Despite going to graduate school in the discipline, my greatest education in philosophy happened at the barbershop.
Old Man James, my barber since I was in elementary school, once hipped me to some game about the tension between blackness and patriotism in America.
“Y’all still singing the national anthem in school, young blood?” he once asked.
“Yeah,” I said, not sure where this was going.
“You’ll learn,” he said as he began to cut my hair.
I did learn—and, apparently, so did Colin Kaepernick. While many are outraged by his protest, others are joining him.
Safety Eric Reid knelt with Kaepernick during the San Francisco 49ers’ final preseason game, while in Oakland, Calif., Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane sat while the song played over the speakers. It’s not just a football thing. In solidarity with Kaepernick, soccer star Megan Rapinoe knelt while the anthem played before the Seattle Reign played the Chicago Red Stars in a National Women's Soccer League game. The fans are also responding. Kaepernick’s jersey has skyrocketed in popularity seemingly overnight.
The decision to kneel during the anthem is brilliant strategically. Robert J. Barsocchini, writing at Counterpunch, points out:
The 35 year-old who wrote the US national anthem, Francis Scott Key, appears to have been a remorseless enslaver and abuser of black people, a tireless pro-slavery activist, a religious fundamentalist, and a proponent of genocide and land theft. …
It seems that asking a black or Native person to respect or honor this song would be like asking a Jewish person to honor a song written by a Nazi. Even if the most blatantly offensive lyrics were removed, it is hard to imagine that anyone in the US, except maybe a neo-Nazi, would feel any anger towards a Jewish person who refused to honor a song written by, say, Joseph Goebbels.
That the dominant US culture chooses to use as its very national anthem a song written by a genocidal slave-driver, and becomes enraged when a black person chooses not to honor it, illustrates, [Gerald] Horne[, professor of African-American studies at the University of Houston] said, that the US was “founded on slavery and genocide”, but also, crucially, “in denial.”
It's time that we come to terms with the vicious legacy of who wrote this song and what it represents. Yet, since critics of Kaepernick took offense at both his method of protest and what they complained were his “vague” demands, I have decided to be solutions-oriented. Put simply, we need a new national anthem, and I have a few ideas about who should write it.
He is the pre-eminent purveyor of melodic mumblecore hip-hop that is less about the specifics of the lyrics and more about the feeling of a song—the way we treat the current national anthem. For example, we either didn’t know the details of the third verse or were normalized to the fact that we were standing in honor of a song that glorifies slavery. Desiigner would make a song that is hummable but to which no one would know the words.
2. Jazmine Sullivan
The polyvalent nature of her songwriting is incredible. On the surface, the song would appear to be a celebration of America, but just beneath the obvious meaning would be a critique of patriarchy and anti-blackness. Plus, I love her voice. She would sing the whiteness off that song.
3. Kanye West
Truth be told, Ye can be an insightful rapper about race. From "All Falls Down" to "New Slaves," the Louis Vuitton Don has made thought-provoking music about the intersection of race and class—just don’t let him introduce the song.
This one is for the conservatives who think immigration is part of what is keeping America from being great. Despite what Trump says, the contributions of those who were not born in America have been invaluable to the development of this country. Also, as the name of her most recent album implies, she’s just so Anti. As my friend Emily Lordi, associate professor of English at UMass Amherst and author of the forthcoming book Donny Hathaway Live, recently pointed out in conversation, “Her version would be the least anthemic anthem ever—perfect for our times.”
5. 2 Chainz
Dos cadenas makes trap music that is just ignant (yes, I spelled it how I wanted). His song would be so unapologetic in its embrace of capitalism and excess that only an American could have written it.
6. Brittany Howard
A 27-year-old vocalist from Athens, Ala., Howard is the lead singer and guitarist of the Alabama Shakes. “I think she's one of the most fascinating songwriters currently working,” said Charles Hughes, director of the Memphis Center at Rhodes College and author of Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South. “Her political material has been muted, at least so far, but it's been conceptually interesting. [From Howard] one can expect an anthem characterized by three words: obscurity, blurring, noise.”
The sonics of the song would be layered to an inch of its life, and it would not be finished on time, but few people can make music like this singer from Richmond, Va. I imagine there would be an almost insufferable amount of bass guitar and screaming on the track, but if “1000 Deaths” is any indication of what he would do with the song, I’m here for it.
8. Erykah Badu
Ms. Badu is an obvious choice. She is engaged politically, and her music has included both African and black American traditions for years. Even her misguided support of R. Kelly is distinctly American—folks in this country have engaged in revisionist history and turned a blind eye to evil since its inception.
9. Chance the Rapper
He has been around for a while, but this is his breakout year. Chance would bring his infectious optimism to the song and find a way to blend virtually all black American musical inspirations in the song. It would be a gospel, R&B, jazz, blues trap song—meaning that it would be brilliant.
White folks recently discovered that she is black and they still cannot help bowing at the altar of Bey. She would make a song that was so infectious despite being unapologetically black that even Donald Trump supporters would be forced to like it.
This list is not exhaustive. For example, I could have included the Diplomats, since they already have “Dipset Anthem,” and only small changes to that song would be needed to capture the colonial gangsterism of America—as especially directed toward Native Americans and represented by endless breaking of treaties and the contemporaneous Dakota Access pipeline.
We need a new anthem—preferably one that does not celebrate slavery, colonialism or any other form of oppression rooted in white supremacy. Feel free to use this list as a starting point.
Lawrence Ware is a progressive writer in a conservative state. A frequent contributor to Counterpunch and Dissent magazine, he is also a contributing editor of NewBlackMan (in Exile) and the Democratic Left. He has been featured in the New York Times and discussed race and politics on HuffPost Live, NPR and Public Radio International. Ware’s book on the life and thought of C.L.R. James will be published by Verso Books in the fall of 2017. Follow him on Twitter.