Why I Stood For The National Anthem The Day After The Election
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Politics and Activism

Why I Stood For The National Anthem The Day After The Election

It's time to rethink the meaning of patriotism.

Why I Stood For The National Anthem The Day After The Election

On November 9th, the day after the long-awaited Election Day of 2016, I worked concessions at a volleyball game in the evening. Like many of my peers, I had spent the day reeling from the results, with a lingering feeling of anxiety and unease, out of uncertainty about our nation's future. I texted and messaged several friends, asking how they were holding up, and when I would spontaneously encounter politically like-minded peers around campus, it only took one knowing look to communicate to each other what was on our minds.

I was manning the ice cream cart, which was parked conveniently next to the bleachers, giving me a decent view of the game (not that I cared, as I've never been particularly interested in sports). The game kicked off with the National Anthem, as every sporting event does. Only two months prior, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ignited a firestorm by declining to stand for the National Anthem at a football game in protest, to bring attention to the issue of black people being disproportionately targeted and killed by police.

I subsequently wrote an article defending Kaepernick's choice to sit out the anthem, and extending my support for him in doing so. Yet, in that moment at the volleyball, I removed my cap and placed my hand over my heart, along with the thousands of other attendees, facing the flag and displaying their respect for the United States.

In the midst of the heated discourse surrounding Kaepernick's protest, possibly for the first time, I have seriously contemplated how I felt about the National Anthem, the American flag, and other popular, conventional displays of American patriotism. Kaepernick's reason for protesting seems to be that he cannot go along compliantly with a gesture proclaiming America to be a "land of the free," when it is not free for all citizens, when it is not free for his black brothers and sisters who have been targeted, profiled, brutalized, and/or killed by police, or face other forms of discrimination and symptoms of systemic racism in the United States. That's an understandable objection; after all, proclaiming a nation to be a "land of the free" when it isn't could feed the illusion that it is, and be used to ignore the struggles of those who aren't free.

Other reasons that individuals might object to going along with such displays of American patriotism is because they represent a country which has historically oppressed them and continues to do so. It's understandable that an indigenous American might not want to show pride in a country built on the genocide of their ancestors, one which has historically broken many promises and gradually stolen all of their land. In addition, other Americans might object not specifically to displays of patriotism themselves, but the idea that they should be compulsory for every American as the ultimate display of love for America.

Conversely, I understand how much the flag and the anthem mean to many other Americans, and wouldn't want to disrespect those who hold such symbols dearly to them. Specifically, I understand the meaning of the flag and the anthem for many members and veterans of the United States military, as symbols of the country they served, and the freedoms they stood for. And the qualms about participating in the anthem aren't universal among black Americans, even those who supported Kaepernick's stand; there are many black and indigenous Americans who will proudly stand for the National Anthem and display their allegiance to the flag and to the country. On the other hand, there are many veterans and servicemen and women who applauded Kaepernick's protest of the National Anthem as well.

Like most American children, I grew up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public elementary school (yes, it included the words "under God"). I was ingrained, from an early age, with the notion of America as a free country, and the appropriate ways of showing respect for said country. And I complied. I stood for the Pledge every morning at school, and displayed respect for America in other ways. But in retrospect, I'm not sure that my sense of patriotism was ever genuine. I think I was just going along with it because it was expected of me, and ingrained in me that it was the respectful thing to do. It was something that I granted an apathetic, half-hearted acknowledgment, like, "Yeah, land of the free, America is great," before going about my business.

So why did I place my hand over my heart for the pledge at the volleyball game? Personally, this was my reasoning: our country was in distress, and I felt the need to stand by her. I don't know if the gesture or rationale behind it were right, but they were genuine. Of course, such reasoning begs the million-dollar question: what does it mean to stand by one's country? What does it mean to love one's country, to take pride in it?

As wrestler John Cena articulates so beautifully in a commercial for the Ad Council released on the Fourth of July this year, the defining quality that makes up a country is the people who live in it. I found this statement made by Cena in the ad to be particularly profound:

"This year, whenever you feel the urge to don those star-spangled shorts, or set off fireworks the size of my biceps to show love for our country, remember that to love America is to love all Americans."

That, to me, is what it means to stand by my country. To stand by my country is to stand by all of the people who live in it, to stand by the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution, and to ensure that all Americans are enjoying said freedoms. And it makes sense: if a nation proclaims itself as the "land of the free," it should reflect that sentiment in how it treats its citizens. When a sizable faction of a nation's population is being denied their basic rights guaranteed to them as citizens of said nation, the phrase "land of the free" proves itself empty and superficial.

Whatever an adequate, genuine display of patriotism looks like in America, it shouldn't be compulsory. It should be up to each American to search their conscience and determine whether to partake in such displays of patriotism. We should all feel free to question and analyze the proclamation of America as "land of the free," and whether that proclamation is a reflection of reality.

Is America a free country? That depends on who you ask. It certainly isn't for a sizable faction of Americans, and for many, that's the key question.

If we cannot accurately declare America "land of the free," then those of us who do stand for the anthem can do so with the intent to make it the standard that we strive for. When the "land of the free" isn't that for all who occupy it, when it falls short of that standard, that should motivate us to advocate for such freedoms to be respected, to make America a more accurate reflection of that sentiment.

That should be what it means to stand with one's country, to love one's country. That should be what it means to be a patriot.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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