Common Roots of the Star Spangled Banner, Ferguson Missouri, and the NFL
The Star-Spangled Banner is a symbolic narrative in song of the United States. Written by Francis Scott Key in 1814, the song provides strong imagery and perspective about our country (Klein, 2014). A particular part of the song strikes the disconnect between modern day Americans and more currently, the NFL. Each of the Star-Spangled Banner’s four verses end with “O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” For whom was that written? Strong Bible study considers both the writer and the recipients when interpreting scripture. For instance: If Paul is writing to Corinthians, there is a Corinthian focus, issue, resolution, etc. at a certain time for the Corinthian people to whom the book is written. In 1814, the time the Star-Spangled Banner was written, the land of the free did not mean black people. Transition through slavery and segregation when horrific acts were done to blacks in the name of freedom with exclusivity and under the domain of an American culture built on slavery. Even still today technology has given us a peek into what freedom really means through quick access to video recording of the increasing police violence against black men. Who is the free? Is it the black man from South Carolina that was shot and killed by a police officer for no reason?
The movie Roots depicts a scene where Kunta Kinte, an abducted Gambian turned slave, wouldn’t take on the given westernized name of Toby. An act deemed an offense or infraction by his slave master. Kunta was beaten ferociously and repeatedly told to say his western name, Toby. Each time he refused he was whipped with a whip that had nails on the end of it, shredding his skin until his flesh was hanging from his back or lay torn off on the ground. His enslaved peers looked on as the precedent was set in practice, in mind, and in fear. The precedent that would be taught to future generations as parents feared for the safety of their young. Essentially Toby was beaten for a relatively minor infraction. In the minds of many black people, when black men are killed by police – shot in the back or placed in a choke hold and killed (even when they say they can’t breathe) for minor infractions, a reminder of the past is illuminated. These events typically take place inside black communities. Black communities hold the prevailing thought that “this has literally gone on too long”. Since the beginning of our country black men have been losing their lives and possibly their souls for no reason at the hands of people who disregard their humanity. Blacks continually lament that enough is enough. Kunta Kinte is still happening. America began as a slave society and the disparity between two races still plagues American culture, impressions, attitudes, and perceptions even to this day (Loury, 2001).
The murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri set off a firestorm in black communities across America. Much like the scene from Roots where the authoritative white slave master whips Kunta in the presence of all the slaves to make an example, Officer Darren Wilson entered a black community and killed an unarmed Brown in the presence of his peers of race. The slaying triggered riots in the community and many who didn’t understand what was happening asked “why are they tearing up their own community?” The truth is: had the slaves who witnessed the whipping of Kunta Kinte, the black southerners who watched their children lynched, or anyone else who has suffered such injustice had the freedom to flip the plantation upside down in disgust, anger, hurt, and pain – they would have done it. As a matter of fact, they would have destroyed the community where they lived. Similarly, riots happened in Ferguson and places of business were destroyed by a people who had literally had enough of Kunta’s whipping. For a black person, they destroyed the plantation after the slave master killed one of their sons. By time 2014 happened rioting was a final lamentation. After years of screaming injustice, it seemed that a riot was the only way to be heard. Right or wrong, enough was finally enough. A disconnected understanding would assume and teach that the blacks in Ferguson were reacting in a manner consistent with a skin color of uncivilization rather than the compounding weight of history repeating itself.
It’s not about disrespecting the flag – it’s about the perpetual disrespecting the lives of humans under one of the foundations on which America was built. Slavery and the degradation of a human based on skin color. This has literally gone on too long. Christian people should be concerned with one thing above all else – living out the Great Commission. Expanding the borders of the Heavenly Kingdom that Christ created. How can a Christian care about the spiritual soul of a human being if they don’t care about the physical body?
President Donald Trump defended white nationalists as they marched amid racial tumult in Charlottesville, North Carolina (Gray, 2015).
Blacks lamented because the prevailing thought in their communities was that the leader of the free world defended, condoned, and upheld the attitude that beat Kunta Kinte in the midst of his slave community, a lamentation that some whites couldn’t see because the history is not their own. The disconnect of slavery and segregation caused even Christian people to omit the concerns of their brother.
Living out the Great Commission is a daunting task in America. The fact that Christians are to carry on the work of their namesake (Crain, 2011), Jesus, is so much more than just words on a page and a comfortable place to sit on Sunday morning. The Greek word matheteuo that’s found in Matthew 28 means to TEACH. We are to teach people of all nations to carry out the work of Jesus. Whites are supposed to teach blacks. Blacks are supposed to teach whites. The early fathers of our country and Church succeeded in many ways in teaching. They also failed in many ways because of skin color. How can we teach if we don’t know who they are? How can we teach if we don’t connect with them because they’re a different color? How can we teach if we’ve taught a spirit of fear and inferiority? How can we teach if we don’t teach our children different than what we learned? How can we teach if we haven’t even tried racial empathy? Social media is popular in younger generations. It gives us a peek into what people have taught and how it aligns with the challenge that Christ left. Kids regurgitate teaching under the guise of opinion or fact. Other youth share what type of fruit they are through pictures and posts. Bipartisan politics compounds our failure.
Here’s a challenge: Try to see the soul. Neglect the urge to judge anything physical like skin color, socioeconomic status, job title, or political party affiliation. When you see the soul, teach. Teach the story of the Cross and carry on the work of Jesus. Then work it backwards. Look in the mirror to see if what you're teaching is opposite of the Kingdom in ANY way. Jesus was empathetic. He associated with those that no one else would. He lived the Great Commission. Carry on with Christianity that is rooted in the work of Jesus.
Crain, S. S., D.Min. (2011). Truth For Today Commentary:An Exegesis & Application of the Holy Scriptures (Matthew 14-28). Searcy, AR: Resource Publications Eddie Cloer: Editor
Gray, R. (2017, August 15). Trump Defends White-Nationalist Protesters: 'Some Very Fine People on Both Sides'. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/trump-defends-white-nationalist-protesters-some-very-fine-people-on-both-sides/537012/
Klein, C. (2014, September 12). 9 Things You May Not Know About “The Star-Spangled Banner”.Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/9-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-star-spangled-banner
Glenn C. Loury, (2001). “Racial Justice: The Superficial Morality of Color-Blindness in the United States,” Boston University - Department of Economics - The Institute for Economic Development Working Papers Seriesdp-118, Boston University - Department of Economics.