The last time I sat while the national anthem played was at Erika’s volleyball game just a few weeks ago. I was the only one. Dad was behind me, back a few rows of those middle school gym bleachers. I could feel his eyes on me. He didn’t say anything when it was done.
Beside me was Gaby, my Venezuelan, now American citizen girlfriend. She always stands, she told me. I asked if she felt that she had to. Yes. Yes, of course she does. She has an accent, you see. I can’t even imagine what people might say to or about a woman with a Venezuelan accent not standing for the anthem.
I’m privileged; I’m white. I talk like you do. I can code switch, too, between city and country folk. So I am positive that, even though you might delete me from social media, hatefully share my writing, or make snide comments on my post, you won’t kill me for who I am.
But you will do your best to shame me.
Last year on the Fourth of July, as Gaby and I sat in her yard on a blanket and watched the fireworks, I asked her if she knew the history of the Star Spangled Banner. I told her. How the fireworks represent the bombs exploding, the line about our flag still being there. I was touched and a little teary. Though I am not always proud of my country, I am still an American. I still find myself occasionally getting teary-eyed about the promises our constitution made, about the ideal of what our country is supposed to be. Land of the free. All that. Sometimes I actually buy into it. When I hear stories about refugees fleeing here and feeling so welcomed, so free to do as they please, I cry. How beautiful our country is. And for some people, we are still seen as a place of refuge, a wonderful land of opportunity. And this is what we claim for ourselves, but then, when people are actually in need, we talk about banning them based on a religion we find threatening because it is not a majority here. Which is totally the opposite of who we claim to be. When people who are brown risk their lives to cross deserts and rivers to reap the benefits (which we boast repeatedly) of this nation (whose arbitrary borders have crossed and recrossed theirs) we call them names and tell them to go back to where they came from.
Because a country is just that: a piece of land with a made-up border. Maps are constantly changing, you know. The lines may move, but the people remain.
I am told I should stand for the pledge of allegiance and place my hand over my heart. I am told to say, ” I pledge allegiance/to the flag/of the United States of America/and to the republic for which it stands/one nation/under God/with liberty and justice for all.
Let’s break it down.
I was told, at the age of 6, to pledge allegiance to an object, but to not have any false idols before me. Do you know how many rules there are when it comes to a piece of cloth? Lots.
I am told, still, to pledge allegiance to “one nation, under God.” Being an atheist, this is silly. Being an American, I cringe because I was under the impression we have separation of church and state.
I am told that I must rise for the anthem and the flag to pay tribute to those who have fought for my right to choose to stand or sit down or sneeze. I am shamed into honoring those who have come before me. So, I should know where I come from, all the sacrifices that have gotten me to where I am today. Okay. I will respect and learn from this country’s history. I won’t forget all that have come before.
But my black brothers and sisters are told to forget all that has happened. The slaves were freed, get over it already. Jim Crow. Civil Rights. That’s all in the past. Let’s think about the future. Everyone is totally equal in this great country of ours; that’s what our white, male, Christian ancestors fought for. Equality.
I am a queer woman. I make 22% less, on average, than the white men in charge of this country. And it wasn’t until last year that I was granted the constitutional right to marry whomever I pleased. Can you imagine being told by your family and government that you were full of sin and didn’t deserve what others deserve, that you were disgusting, that your partner couldn’t have health insurance, that you are not the parent of your own child? What a shame that would be.
Black women earn 15% less than white women. So. That’s 63 cents on the dollar to a white man. Equality.
And black men, well, stay tuned, gentle reader.