The blame-America crowd has stumbled upon a new target for fake accusations of racism: “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In the last 48 hours, leaders in the African-American community have begun to criticize the national anthem as a racist relic the nation should replace.
The groundswell began when Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP, called the song “racist” and “anti-black people” and that it “doesn’t represent our community.”
She and others have tethered this complaint to a tiny hook in the song’s obscure third stanza:
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.
To find those verses offensive, one would need a dictionary (what’s a hireling?), a history book (which refuge? which flight?), and a book of poetic interpretation (who talks that way?).
And those lines are never sung anyway!
What’s next? The Bible approves of slavery, and was used to justify segregation. Would the protesters pressure churches to boycott that text?
The increasing tendency of prominent blacks to distance themselves from America’s symbols should disturb Americans who hope for a harmonious future of racial equality. If singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” starts to offend people the way the Confederate flag (properly) does, our nation will find a new pivot of divisiveness, another thing to argue about.
And that’s particularly unfortunate, because fighting fake racism means we cannot fight real racism. In America, people who hate blacks still organize marches and shoot up churches and run vicious Web sites. Black children are stuck in schools that provide an inferior education because their parents are denied a choice. In some jurisdictions, voting laws have been designed specifically to keep blacks away from the polls. And black people must teach their children to fear and submit to police even when they have done nothing wrong – and that their very lives depend on it.
And the NAACP is trying to be the national DJ?
Blessedly, there’s another model African-Americans can follow in confronting challenging parts of American history. In the Broadway smash Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda created a landmark work of art from the perspective of immigrants and people of color that is nonetheless deeply patriotic.
Instead of kneeling during the national anthem and trying to dump it, people who want to expand the nation’s racial horizons can sing it more loudly and more proudly. They can supplement it with songs that speak to them (there’s a “black national anthem” called “Lift Every Voice and Sing”) and try to out-pledge every other American’s allegiance.
It’s hard to understand what the protesters would consider a victory. Even if Congress replaces the national anthem, how are they going to police Americans who still want to sing it? Do they want decades of pointless infighting over a damned song?
That would be a “perilous fight,” indeed.