It’s never been a mystery to me that we live in two different Americas. One for black people and the other for white. That didn’t stop with the passage of the civil rights bill of 1964. Whether it’s the criminal justice system, the rate of poverty, educational inequities, political conflicts, etc., we still have not been a nation united across the board.
Starting in the late 80’s I made a decision that I would do something to show my displeasure. In a subtle but defiant act, I decided that I would no longer stand for the Star Spangled Banner (aka The National Anthem) when it’s played publicly. My thinking was that as long as my people are oppressed in this country, I would not stand along side, hand over heart giving reverence to their theme song. If a game were on TV, I would turn the channel during the playing of the anthem. Sometimes I would be at a sporting event, and if it was for instance a basketball tournament on Martin Luther King Day, they would play The Banner and James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the so called Negro National Anthem. (And a most beautiful and majestic song may I add.) In that case I would stand for only the latter, and sit immediately afterwards. It never bothered me in the least nor made me uncomfortable when I would get stares or dismissive mugs from others. I figured what the heck. I wasn’t disrespecting anyone else nor making any noise. I simply sat silently and waited for it to pass. This was my personal protest. This was my Tommie Smith gesture and I offered it unapologetically.
I talked about how the election of Barack Obama to the presidency has inspired me to do more to contribute to my country. A close friend and I had a conversation yesterday where we talked about how inspired we were to improve ourselves and our surroundings. He said, “Every American, black, white, brown, whatever has a responsibility to better themselves and their community. I don’t care if you take a class, get a GED or whatever. You need to do something to step your game up!” I totally agreed and told him of how I was inspired to blog about that very subject for a week. I have always done things to better my world. But I felt isolated still. I felt my influence would only go so far as the world at large with it’s political machine both locally and nationally was against most of what I stood for. My loyalty only extended so far to the country as a whole. Because I saw how arrogant we were and how horribly we treat the poor, the sick, children, the elderly, and more recently the victims of Hurricane Katrina. I always noticed the hypocrisy in which we talked one thing to other nations about democracy and yet stole elections right here at home. So though I always acknowledged that America was a nation with great benefits, a nation where a lot is possible and in some cases more so than other parts of the planet, still I could not give her the free pass that many often do. In other words, I always knew I was a patriot, but never a nationalist.
With the presidency of Barack Obama, I sense an elevation in my patriotism. There is a difference in what I see in terms of possibilities. The difference is now that I feel as if someone is actually on my team. I don’t mean the team of the black man. I mean the team of justice and righteousness. The team of telling the truth and doing what one says. I sense that my president is actually on the side of what is right and that I am included in the America that he envisions. I feel as if my children’s futures are included as well.
In President Obama I see a man. A family man who loves his wife and daughters whom I know he would protect to the death. I see an admiration and respect in the eyes of his wife. I see a man who sees the office of the presidency as a mission to help make things right and follow through on what he campaigned. On the first day in office he freezes the salaries of his top aides who make over $100,000, saying that Americans are tightening their belts and so should Washington. He puts limitations on their dealings with lobbyist. He pens documents to close Gitmo within a year pending finding a place for some disgruntled so called enemy combatants. I mean this cat is SERIOUS and I can feel the sense of urgency to not only set policy but to set the example. I see a man of style and grace, of strength from within not flaunting it like a sword but indeed at least offering a hand first. I see President Obama as not only being the President of the United States, but being MY president too. And since he is my president, I am going to let him do his job, as I look to do mine. I don’t expect him to change my life, only enhance my opportunities. Changing my life is up to me. To help change my community is up to me.
So in addition to all the things I have decided to do to help make my country better – I have included in that the symbolic gesture of once again standing for the Star Spangled Banner.
This is my investment of hope into mainstream America with its vanities and prejudices. Don’t get me wrong. I still know full and well that there are many haters out there for the cause of what is right. There are still injustices happening everyday. There is still a ton of work to do on the national and local levels of government and society and I will continue to fight vigorously against tyranny. (I honestly think it’s silly to play the thing before every sporting event anyway.) This is a tradition that was started in WWII. Still I feel a sense of renewal and inclusion and as I embrace my president, I embrace the America that he is attempting to erect as again the greatest nation for possibilities in the world – more righteous than ever before. Oh believe me, this symbolic gesture is a huge emotional investment for me just as it has been for the last 20 years on the opposite end.
“Or the land of the free? ” Oh yea, I’m seeing that for me.
Lift Every Voice and Sing – indeed.