The Forgotten Injustice of the American National Anthem

On Independence Day next Tuesday, many Americans will bring out American flags, talk with pride about the nation’s heritage, and proudly belch out the American national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

I was especially proud to sing our national anthem in the years after 9/11, when I was too young to understand the full meaning of the song, but also old enough to realize that the song was to many people a symbol of defiance towards terrorists who tried to destroy the nation’s identity. But these days, I have trouble singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at all, let alone singing it in public.

Before people call me unpatriotic, just as many called NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick unpatriotic for his refusal to stand during the American national anthem, please hear me out. I too am a believer in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” even if those ideals did not extend towards African Americans, Native Americans, women, immigrants, people in the LGBTQ+ community, and others for many decades after that phrase was first used. But the fact is that, if the United States of America wants to carry out a universal, inclusive, and just vision of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” our current national anthem is not a representation of such a vision.

In making this claim, I point to an oft-forgotten part of “The Star-Spangled Banner”—the third verse:

“And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

“No refuge could save the hireling and slave…from the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.”

These two lines from the third verse make it sound like the author, Francis Scott Key, was celebrating the death of African American slaves.

To add historical context to the verse, African American slaves who fought for the British were offered freedom in the War of 1812. Hence, the British served as a “refuge” for slaves, since they seemed to offer slaves what they wanted—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

However, slaves fighting for the British did not give Francis Scott Key what he wanted, which was the preservation of the United States of America. Once the British-allied slaves got killed, on the other hand, the United States stood a greater chance of having a preserved country.

Between the lyrics and the historical context of the lyrics, it certainly seems like this portion of the song celebrates the death of slaves trying to free themselves from slavery. Since it celebrates enslaved death instead of freedom and life, the American national anthem is not a song that celebrates an inclusive, universal, and just version of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Many of us forget about the injustice of the song (the third verse in particular) because we only sing the first verse. However, we should not let ourselves forget about any part of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This song refused to extend the vision of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” towards a whole group of people (slaves, particularly slaves fighting for the British), and everyone who sings this song should be mindful of that fact.

Addressing “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin”

If you are a Christian who has confronted LGBTQ+ issues, or if you aren’t Christian but are familiar with Christian language that is often used with the LGBTQ+ community, you have probably come across a particular phrase.

“Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

I used to be a major believer in this saying. I could never fathom abandoning someone, but at the same time I did not support actions (in homosexual actions) that practically every Christian influence in my life told me was wrong. So to me, “love the sinner, hate the sin” was a good middle ground.

I was not alone in thinking that “love the sinner, hate the sin” was a good approach. I know that because I hear this phrase used frequently in moderate to conservative Christian theology to describe how LGBTQ+ people should be treated. The phrase is used to describe how Christians should be loving to people regardless, but hate the sins that LGBTQ+ people are accused of having. In particular, Christians are often told to hate the so-called “homosexual lifestyle” or “gay lifestyle.”

Speaking as someone who used to be a believer in “love the sinner, hate the sin,” it is a phrase which seems to be disguised in love. After all, you are supposed to love the sinner. It is an especially appealing phrase because it allows you to love people in the LGBTQ+ community without making room for actions that you view as sinful, and it allows you to acknowledge what you view as sinful actions without falling into the stereotypes of conservative Christians holding picket signs which say that people who are LGBTQ+ will go to hell.

But now, I want not just fellow Christians, but all people, to see the phrase for what it is—it is a way of singling out people in the LGBTQ+ community in ways that other people don’t get singled out.

I make this claim because I have never (and when I say never, I really mean NEVER) heard “love the sinner, hate the sin” used in any Christian context outside of discussions about the LGBTQ+ community. I have never heard “love the sinner, hate the sin” when talking about the adultery, envy, anger, lying, or other wrongs that people around us commit (or that some of us commit ourselves). This is the case, even though the problems mentioned above are tied to the Ten Commandments and/or the Seven Deadly Sins (those seven sins are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth), and LGBTQ+ issues are generally not tied to either one.

Yet, I hear “love the sinner, hate the sin” all the time when some Christians talk about the LGBTQ+ community and the non-traditional relationships that one often sees within the LGBTQ+ community.

The fact that “love the sinner, hate the sin” is used against the LGBTQ+ community and not against anyone else is a sign that the phrase is mostly meant to single out the LGBTQ+ community. Otherwise, the phrase would not just be applied to LGBTQ+ issues, but also issues that violate the Ten Commandments and/or the Seven Deadly Sins, at the very least.

If you, the reader, are tempted to think that “love the sinner, hate the sin” is the way to view people in the LGBTQ+ community, and LGBTQ+ issues, I hope that you at least consider whether you are using that phrase for a variety of other issues. If you only use the phrase for LGBTQ+ issues, then you are singling out the LGBTQ+ community like I once did, whether you realize it or not.

The Stigma of Looking Old

I used to be an advocate for people looking younger than they are. For that reason, I thought that products that took care of bald spots and gray hair were fantastic.

While readers (especially readers who personally know me) might chuckle at the image of a younger version of me seeing the virtues of products like Bosley and Just for Men, I think that this story is a microcosm of a form of injustice.

The injustice is that looking old is stigmatized.

Everything, from the fixation on products that make you look younger, to the compliments we give our friends and family members when they look younger than they are, has the stigma of looking old attached to it.

