Written by: J. Laura
In July 2020, the National Football League (NFL) announced it will play the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” before each season-opener game of this year. The league’s decision to play the anthem comes in consideration of the victims of systematic racism, especially following the death of George Flyod in May 2020, reports NPR.
According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Black National Anthem was actually a poem written in 1899 by NAACP leader, James Weldon Johnson and was set to music by his brother, John Rosamond Johnson.
It was then performed for the first time publicly by a choir of 500 school children on February 12th, 1900, in Johnson’s hometown of Jacksonville, Florida as a part of Lincoln’s Birthday celebration, NAACP explained.
How did it all Begin?
The movement to bring attention to racial injustice started in August 2016, when NFL player, Colin Kaepernick, refused to stand during the national anthem, and instead, knelt down on one knee as he protested the wrongdoings against people of color in the U.S., NFL reported.
His actions created such controversies that by March 2017, it was reported by Republic World that the football player opted out from his San Francisco 49ers quarterback contract and entered free agency. He has since then become an avid activist voicing his opinions on civil rights among minorities in the U.S.
The kneel was so controversial that it was discussed by then President Barack Obama on CNN in September 2016.
“Part of what makes this country special is, we respect people’s rights to have a different opinion,” Obama said. “In a democracy like ours, there are going to be a lot of folks that do stuff that we disagree with. But as long as they’re doing it within the law, then we can voice our opinion objecting to it, but it’s also their right.”
While many recognize it as a peaceful form of protest, others believe kneeling is disrespectful.
In 2017, conservative commentator Tomi Lahren said on Fox News, “What is it that you’re kneeling for? And why have you chosen the flag and the anthem to do it?”
“What would it take for you to then stand and respect the flag and the anthem?” Lahren continued. “Those that live in middle America, those that live in the heartland of this country that are the football watchers — the fans — we’re just sick of it. We don’t like it. It’s a disgrace to us; we love our country.”
What Kneeling Symbolizes
This gesture of kneeling has been quoted by the Evening Standard, as a gesture that shows “powerful […] messages of anger about racial violence.”
The Evening Standard explained that those who knelt at the games during the U.S. national anthem were protesting against police brutality and racism across the country.
Nate Boyer, a former Green Beret and NFL player who is said to have advised Kapernick on his decision to kneel, told NPR in 2018 that the act has, “never been in our history really seen as a disrespectful act,” he added. “People kneel when they get knighted. You kneel to propose to your wife, and you take a knee to pray. And soldiers often take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave to pay respects. So I thought, if anything, besides standing, that was the most respectful.”
iNewspaper reported that Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour.”
Systemic racism is rampant in the U.S. For instance, mid of this year, Independent reported that in the U.S., Black people are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white people, and experience unemployment 2.5% more than their white counterparts.
In addition, a 2018 report from the Economic Policy Institute shows that Black Americans are way behind their white counterparts in terms of income, poverty rate, infant mortality rate, home ownership rate, life expectancy and college graduation rate.
Pandering to the Public?
Tucker Carlson of Fox News said he’s got, “Nothing against the song. Again, very pretty song. But does this mean we have separate anthems for separate races?”
Rodney Coates, a sociologist and professor at Miami University at Ohio, told NBC News, that although he appreciates the Black national anthem, he believes that this gesture would be an embarrassing way of showing allegiance to a movement that is seeking to reshape race relations in the U.S.
“It would be a publicity stunt,” Coates said. “This is a multibillion-dollar entity.”
The movement, he added, should be more about “security from COVID-19 and economic security for underserved communities.”
According to reports from APM Research Lab, Black Americans have the highest death rate from COVID-19 than any other race. At 88.4 deaths per 100,000 Black Americans have a higher mortality rate — more than double — from coronavirus than Asians, Latinos, and White Americans, Independent reported.
And so Coates asserted, “You can play “Lift Every Voice” as much as you want, but it will not put a dime in anyone’s bank account. It will not put anyone to work. It doesn’t allow a father or mother to put food on the table. … That song will not change anything.”