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Legislatively Speaking

GOP Legislators Ignore Rights of Others

Lena C. Taylor

As we close out Black History Month, it is disheartening to think of how many of the old racial fights remain or have resurfaced. Yes, we made history with the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States of America. We even pulled off a double ceiling-shattering move with the successful ascension of a woman and person of color, in Kamala Harris to the role of Vice President of the United States. Some would argue that this was possible because this is America, “land of the free and home of the brave.”

Subsequently, it is fitting that those lyrics are in the U.S. national anthem’s “Star-Spangled Banner.” Written in 1814, the lyrics originally came from a poem by Francis Scott Key titled “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” The period was filled with battles and wars for the soul of our nation. After witnessing the attack of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore, Key was inspired by the U.S. flag flying defiantly above the fort. The time frame was also marked by one of the ugliest chapters in American history, slavery.

At the inception of the poem, the nation had already been immersed for nearly 200 years of holding African people as property, forced and unpaid labor, and imposing on them a despicable level of rape, terror and murder. Key, who was a lawyer, knew well of this treatment and incorporated the acceptance and continuation of slavery in the “Star Spangled Banner”. In the third stanza of the poem he wrote, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave, From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave: And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

While only the first stanza of the song is most often sung, many Americans today realize the offensive reference to slavery that is a part of the anthem. And some folks believe, “when you know better, you do better.” A part of learning Black history, particularly the ugly parts of racism and segregation, is owning up to the ugly past of our nation’s beginning. But some folks never learn.

This week a couple of Wisconsin Republican legislators have circulated bills (LRB-2195/1 and LRB-2303/1) that would mandate that the Star-Spangled Banner be sung or played before all sporting events held in Wisconsin venues, that were financed in part by public money. Somehow, they are ignoring the fact that Black people comprise the public, too. We pay tax dollars to help finance these projects, too. But as usual, we are again being sent the message that the freedoms that apply to white Republicans don’t seem to apply to us.

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