For example, many of us are fixated on anti-skin wrinkle products because those products make us look young. I know this because so many of the positive reviews on products such as Neutrogena’s Anti-Wrinkle Cream focus on how the product makes certain reviewers look younger. For that matter, even a couple of the negative reviews say that the product does not help the reviewers look younger. If we didn’t place so much value on looking young, and so much stigma on looking old, a product like Neutrogena’s Anti-Wrinkle Cream might not be so popular in the first place!

Another way we exalt youthful looks, and stigmatize elderly looks, is that many of us often compliment people who look younger than they say but seldom (Never?) give compliments when people look older than they say. When a 60-year-old looks like he or she is 50, some of us may say a compliment like: “You don’t look a day over 50!” But when a different 60-year-old looks like he or she is 80 or 90, we don’t say anything, or maybe even secretly think about how the person looks like a great grandma or great grandpa.

These examples demonstrate how many of us value youthful outside appearance, and look down upon looking old, whether we intend that or not. It is ageist of us to place so much value on looking young, and so little value on looking old, because we are judging people on the basis of the age they look.

I hope that this can change one day, and that we can all see the beauty of looking young, looking middle-aged, and looking old. There is value and beauty in all stages of life, and yes, that includes value and beauty in accumulating gray hairs and wrinkles. So the younger version of me was wrong—products which take care of bald spots and gray hair aren’t that fantastic, after all!

Author’s note: If you want to learn more about ageism, please refer to last week’s blog post.

What is Ageism?

Many of us are familiar with racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism, to name a few. All of these forms of injustice exist, but there is yet another form of injustice which is within and around so many of us, yet is seldom talked about. This form of injustice is so seldom talked about that even I wasn’t aware of it until a couple of years ago.

The injustice is ageism.

Before making any posts on ageism, I want to establish what ageism is and give examples of this form of discrimination, in case any of my readers aren’t aware of or knowledgeable about it.

I define ageism as a form of discrimination where people are judged based on the age they are or the age they look.

This definition of ageism is more expansive than most definitions I see on the internet (including the definitions from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionary), because many people define ageism as discrimination based on a person’s age. However, I’ve noticed how people who “look old” (even if their actual age isn’t that old) are discriminated against; as a result, I believe that age-based discrimination involves the age that people are and the age that people look.

Ageism can take on many forms, both blatant and subtle.

One example of blatant ageism was the forced retirement of a woman by the name of Maggie Kuhn from the Presbyterian Church in 1970. In Kuhn’s case, was required to retire after she turned 65. This is blatant ageism because she was judged on the sole basis of age. Namely, she (and anyone 65 and older) was judged to be less capable of doing her job than a younger person. Thankfully, she used her forced retirement as an opportunity to form an anti ageism organization: the Gray Panthers.

Ageism can take on many forms, ranging form comments about “entitled millennials” (a comment which make me cringe, not just because I’m a millennial but because it is a way of talking down younger people) to the societal stigma associated with looking old. In these cases, and many others, people are judged on the age they are and/or the age they look.

Hopefully, through the posts I make on ageism, I can help others confront both blatant and subtle ageism, and help us respect people in all stages of life.

Addressing Silence on Black Lives

I am not the sort of person who likes to write blog posts, or anything, at the last minute. However, the recent death and burial of Richard Collins III, an African American student at Bowie State University in Maryland, moved me to write this blog post. I decided that it would be wrong for me or others to ignore this tragedy and be silent on it, even if it means writing a blog post which may be slightly disorganized this week.

It is especially wrong for me to ignore this tragedy because it exposes an injustice that needs to be addressed—the fact that, in even the best-case scenario, many of us are silent or say “thoughts and prayers” about these tragedies against African Americans.

This statement may come across to some as an overly emotional response to a recent tragedy that in some ways hits close to home for me; since I have friends who are in Army ROTC or have been commissioned in the last couple of years, they may’ve served with Collins III if he lived. However, if people look at the pattern of reactions after the killings of African Americans, maybe all of you will understand my thoughts.

With many shootings against African Americans, such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, and many others, the reaction from numerous people (especially when law enforcement or neighborhood watchmen are involved, like in these three cases) tends to be one of pointing out the wrongdoings of the victims and celebrating “justice” when the people who took away these lives are declared “innocent.” I put innocent and justice in quotes because there is nothing innocent about killing someone, and because there is no justice in declaring the “innocence” of someone who took away a life that should still exist.

That being said, what is especially troubling is that, even when the lives of outstanding African Americans are taken away, there are a few prayers and condolences at best, and silence at worst. There were prayers and condolences after the tragic shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, but other than a short period of prayers and condolences, most attention was turned to other issues. The police officer killing of high school student Jordan Edwards in Texas last month got relatively little attention, even though Edwards was an excellent student and athlete. And the case of Richard Collins III, an outstanding student and recently commissioned Second Lieutenant in the United States Army who was killed by an alt-right nationalist, was also met with relative silence.

Admittedly, I was one of the silent ones, as I didn’t make a post on social media about Edwards or Collins III. But silence on the killings of people like these does not end violence against innocent African Americans, or even violence against African Americans who did not commit offenses that were deserving of death. However, the killings of African Americans, and the relative lack of outrage over these killings, gives life to Black Lives Matter’s rallying cry of “white silence is violence,” whether we realize it or not.