To Sing or Not to Sing: The (Misguided) Angst of Black Anthem Performance

Photo Credit: US State Department, Flickr

This piece by Michael Cooper describes the angst felt by Metropolitan Opera tenor Lawrence Brownlee when Brownlee was asked to sing the Star Spangler Banner for a Jets-Ravens game.  Brownlee describes, on the one hand, being the son of a veteran, and knowing what the anthem means to “people like my father and those who love our great country;” he adds that the song was “the last thing many soldiers sang as they gave their lives in battle fighting for the freedoms that we enjoy.”  Then on the other hand, Brownlee supports refusing to stand for the national anthem stating “[i]t is an act of protest which I agree with and support wholeheartedly,” because he believes that “much needs to change in our society in regards to the policing and mistreatment of minorities.”

As has been said many times before, the national anthem has not a thing to do with veterans.  Veterans do not fight for a song or a flag.  This positing of not standing during the national anthem as an offense to veterans is completely contrived and really makes no sense since one of the “freedoms that we enjoy” for which veterans have and continue to fight is the right not to stand for the national anthem.  Additionally, one of these things is not like the other. In other words, these two items are not comparable.  Protesting the centuries long tradition of the extrajudicial killing of Black people far outweighs misguided, deflective, racist arguments about hurt feelings about the national anthem and “veterans.”   Brownlee states that he decided to sing the national anthem “to use the voice that God has given me to sing – to sing with the conflicting emotions that pull at my heart … the honor, the pride, the frustration, the sadness … Colin Kaepernick’s message, the hope of my ancestors, and the sacrifice of those who gave their lives protecting our flag.”

This brother means well. But really.  Besides the song being racist and, as such, no Black person should be singing it to begin with, that we Blacks are willing to actively participate in exalting a powerful symbol of American national pride when its promises and privileges have been denied us is actually quite sad.  It also reflects our perpetual tendency to believe that if we demonstrate to whites that we are patriotic, that we will be welcomed to the table when, in fact, we continue to allow ourselves to be relegated to standing in the foyer looking on pitiful and teary eyed.  It’s time we set our own table.