The Star-Spangled Banner: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

As COVID cases increase and the flu creeps up behind us, professional sports have started to resume play. As customary, people remove their hats, hold their hand over their hearts and sometimes kneel for the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the American national anthem. However, when people listen to “Star-Spangled Banner,” it’s questionable whether they are really listening. Most people don’t think about the origins of and what the national anthem stands for. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”


The Origins

The song performed at significant events was initially a poem written by Francis Scott Key in 1814. His inspiration? “Alone U.S. flag still flying over Fort McHenry at daybreak” During Pen’s life, the British invaded America, and he witnessed many atrocities. However, in one instance, Pen saw British soldiers bombard Fort McHenry and fail to conquer the fort, and when he looked above the fort, the American flag still stood tall above it. This experience further fortified the patriotism throughout the poem.

This origin story above is what you’d probably hear in the whitewashed American history textbook. While the information may be accurate, it largely ignores the reality of the 1800s. Similar to how President Trump says, “Make America great again,” he’s essentially saying that a country full of exclusivity and prejudice are what made America great. Pen’s “Star-Spangled Banner” perspective of 1800-America ignores the African slaves’ perspective. It ignores the abused and suppressed housewives’ perspective, it ignores the perspective of the disregarded LGBTQ community of early America, and it ignores the Native Americans slain over colonization.

Pen glorifies the American experience by omitting marginalized people’s experiences. In 1814, when Pen wrote his poem, approximately 47,404 African slaves disembarked from slave boats at the American shores. This is on top of the 1,191,362 African slaves already enslaved. I understand that there’s no use complaining about the past, but I certainly will not celebrate it with song. 

When I write “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” I’m referring to the “bad” and the “ugly.” No matter how much textbooks will push it, there’s not much “good” in America’s history besides a handful of exceptional moments. Yes, we gained freedom this and democracy that. However, I believe all of that would’ve come with or without the African Diaspora. And I would’ve preferred the latter. 


The Lyrics

You’ve heard the national anthem, but have you truly listened? While the entirety of the anthem is ridiculous, in my opinion, here are several lines that stand out the most— you can see all the lyrics here. If you read it, you’ll notice Pen uses joyful, courageous words to describe America in the 1800s.

“What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,”

“O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

Both lines showcase Pen’s glorification of America. His language depicts Americans as innocently courageous freedom fighters. Cowardness, however, is the word I use to describe pridefully prejudice hypocrites. As stated before, in 1814, 1,191,362 Africans were enslaved when Pen wrote home of the “brave” and land of the “free.”

Statistic: Black and slave population of the United States from 1790 to 1880 | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

Another few lines that stand out are:

“Blest with vict’ ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land

Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

 And this be our motto – ‘In God is our trust.’”

Pen is essentially saying that the early Americans were given their land from God and that God sent the colonists to America to “rescue” it — white savior mentality. Pen continues to claim that the white colonists were given the right to conquer all of the lands in the Americas because God gave them his “blessing.” Pen refers to manifest destiny, which is “the 19th-century doctrine that the expansion of the U.S. throughout the American continents was justified and inevitable.”

In 1492, before Columbus came to not America, there were approximately 54 million inhabitants in North America, according to William Denevan. In 2019, World Population Review reported — based on the U.S. Census Bureau — that 6.79 million Native Americans remained in the U.S. Now I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t see the early colonists as peacekeepers. Moreover, I think that the sheer decline of Native Americans in a country’s otherwise growing population, best shows just how ridiculous and glorified our history books and Pen’s claims are.

A Black person's hand reaching out to a white person's hand.
Photo by Tarun Savvy on Unsplash

One last point that I want to make about the Star-Spangled Banner’s lyrics is how Pen so loosely refers to God and Christianity. I am a Christian, but I believe our nation is the “land of the free,” so by using God’s name in our national anthem, does that not force Christianity on everyone? Our pledge of allegiance does the same thing, and it is tone-deaf and hypocritical to boast religious freedom when the national anthem and pledge honor Christianity’s god.

