National anthem should be changed to John Lennon’s ‘Imagine,’ activists say
Can the broad stripes and bright stars make it through the perilous fight?
Amid a national reckoning over racial tropes in culture, historian Daniel E. Walker, author Kevin Powell and others are calling to “rethink [‘The Star-Spangled Banner’] as the national anthem, because this is about the deep-seated legacy of slavery and white supremacy in America,” Walker told Yahoo Entertainment.
The song would join a long line of cultural mainstays that are rebranding after the Black Lives Matter protests — foods such as “Eskimo Pies” and “Aunt Jemima” among them.
The song was originally a poem written in September 1815 during the Battle of Baltimore by Francis Scott Key, who owned slaves. The poem was eventually set to music and became the country’s official anthem in 1931. President Herbert Hoover authorized the soundtrack to the State, sung often at baseball games and graduation ceremonies — notably missing the third verse, which references “the hireling and slave.”
Powell argues the song is still problematic — beyond being at the heart of the NFL protests kicked off in 2016 by Colin Kaepernick.
“Scott Key…was literally born into a wealthy, slave-holding family in Maryland,” Powell says. He also brings up Scott Key’s unsavory ties to President Andrew Jackson and Roger Taney, a Supreme Court Justice who opposed abolition. Why not, argues Powell, replace the tune with John Lennon’s “Imagine?”
“[It’s] the most beautiful, unifying, all-people, all-backgrounds-together kind of song you could have,” Powell says.
One soccer club in Kansas, semi-pro team Tulsa Athletic, has already done away with the Scott Key ditty and replaced it with “This Land is Your Land,” which was written by Woody Guthrie. Critics were quick to decry the call as too far — “Now they want to cancel our National Anthem?” writes one on Twitter. Others seemed to back the move, taking it a step further by suggesting “Ribs” by Lorde, or Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the U.S.A” as alternatives.
A few more edits for the new era: band names with Confederate-leaning undertones like Lady Antebellum and The Dixie Chicks, now go by “Lady A” and “The Chicks,” respectively. Splash Mountain, a favorite ride at Disney World which drew on themes from “Song of the South” will now be themed according to a more modern Disney movie, “The Princess and the Frog,” and white actresses, Kristen Bell and Jenny Slate, will no longer voice biracial animated characters.
Powell may have support from actress Gal Gadot and her tribe of celeb friends, who chose “Imagine” as a cringe-y coronavirus anthem earlier in the pandemic.
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