the American National Anthem — on my knees.  And then, I cried: silent tears from weary years that James Weldon Johnson wrote about in the Black National Anthem — an anthem that most African-Americans know by heart; but few White Americans even know exists.

I cried because it reminded me symbolically, literally, and figuratively, how much of our lives as Black Americans are spent on our knees: seeking; begging, pleading, working, and praying. Blackness at the mercy of Whiteness.

But today, the NFL is on my mind. This week, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid settled their grievances with the NFL, but, in America, Blackness can never settle for Blackness is often at the mercy of Whiteness.http://\

This week, also, Antonio Brown is in the news and because I’m a Steelers fan, I’m curious as to where he will land.  He did his own little one man protest about being a pawn and essentially a slave; a mini rebellion.  But, he is still on the slave auction block, up for sale, after inspection, to the highest bidder.   Blackness and Brown — at the mercy of White owners in the NFL.

Aug 12, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) reacts on the sidelines against the Detroit Lions during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Detroit Lions won 30-17. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

And the debate goes on about the NFL, national anthem and kneeling. Though no longer shown on TV before football games, the national anthem is still sung at the start of NCAA basketball games and most sports competitions –why, I’m not sure.  The protocol —  sit, stand, kneel, hat off, hat on, hand on heart, hand in pockets – remains somewhat preposterous. I don’t know why it is sung in those spaces. It creates an eerie sacred moment in a non-sacred space – a sports stadium; a slight sacrilegious feeling, if, in fact, the playing of the anthem was sacred. It is a bit confusing for me — is it about the anthem or the flag, or America. Regardless, each one of those concepts is complicated and reflects a complicity about our history as a country and its founding principles.

Each symbol — anthem and flag — seem to have an expectation of protocol. Protocol in a country so bereft of protocol: for a flag initially designed in 1777 that cannot possibly meaningfully represent the complexity of America; and for a song – a national anthem of America – about ramparts (a word few of whom know the meaning), red glares, and bombs.  An anthem,  to say the least, that at the time it was written in 1814,  was neither the land of the free or the home of the brave, for the enslaved Africans in America, who had been enslaved for almost 200 years. 

And so, when the Black National Anthem was adopted in 1919, almost 100 years later, America was only symbolically different; the enslaved though “freed” by the Amendment and Civil War, were effectively re-enslaved as part of the failed Reconstruction; Jim Crow, and legalized segregation. But Black Americans could actually sing of liberty and hope and feel it.

And then, 50 years later, we were on our knees again, praying before the slaying in Selma. Blackness at the mercy of Whiteness.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., center, leads a group of civil rights workers and Selma black people in prayer on Feb. 1, 1965 in Selma, Alabama (AP Photo/BH)

And today, another 50 or so years later,  we are on our backs, begging not to be shot. Blackness at the mercy of Whiteness.

Black Behavioral Therapist shot while caring for autistic patient

And almost 400 Black Americans have been killed since Colin stopped standing; Blackness at the mercy of Whiteness.

And, so, to America….I play the anthem on my knees — praying on my knees for the day that Blackness is no longer at the mercy of Whiteness.

4 thoughts on “Knees and National Anthems: Blackness at the mercy of Whiteness”

  1. Alas, many reading this have not heard, let alone sing the Black National Anthem. If you haven’t, make a point of looking it up.

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