U.S. high school students will have free digital access to the New York Times through September 1, 2021.

In the United States, Francis Scott Key’s national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, is often performed before sporting events, school events, and other major events. Think about the last time you attended or saw an event on television that featured the anthem. How did you feel when you heard that song? Were you moved by the performance and the lyrics? Did you stand or take off your hat? Or did you feel uncomfortable or unaffected by the song?

If you live in another country, when is your national anthem usually played? How do you feel when you hear it?

Recently, after the Dallas Mavericks suspended their first 13 home games in preseason and regular season, the NBA asked teams to play the national anthem before games. It was an abrupt reversal of an earlier hands-off approach. In “NBA Says Teams Have To Play The National Anthem” Marc Stein explains:

The Cuban told the New York Times on Wednesday that the Mavericks would be following guidelines immediately and playing the anthem ahead of the nationally televised home game against the Atlanta Hawks at the American Airlines Center.

“We’re good with it,” said Cubans.

Most players and coaches regularly kneeled down during the national anthem to protest social injustice as the league played at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida for the final three months of the 2019-20 season last summer. Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, said in December that the league has no intention of enforcing its rule that players stand for the national anthem. The 29 teams in the league, except Dallas, had mostly played pre-recorded versions of the anthem before the games.

“I realize this is a very emotional problem in America right now on both sides of the equation, and I think it takes real commitment, not enforcement,” Silver said in December.

In a statement from the Mavericks, the Cuban said: “We respect and always respect the passion people have for the anthem and our country. But we also hear aloud the voices of those who have the feeling that the hymn does not represent them. We believe their voices need to be respected and heard because they weren’t.

“We hope that in the future people will share the same passion for this subject and use the same energy to listen to those who feel different than them.”

Why do some believe that “The Star-Spangled Banner” doesn’t represent them? In “African Americans and the Tribes of the National Anthem,” a 2018 opinion piece written in response to NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s original anthem protest, Brent Staples writes:

Dissidents of the African American anthem are heirs to a venerable tradition of critical patriotism that goes back to what WEB Du Bois calls “double consciousness” – the feeling of being part of American politics, but not entirely of it. This insider-outsider status has sparked a long-standing struggle among black Americans to find their place in a civil and political system built to deny them full citizenship.

The “Star-Spangled Banner” itself has been a subject of this struggle since Francis Scott Key, a Washington attorney who owned slaves, wrote it to commemorate an American victory over the British during the war of 1812. The song would undoubtedly had been lost in darkness had it not been used by the US military for flag ceremonies from the late 19th century onwards.

This story seems harmless enough to consider that the song got a firmer grip on the country during the height of the lynch era in the south and became popular in baseball games at a time when African Americans were excluded from white baseball.

This connection was not lost in the large newspapers of the negro press, on whose pages the song was referred to as “the Caucasian national anthem”. Black columnists discredited the song by discovering a long-suppressed third verse (“No Refuge Could Rent and Save Slaves / From the Terror of Escape or the Darkness of the Grave”) that may reflect the composer’s embrace with slavery and anger opposed to British officers who used the promise of emancipation to recruit enslaved African Americans.

As early as the early 20th century, African Americans were turning away from the “Star-Spangled Banner” in favor of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” – known as the Negro national anthem – written by James Weldon Johnson and his brother John Rosamond Johnson. Passages such as “We have come and go our way through the blood of the slaughtered” recognize the location of lynching and slavery in national history.

Student, read both articles, then tell us:

  • What do you think of Mr. Cuban’s decision not to play the national anthem before the games? What do you think of the NBA’s decision that the song must be played before all games? Who do you think should be able to decide whether to play the anthem? Why?

  • What do you think of “The Star-Spangled Banner” or the national anthem of your country? Does it reflect what you believe about your country? Do you feel that it represents you and includes your experiences? Have you ever decided to leave the room in protest, sit or kneel while listening to the national anthem? How did it feel to take these measures? How did others react to your choice?

  • Did Mr. Staples ‘essay on the Black Americans’ experience of the national anthem resonate with you or change your mind about the song? Why or why not? Whose perspectives and experiences do you think your national anthem does not include?

  • Some critics of the American national anthem have problems with the song’s author, Francis Scott Key, who enslaved people in the 19th century and spoke publicly of African Americans as “a distinct and inferior race.” How important is a writer’s background? Should Mr. Key’s actions and beliefs affect whether we use The Star-Spangled Banner as our national anthem?

  • How would you change your national anthem? In December 2020, the Australian government changed a line in the country’s national anthem from “Australians Are All Rejoice Because We Are Young and Free” to “We Are One and Free,” recognizing that the Aborigines and the islanders of Torres Strait lived longer than 60,000 years on the continent. Check out the full text of your national anthem. Are there any words or lines that you would change to better reflect your beliefs about your country? If you wouldn’t change anything, tell us why.

  • Is there any other song from the past or present that you think would be better suited as your country’s anthem? In the United States, for example, black Americans introduced “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. Some sports teams regularly begin their games with “God Bless America”. and Jennifer Lopez sang “This Land Is Your Land” at President Biden’s inauguration (a song some Indians say will perpetuate the eradication of indigenous experiences). Which song do you think is the most complete, meaningful and reflective for your country and why?


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