See the little faggot with the earring and the makeup?
Yeah buddy, that’s his own hair
That little faggot got his own jet airplane
That little faggot, he’s a millionaire
― “Money For Nothing,” Dire Straits, 1985
A Quick Story
I was a little kid when the song Money for Nothing came out. It wasn’t a particularly controversial song at the time — in fact, it was commercially and critically HUGELY successful. It was number 1 for three weeks on the pop charts AND won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1986 and the video won Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards. Oh sure, there was some criticism that it was homophobic. But those criticisms were rare and silenced for the most part.
And it was a completely different time. Caveman times. Homophobia was much more brutal, rampant and accepted for decades and certainly accepted in 1985 and 1986. I think that people who lived through that time understand, in large part, that it was just that time. All of our empathy and understanding of sexuality, gender and homophobia has evolved substantially. So it seems that there’s compassion for the cavemen who pushed hate against homosexuals. The song, “Money for Nothing,” doesn’t get played much anymore, but it’s still around. And that compassion is the only reason that I can think of that radio stations still play “Money for Nothing.” “Those poor cavemen didn’t know any better.”
Why Am I Telling You This?
I know the company line during these NFL protests has been that “We are not protesting the national anthem.” But when I look at the racist lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” specifically in the third verse, very similar to “Money for Nothing,” I wonder: why not? I look at the history of the man who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner″ and I think, “Perhaps we should be protesting the national anthem too.” Or maybe not protesting, but finding another damn song. Or no song at all. Or at the very least, we should be talking about and decoding and contextualizing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the same way that “Money for Nothing″ needs to be contextualized in 2017 terms.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave ― “The Star-Spangled Banner,” third verse
Let’s assume that making a song dedicated to war is cool. Let’s pretend that the song spoke for natives, black folk and women, who all could not vote. OK. Still, the racial tone of the third verse is very nasty. Francis Scott Key, a slave-owner, was at best a white supremacist that saw black bodies as valuable tools. He was the district attorney for Washington, where he defended slavery against abolitionists in the case U.S. v. Reuben Crandall. He once famously said that black folks were “…a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.” At worst, he was someone who gloated in the deaths of black bodies. According to Associate Professor Jason Johnson of Morgan State University, “Essentially, Francis Scott Key was happy to see former slaves, who had joined the British as part of their Colonial Marines, getting slaughtered and killed as they attempted to take Baltimore…he’s essentially saying to these terrible, ungrateful, black people, this is the consequence of standing up against the United States.”
This is the song that we want all Americans to stand up for in 2017? That’s like asking all Americans to stand up for Money for Nothing in 2017. Would we really want either of these songs (or songs like them) to be songs that stand for us as a nation?
We need a national anthem that all Americans can be proud of. This old one is outdated and not reflective of who we are. In the same way that the Constitution needed amendments to address changing realities — such as women’s right to vote and prohibiting slavery — it is incumbent upon us to find a national song — if we are to have one — that speaks for all Americans.
I know that is not the point of Colin Kaepernick’s protest.
Kaep’s beef is not with the national anthem. The hundreds of NFL players who are choosing to #TakeAKnee or sit down or lock arms are likewise making abundantly clear that this is not a protest against the national anthem. Instead, those NFL players and WNBA players (and one MLB player and soon NBA players and soon NCAA players) who choose to express themselves during the national anthem are doing this in response to police violence against black and brown people and not the flag or national anthem. I know that the answer to the question, “Why do it during the national anthem then?” is “Because protests are supposed to be conspicuous and public so that you white people who never seem to notice black and brown people getting killed will notice this.” If black NFL players protested during their weekly trips to Target while in the toiletries aisle, nobody would pay attention.
But maybe this should also be about the national anthem. Maybe it’s time for us to find a song that all Americans can be proud of.
Times have changed. The language in “Money for Nothing″ ain’t cool and neither is the language in “The Star-Spangled Banner.” That isht does not speak for us now, if it ever did. Like “Money for Nothing,” “The Star-Spangled Banner″ is a polaroid, an unfortunate snapshot of the way many people used to think. But that time done passed.
And it’s about high time to start a conversation about a new national song that includes everyone. Or none at all.
Gyasi Ross is a member of the Blackfeet Nation. His family also comes from the Suquamish Nation. He is a father, an author and an attorney. His new book, Wastewin: Left-Handed Lives Matter comes out in December. Reach him on Instagram and Twitter at @BigIndianGyasi