“My Country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing……….”
I have heard these words repeatedly over the past few days. They have been sung in celebration of Memorial Day, when we remember the sacrifices made by the military who engage in actions to secure our homeland’s border and who protect us from invasions (wars). Even the men’s choir at Hamilton Park United Methodist Church, where I was a visitor last Sunday, sang it as a tribute during the service.
I have always been moved by the words and melody of that particular song; more so than the Star Spangled Banner, with its controversial, some say racist, third verse.
Writing and singing patriotic songs is a time-honored practice- dating back long before we became a united republic of states, just as engaging in debates on how to be a ‘good’ patriot have been, and continue to be vigorous.
One definition for patriot reads: someone who loves and is loyal to his (her) country. That simple definition implies that the love and loyalty is blind; unquestioning and faithful to all of the country’s laws.
Not! This country was founded on protest against an unjust set of laws and rules of behavior under the British King, and unfair taxation.
We must be reminded that all laws are not good laws; that it may even be more patriotic to question, protest, and tear down the boundaries that keep any group oppressed, i.e., change/amend laws; make good new ones, etc.
Today, we are embroiled- once again- in a debate over the NFL’s decision to fine their players and teams for not standing during the playing of the national anthem, and that players/teams which do not stand are deemed unpatriotic, and given a fine. All this during a sporting event!
And exacting a monetary penalty- how American!
Reminder: playing the national anthem at sporting/public events is traditional; not mandated, by law. In fact, standing on the field is a recent tradition. Before 2009, players stayed in the locker room while the anthem was being played.
So much for one of our exalted freedoms: choice of speech, assuming certain physical postures, and/ or demonstration of particular political attitudes, etc.
I don’t recognize this new place, still called America. We are suffocating under oppressive turns back to an earlier time when folk were persecuted and killed for treason against the newly formed country; erasures of certain rights and privileges of citizenship in the USA; suppressions of speech and thought (see the constant attack on the press); and downright threats to the precious freedoms that were sought after and fought for during all the ‘wars’, since 1776.
I’m growing more weary of the daily news; worn down by the daily onslaught and uncertainty from threats to the justice system. Just plain tired.
And yet……. Even though my people were not included in the Articles of the Declaration of Independence, nor in the first dozen amendments to the Constitution, we have been baptized with the blood of our ancestors spilled during their toil of the land, and their brave fighting in the armies of these Untied States, into citizenry.
Black folk have earned every right to rant and rail against any form of injustice, wherever it is found, and our right to do so was secured over many years, tears, lost lives and sacrifices of those who went before us.
And we too shall sing: “……..land where our fathers died, land of the Pilgrims’ pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American ‘Negro.’ Something within has reminded him (her) of his (her) birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him (her) that it can be gained. ……moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice.”
Brace yourselves. This may be another summer of movement with great urgency.