Of course, there’s nowhere I’d rather live, and there are many, many amazing things about living in the United States, but that doesn’t mean we can forget our past. Our whitewashed history puts white men are the forefront of the United States. In reality, there were women leading revolutions, and Black people building the infrastructures, and indigenous Americans teaching us the lay of the land. I believe our national anthem needs to be revised because it honors said whitewashed history.




Here’s Why Veterans Still Vote For Trump

Election Day, 2020 is 46 days away today, and after the last four years, I still don’t understand how people could have voted for Trump even in 2016. Everyone’s got their excuses, “conservative” politics, and a “good” economy, but his racism was as blatant in 2016 as it is today. However, that’s not what this article is about; today, I beg the question, “How do veterans still support Trump?” Over the last four years, Trump has done nothing for the military besides abuse his power and insult their courageousness. Time and time again, he shows blatant disrespect for our armed forces, and yet, way too many veterans live and breathe to support Trump — and I can’t understand.  


Lies, Lies, and More Lies

Someone recently pointed out to me— and I guess I knew this— if someone can support Trump through the last four years, they’re never going to change their mind. People are usually good at realizing when someone lies. It’s just a matter of whether we have too much pride to admit our mistakes. There have been quite intriguing studies on the different types of lies and how successful people are at pointing each one out, especially in Trump’s wake. PolitiFact— a website dedicated to uncovering the validity of statements— reports that only 4% of Trump’s claims were valid. Compare that to Obama’s 86% valid claims.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Greater Good Magazine by Berkeley University explains that “blue” lies are “told on behalf of a group that can actually strengthen the bonds between members of that group. “White” lies are “generous,” and “black” lies have selfish intentions. Blue lies fall somewhere between “white” and “black” ones depending on the liar’s intentions. In Trump’s case, he lies because he preys on his supporters’ desire for a “voice” and a community. Therefore, he selfishly lies about anything and everything dealing with liberals, democrats, and anyone else who doesn’t blindly follow him. Jeremy Smith — an editor of the Greater Good Magazine — explains how Trump tells these “blue” lies to bring his supporters together against their mutual “enemy,” democrats.

These “blue” lies are considered a primary reason why Trump was able to win the 2016 election with a campaign based on nothing but lies and empty promises. This assumption is undoubtedly valid about the 2016 election, but what about in 2020? How do veterans still support Trump? “Blue” lies indeed play a role and are extremely powerful because no matter how ridiculous his claims get; his supporters will back it. However, he has openly— and bluntly— insulted everyone who’s served and serving. I thought that insulting John McCain and every other veteran would’ve “drawn a line in the sand,” but I stand corrected. 

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The Stats

According to the MilitaryTimes, Trump’s ratings have fallen due to his recent offensive language.

While this is surprisingly good news, the ratings between Trump and Biden are far too close. In this election, “close” guarantees almost nothing, as seen in 2016. So while I won’t complain that only 3.9% more active-duty troops plan to vote for Biden, it’s not enough. Also understand this poll is solely active-duty troops. As for veterans, Pew Research Center found this:

Pew Research Center

With over 50% of veterans supporting Trump, in 2019, unless they had a sudden change in morals, I’m not sure if they’ll ever stop supporting Trump.


Who Hasn’t Trump Insulted?

I’m going to stick to the last four years because I’d be writing for days if I ranted about Trump’s military insults. In August 2018, John McCain died from brain cancer. McCain was a highly-decorated veteran as well as a prisoner-of-war survivor. He laid his life on the line and experienced a soldier’s — very possible — worst nightmare. Despite his sacrifices, when McCain died, according to three sources — each directly involved with Trump — he said, ‘We’re not going to support that loser’s funeral,’ and he became furious, according to witnesses, when he saw flags lowered to half-staff. ‘What the f*ck are we doing that for? Guy was a f*cking loser,’ the president told aides.” Mind you, McCain was republican, with conservative principles, so it wasn’t political. There’s just something utterly inappropriate about Trump’s morals.  

