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Monday, February 7, 2011

Lynching and the Star Spangled Banner

As a performer, a request to sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl must rank up there with being nominated for a Grammy Award. To have a captive audience of more than 100 million people view your performance could cause record sales to go through the roof. The timing could not have been better for the year when Janet Jackson’s breast ended up on the menu of more than 100 million viewers during Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004. Her Just a Little While CD had been released during the previous month, and within the next 60 days, The Velvet Rope Tour: Live in Concert and Damita Jo were being released. With a captive audience in the tens of millions, I suspect that a little promotional effort by her bosom buddy went a long way to aid record sales.

The halftime show at Super Bowl XXXVIII added the phrase “wardrobe malfunction” to the American lexicon, and the fine that was levied against CBS by the Federal Communication Commission still has not been legally resolved.

Certainly less controversial, but still a hot topic of discussion 24 hours after Super Bowl XLV, was the fact that Christina Aguilera botched a few lines during her rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. The National Anthem is hallowed to many citizens, and purposely botching it, like Roseanne Barr’s screaming version before a 1990 San Diego Padres baseball game, can tarnish one’s career. We all have our sacred cows, and when someone slaughters one of them; either intentionally as Barr did, or unintentionally as Aguilera apparently did, it forces us to examine the motives of the slayer. It is my educated guess that Aguilera simply took for granted that she could perform the most famous song in America without a rehearsal, and she simply fumbled the ball. However, there were still fans who were disappointed that she would approach the enormous stage of the Super Bowl with such patriotic indifference.

The outrage over Barr’s performance of the Star Spangled Banner graphically demonstrated how Americans often strain at the proverbial gnat and swallow a camel; the hump, the hoofs and all. Americans will display their irritation for butchering their National Anthem, but they will not raise one protest over the fact that the Star Spangled Banner embraces the discarded and discredited notion of slavery. What should be deeply troubling to all Americans of good will, but particularly to the sons and daughters of former slaves is not that Christina Aguilera butchered the National Anthem at Super Bowl XLV, but that the Star Spangled Banner condemned all runaway slaves to either torture or death:

…No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave…

Now this is deeply troubling! And in a proactive effort to rid the country of this stain, I have written a letter to my Federal Representatives – Representative Donna Edwards, Senator Ben Cardin, and Senator Barbara Mikulski – requesting that they adopt an amendment that would name another one of the nation’s patriotic songs as its National Anthem. I use the Jewish lobby as the model for national protest, because they are so effective in their opposition against anti-Semitism. Consequently, could you imagine the nation of Israel observing the lyrics of its national anthem that promoted the virtues of the Holocaust? It would be absurd! Therefore, I have asked my representatives to promote legislation that will discard this racist symbol of an ignorant past, and bring our national patriotism more in line with the multi-cultural face of America’s present.

For your information, I have enclosed a duplicate of the letter to Edwards, and I’d like to encourage you to feel free to begin your own campaign or follow-up my letters with your own support.

February 7, 2011

Dear Representative Edwards:

I am certain that your heart leaps with joy over the prospect of being an American citizen as you watch millions of people in the Middle East stand up and demand democracy; something that many Americans take for granted. It must warm your heart to see American values migrate abroad into countries that just a few years ago were opposed to the notion of self determination and democratic freedoms. I too am stunned at what will go down as one of history’s great surprises…that a spontaneous cry for freedom has erupted throughout the Middle East and Egypt. But in a cruel twist of irony, the cry for freedom by the people of the Middle East is the most perfect jump-off point for the purpose of this letter.

By now, I am sure that you are aware that Christina Aguilera “butchered” the Star Spangled Banner at Super Bowl XLV last night. I would suspect that she simply took for granted that she knew the words of the nation’s anthem and did not need to rehearse the song. Well, it can be debated on whether it was intentional or not, but that is not the reason of my letter. The incident motivated me to consider the lyrics of the National Anthem, and much to my dismay, I am stunned that our country is still clinging to vestiges of an ignorant past by naming a song our “National Anthem” which promotes the “virtues” (I use this word very loosely) of slavery and being a slave master. Verse three reads as follows:

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 wash'd 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.

When my ancestors were having their own struggle for freedom in the hostile past of the United States, there was no international support system cautioning the slave masters and our national leaders to tread very carefully in the light of the slaves' demands for freedom and justice, like there is today. Their fight was a lonely one; fraught with perils at every corner, and to think that our nation still celebrates the spirit of that opposition to freedom each time we stand at a ball park, remove our hats and place our right hands over our hearts is simply baffling to me and deeply troubling.

The best way I find to end this request is the same way I ended my previous letter to you regarding renaming the J. Edgar Hoover Building: It is time that we come to grips with the legacy of hate and indifference that continues to litter our country’s past; even if those legacies are painful to discuss. To be sure, many steps have been made in the right direction to correct America’s past injustices to its citizens of color. To find another National Anthem would be a noble objective and a fitting tribute to the spirit of dissent that birthed this nation.

In closing, I want to thank you in advance for your support, and as a citizen of this great nation, I am willing to participate in any way that you deem appropriate to have this amendment passed.


David R. Tolson

p.s. Would you kindly advise me of the actions that you have taken in adopting an amendment to rename the J. Edgar Hoover Building the Chaney, Goodman, Schwerner Building?