“O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave…”
I was taught first by my daddy, a proud veteran, then by my elementary school teachers that the flag is a symbol of everything American and should be treated as such. The sound of “The Star Spangled Banner” coming from the big console television set in our family living room as the network signed off for the night was a familiar punctuation mark of my childhood. I would stand as tall as I could on the tips of my toes with my hand over my heart, entertaining Uncle Wayne and Mama by belting out the lyrics as loud as a kid ever should, perhaps louder. Then the television went dark signaling our bedtime.
In our little red brick schoolhouse, we began our morning by standing at attention beside our desks, hand to heart, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance well before the milk money was collected or Mrs. Woodson instructed us to open our textbooks. We stared up at the red and white stripes with gleaming stars on blue as we declared our patriotism. Back then every child was required to do so, and no one protested where I grew up.
Sometimes Daddy would summon me into the room where he had an audience of friends around the coffee pot and ask me to recite the same for him. I’m not sure if his pride or my commanding performance motivated the private showing time and time again. I was happy to please him.
The lyrics of the national anthem were mostly rehearsed and robotic back then, but those same lyrics hold a deeper, more personal meaning to me as an adult living in the America I call home. The flag still flies gallantly, but I struggle to believe the ideal that we all live in the land of the free. Does the same flag wave for the freedoms of the ones whom I deem brave? The little gay American boy who loves his country even though it’s the same country that passes laws rendering some marriages less than—will he ever be truly free? In fact, the LGBTQ+ community is enslaved by the lawmakers who tread on our human rights, all in the name of protecting religious freedom.
The NFL players have been ridiculed, persecuted and judged for kneeling during the national anthem when in reality they are not trying to disrespect the flag. No, instead the flag has turned away from many of those who fight for freedom and justice. These athletes are bringing attention to blatant racism which should be called out for the stain on our nation that it is.
I honor our veterans and thank them for their service. I cherish the words and intent of our Constitution, just sometimes not its misapplication. I support each person’s right to believe in any religious doctrine. All I ask, in the words of another American flag, is that you don’t tread on me. I am not sure my daddy would support my decision, and it’s not an easy one. I consider myself a patriot, but a patriot of a different sort. I will not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance again; nor will I sing “The Star Spangled Banner” until one day it waves for everyone.
My disagreement is civil, as I hope yours will be.
Contact David at [email protected]m.