It seems as if every month — or every couple of weeks — some inappropriate comments that Trump said arise. And like everything else he says, it largely goes without protest from his supporters. Earlier this September, it came out that, in reference to visiting a veteran cemetery, Trump said, “Why would I want to go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” And according to The Atlantic, in another conversation referencing the same visit, Trump called the more than 1,800 marines who lay in those graves and sacrificed their lives, “suckers.”

Photo by Holly Mindrup on Unsplash

Trump has insulted just about every social, sexual, economic, and racial group to exist — sometimes multiple at once. Frankly, even the low socioeconomic white class (his biggest supporters) has no practical reason to support him. But if they stuck with him through the last four years of lies and misogyny, then there’s no changing their minds now. The only group in this country I can see having a “practical” reason to vote for him is rich white men, though that would require one to also have no morals. 

I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand why anyone, especially veterans, still support Trump. I guess I’ll toss this one up to the mysteries of human pride — once someone thinks they’re right, it can be impossible to convince them otherwise.


“All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.” 

Socrates, Antigone

The Whole Tree Is Rotten

Photo by ev on Unsplash

When people use the phrase “a few bad apples,” they mean that most police officers are non-racist, well-rounded people. The statement distances wrongdoing cops from rule-following ones. However, I believe a more appropriate phrase is, “the whole tree is rotten.” At first, I thought all police couldn’t be corrupt. I reasoned with myself. I’ve met cops, and they didn’t attack me, right? And then, I started to doubt my original thoughts. The truth, as I came to find out, is much more complicated than right or wrong. Many officers may be friendly, but what does it mean to be a “bad apple?” Why are there corrupt police officers?” And what does it mean that the whole tree is rotten? 

What Is A Bad Apple?

The phrase “bad apple” describes those few officers you see on television committing acts of police brutality. Daniel Pantaleo, who murdered Eric Garner over illegal cigarette sales in New York City, is considered a “bad apple.” Timothy Loehmann, who killed Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, over a — known — fake gun, is regarded as a “bad apple.” Brett Hankison, the yet-to-be-arrested murderer of Breonna Taylor, is a “bad apple.”

As you can see, the standard for a rotten officer classifies as one who has committed a quite severe crime. Fellow officers and law enforcement enthusiasts are quick to note that these murderous officers are mostly alone in their actions. Thus, claiming that the entirety of police officers nationwide are majority kind and non-racist people. I, however, believe that this standard to be considered a corrupt officer is much too high.

It’s Not Just The Apple; It’s The Tree

When I watch videos of all the tragic confrontations that I mentioned above and many others, I notice fellow police officers standing by. In George Floyd’s case, three separate officers stood by as a man gasped for air, using his last few breaths to call out to his mother.

To stand by and watch as someone as their fellow officers murder someone is just as criminal as the murder itself. And there’s a reason why I’ve never, and you’ve most likely never heard of a police officer stopping crime by another officer. And if it has happened — which I hope it has — it doesn’t happen enough. This lack of police accountability within the force shows that it isn’t a few bad apples on a healthy tree; it’s a few edible apples on a majorly rotten tree.

The criteria for a corrupt cop are not only murdering a helpless person or frisk minorities on the sidewalk, but it’s also defined by what you do when you see those things.

Photo by Nikolai Chernichenko on Unsplash

Why Are There Bad Apples?

After blame is dealt and prosecution is adequately distributed, we cannot settle as a nation. While entirely responsible for their actions, police officers are merely fulfilling racist and oppressive policies put in place by our systemically racist institution. Policies that target and feed off the oppression of African Americans and minorities in general.

Slavery, in its most blatant form, is no longer present in the United States. However, slavery itself has gone nowhere, and our country benefits from it. I’ll run through the process briefly, but for more detail, I recommend watching The 13th on Netflix — which is where I learned all of this upcoming information.

