Take A Knee

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This summer, I worked with a group of teenage ESL students. I remember the first time I taught them our national anthem.

Everyone was ok with what we were doing, except one young woman. I’ll call her Emma.

After we sang “O Canada,”  I had the students work through an anthem-related activity. Once we were done, I couldn’t help but notice that Emma looked downright uncomfortable. While her classmates did other tasks, I took the empty seat beside her. We had a quiet conversation.

Emma was adamant. “An anthem is like a vow…” Technically, I knew she was right. However deep down, a part of me was stunned. Emma went on: she wasn’t from Canada, and didn’t want to disrespect her own country.

I dropped the issue. Days later, though, I had students do an activity that brought our anthem to mind. Once again, Emma was uncomfortable. And I was confused. Her reaction was unlike any that I’d encountered before. As far as I was concerned, Emma didn’t have to take the anthem as anything beyond what it appeared to be: A song.

One day after class, I approached my TA. I told him about Emma. His response?

He wasn’t going to stand in the way of anyone who didn’t want to sing “O Canada”.

Did I mention that my TA was Indigenous?

Instantly, I empathized. In the wake of his reply, it’s almost hilarious how quickly my attitude changed.

Looking back I can’t help but be intrigued. Two different perspectives can reveal so much about the meaning of a piece of music.

For one person, an anthem is a promise–when you sing it, you are declaring your devotion to a country. If you sing the anthem of a country that isn’t yours, you are being disrespectful.

For the other, an anthem can be a symbol of oppression. The first time I was present when a Native student didn’t stand for “O Canada”, I was curious. But I didn’t feel offended.

On one hand, I’m proud to be Canadian. Yet I’m not so proud that I don’t see my nation’s flaws. I understand why our past and present moves some of us to take a stand. Negative reactions to NFL players’ peaceful activism have been very telling.

Why should people be expected to entertain others at the expense of their humanity?

Yes, a national anthem is a song. But it’s more than that. It IS a vow–an expression of devotion and pride. And yet, to those who face injustice, its notes might not sound so sweet.

No one should feel obligated to be comfortable with a system that doesn’t value them. If you have strength and courage enough to protest against injustice, I salute you.

Photo source.

About the author

Claire

Thank you for stopping by!

My name really is Claire. I’m a Canadian of Caribbean descent.

I enjoy writing and thinking about theology, culture, health, beauty, and books.

My site's cover photo is from CreateHER Stock stock photos.

By Claire

Claire

Thank you for stopping by!

My name really is Claire. I’m a Canadian of Caribbean descent.

I enjoy writing and thinking about theology, culture, health, beauty, and books.

My site's cover photo is from CreateHER Stock stock photos.