Among the things I miss most about not going to baseball games this summer is the chance to sing the national anthem. I’m one of those fans who not only stands and sings, but who can get the chills belting out “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” But there’s no getting around the fact that, were there live professional sports with fans in attendance, the Star-Spangled Banner, or at least the act of standing for it, would be a charged and divisive moment. One would have to decide, in full view of a crowd, whether to stand or not for a song many people believe is tainted with racism.
So it is that I find myself wishing, in the forlorn spirit of bipartisanship, for a compromise. South Africa, a nation deeply riven by race, may provide a model. Hard as it may be to believe, its moving anthem “Nkosi Sikelel Afrika” (”God Bless Africa”), combines elements of a Xhosa-language song adopted by the anti-apartheid movement with the Afrikaner-era anthem “Die der Suid Afrika” (”The Voice of South Africa”).
What form might an American compromise take?
The National Football League has suggested one idea. At its season-opener games, it will play, prior to the Star-Spangled Banner, the so-called Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a tune put to a poem by James Weldon Johnson. There is no doubt this is a deeply-moving song — especially the the version sung by Kim Weston, who performed it at the famous 1972 Wattstax music festival.
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