As a former member of the United States Air Force, I’m often asked for my opinion on Colin Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee during the national anthem. I’m also told that I’m supposed to be infuriated that Kap “disrespected” me as a military veteran, even though I have vivid memories of being spit on and called a nigger while in uniform by people who look nothing like him—which only happened after I returned to American soil after defending this racist-ass country in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
I can also recall the countless times I’ve been treated like absolute shit by the same government that facilitated my enlistment in the first place and the subsequent years I’ve spent battling both physical and psychological ailments as a byproduct of my “sacrifice.” So when I hear people bitch and moan about the sanctity of the American flag or express outrage at the national anthem being “violated,” my response is typically the same: “Yeah, you can miss me entirely with that bullshit.”
What most people don’t know, or don’t pay close enough attention to realize, is that since leaving the military in 2003, I’ve never recited the national anthem. I don’t put my hand on my heart when it’s playing, either. Frankly, I find Francis Scott Key’s magnum opus repulsive. And not solely because of its racist origins, but because my unique life experiences, as well as those of countless others, have proven it to be a complete and utter lie.
Ask Maj. General Michael C. Thompson, who I watched—with my own two eyes—apologize to survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre for the National Guard’s inaction during one of the most heinous examples of racially motivated violence in the history of this country.
Ask Rollins Edwards, who was enrolled in a secret government program in which undesirables—Army soldiers who were Black, brown, Japanese-American, or otherwise—were test subjects for mustard gas and other chemical agents in order to fulfill their duty to protect and preserve white supremacy.
Or ask U.S. Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry, who nearly lost her Olympic career after having the audacity to hold up a mirror to America.
For those out of the loop, here’s what I previously wrote about her ongoing saga:
When last we left Gwen Berry, the U.S. Olympic hammer thrower was dismissed and disgraced after raising her fist during the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games. In response to her decision to protest racial injustice in America, she was slapped with one year of probation for violating the International Olympic Committee’s code that prohibits political demonstrations at international events. In turn, big money sponsors like Nike withdrew their support and the world-renowned track and field athlete’s career was officially in jeopardy.
Fast forward to last Saturday, and the world-renowned track and field athlete is back in the news after her latest protest. This time around, the 31-year-old has everyone in their feelings because at the medal ceremony for the Olympic trials, she turned her back during the national anthem and draped a T-shirt that read “activist athlete” over her head. But instead of addressing the matter and creating solutions for the racial dynamics that Berry’s actions are meant to draw attention to—“I’m not trying to start a political war [...] I just know America can do better,” she once said while explaining her perceived defiance—Americans would much rather banish her from the sport and flood the internet with dismissive drivel like this:
As usual, gaslighters and their ilk are more concerned with symbolism than the American citizens these symbols are supposed to unify and represent.
“My purpose and my mission is bigger than sports,” Berry said on Saturday. “I’m here to represent those [...] who died due to systemic racism. That’s the important part. That’s why I’m going. That’s why I’m here today.”
Also of note, the Florissant, Mo., native was under the impression that the national anthem wasn’t even supposed to be played during the medal ceremony.
“They said they were going to play it before we walked out, then they played it when we were out there,” she said. “But I don’t really want to talk about the anthem because that’s not important. The anthem doesn’t speak for me. It never has.”
She continued, “I feel like it was a setup, and they did it on purpose. I was pissed, to be honest.”
And this is exactly why, much like Berry, I pay the national anthem no mind. Because as America has proven time and time again—especially in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection—it’s never about the flag or the national anthem. It’s always about racism.
So please keep in mind that every time we see Berry step to the podium henceforth, we’re in the presence of unyielding royalty. And heavy is the head that wears the crown, so treat the queen accordingly.
Oh, and fuck the national anthem.