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Jackie Robinson: “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag.”

A Jackie Robinson quote about the national anthem has surfaced following Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the song at a pre-season game this weekend in response to rampant police brutality in the United States.

Since the news of Kaepernick’s protest, many fans have accused him of betraying the sacrifices of veterans while others have outright validated his point by throwing racial slurs his way.

However, Kaepernick’s recent protest echoes the sentiments of an excerpt from Jackie Robinson’s autobiography, in which the nationally beloved baseball star recounted his own feelings about the anthem:

“There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”

Putting aside the fact that a lesser-known verse in the national anthem celebrates the death of slaves, or even the statistical evidence backing his police brutality criticisms, it is important to note that Kaepernick’s refusal to stand is not the first, nor will it be the last. Declining to take part in the national anthem in response to American failure to protect all of its citizens has a long history, and will likely continue until equality has truly been achieved.

The national anthem is not about honoring veterans, it is supposed to be a celebration of the values that our nation stands for. When those values of equality and justice are not a part of your reality or the reality of those you care about, what is there to celebrate?

Nathan Wellman is a Los Angeles-based journalist, author, and playwright. Follow him on Twitter: @LightningWOW

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