That’s right. Sing, Gladys Knight, sing. And why shouldn’t she sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl Sunday? Knight has more than earned her spurs, not through the years but through the decades as a staunch fighter, activist, funder and performance artists par excellence for civil rights causes.
She’s paid plenty of movement dues long before many of those taking shots at her for her decision to sing the anthem at the bowl were even born. She’s paid those same dues while many of those taking the biggest shots at her for her decision haven’t contributed a penny, written a letter of protest, let alone gotten off their duff and hit the streets in protest over racial injustice.
No, their contribution to the struggle is to scream, shout and kick up a fuss on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets. Knight won’t be doing anything that legions of other blacks, including just about every big-name black singer has done at every conceivable sporting event in America from time immemorial, and that’s belt out the anthem
Let’s go further. In a statement, Knight reaffirmed her commitment to the battle against racial injustice. She also explicitly pointed to the kneel-down protest and subsequent blackballing of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in her response. The statement was deliberately twisted, bent and mangled in the news headline mention of it to make it appear that Knight opposed Kap’s stance. She said nothing of the sort. What she did say was that she understood that Kap was protesting police violence and racial injustice. That’s all.
This brings it back to the anthem. She said the anthem was separate from that action. Millions of blacks may agree or not with this. However, they still stand for the anthem at every sporting event, and that includes every black MLB and NBA player. Most know the brutal history of racial violence, exclusion and poverty that trapped and still traps countless numbers of blacks. They watch and read frequently of the police killings of mostly unarmed blacks, the mass incarceration numbers for blacks, the grim figures on job and housing discrimination, the gaping health care disparities, and endless other big and small racial insults and indignities. The symbol of that is the flag that they are asked to stand at attention to with one hand over their hearts.
However, they also know that tens of thousands of blacks answered the call to fight for that same flag and anthem in every major American war, and despite the violence and discrimination they suffered, black servicemen and women served their country honorably.
Civil rights leaders from W.E.B. DuBois to Martin Luther King Jr. carried the flag and sang “My country tis of thee” during countless civil rights marches. The landmark victories against racial oppression were won under the banner of fulfilling the promise of American rights and liberties that the flag and the national anthem represent in theory, if not, in fact, always. Blacks also know that despite towering racial obstacles, the Constitution stands as a powerful shield to protect the rights of all Americans, and for Americans to continually use as a weapon to shame, embarrass and cajole the nation to extend rights and liberties to all US citizens.
African-Americans have paid with their blood and earned the right to lay as much, if not more, claim to the flag and the National Anthem as anyone else. This is their America too, always has been, and it’s their flag and National Anthem, whether they choose to stand or not when it’s played or not.
Knight said as much when she made clear she’ll sing the anthem but that won’t deter her one bit from also doing what she’s always done. That’s remain firmly committed to the two things she said Kap knelt for; namely the fight for racial justice and against police violence. Sing, Gladys, sing. n
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “Fifty Years Later: Why the Murder of Dr. King Still Hurts” (Middle Passage Press). He is also a weekly co-host of “The Al Sharpton Show” on Radio One and host of the weekly “Hutchinson Report” on KPFK- 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.