Here’s where I’ll begin:

War On Drugs — 1970s

In 1971, Richard Nixon declared war on drugs, which involved crackdowns on a supposedly increasing usage of crack cocaine in Black and Brown neighborhoods. Meanwhile, increasing usage of pure cocaine in white communities went primarily disregarded. Nixon’s administration claimed that Black people were just hardcore drug users. The truth didn’t arise until Nixon’s top advisor admitted the administration’s wrongdoings. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people,” stated Nixon’s domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman. He continued with, “Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Richard Nixon officially “declaring war” on drugs in 1971.

War On Drugs — 1980s

Then in 1982, Ronald Reagan declared war on drugs again. Reagan’s campaign used the word “super predator” to describe young black men, thus creating fear of black men. Reagan followed Nixon’s footsteps, over-policing Black neighborhoods, and imprisoning them at an extremely disproportionate rate.

Ronald Reagan declares war on drugs on October 14, 1982

Crime Bill — 1994

This last example is the Crime Bill passed in 1994 under Bill Clinton. The bill implanted many things, but most importantly, noted were the 3-strikes law and the $9.7billion funded to prisons. First, the 3-strike law means that anyone convicted of “two prior convictions for crimes defined as serious or violent” would get a life sentence for their 3rd offense no matter how minor. Prison populations skyrocketed once again, but this time with people spending life sentences for petty theft and other similar crimes . According to the Three Strikes Project, the 3-strike law increased a prison’s budget by $19 billion. Clinton claims he did not know that the Crime Bill would target minorities at a higher rate, but the fact that the bill already factored in $9.7 billion in funds to prisons, I find that hard to believe.

President Bill Clinton announces the Crime Bill in 1994.

During this period, businesses began making their money off the backs of Blacks, again. No, I don’t mean they put African Americans in fields. I mean, they put imprisoned Blacks to work for little to no pay. Major corporations like McDonald’s and Walmart both used prison labor as a major source for their products. Both have supposedly changed from the inhumane practice. But plenty of organizations still utilize the practice.

Knowing how the country benefits from the increased prison population, you can understand why a president’s agenda may include being tough on crime. All of this to explain how oppressive and racist policies utilize law enforcement. The apples are no less spoiled, but now you know that the rottenness doesn’t begin in the apple, it begins in the roots.

Times are changing now. The entire system is exposed, vulnerable to real, systemic change. So, let’s end it all for good. Remember: it’s a movement, not a moment, so never settle for anything less than equality.

Here’s How Racism Circulates Private School

School Girl with Book in front of natural rustic red brick background holding book up to her face.
Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

My Experience With Racism In Private Schools Black In The Suburbs

I'm Cleveland Lewis and in this episode of Black In The Suburbs, I explain what my experience in a private high school was like. Racism is certainly not gone, but it's not how it used to be. Racism persists because those who can change the issue censor and ignore it.  Check out my blog at Instagram: blkintheburbs

I grew up in an upper-middle-class lifestyle, about an hour, or two, north of NYC. Our house lies on the border of two neighboring counties. I lived in one city district, but a different school district. Which meant that I couldn’t go to the school in the city I lived in. And the school district I lived in, had low graduation rates and poor education standards. So, my parents put my brothers and me in a private Catholic school from pre-k to 12th grade. After 12 years in private school, this is what I’ve learned. From the teachers ignoring racism to the students endorsing it, here’s how racism circulates private school.

Let’s Start With The Teachers

The teachers act as if they’re oblivious to what the students say and do. I can’t say I’ve ever heard a teacher say anything blatantly racist — though my Harry Potter theology teacher once said: “Obama and those liberals are ruining the country.” But, while they don’t participate in the racism, they ignore it thus, allowing and enabling it. Here are a few examples when teachers and faculty ignored blatant racism, therefore showing how racism circulates private school.

  1. A student made a “White Power” poster, and the teacher hung it in the hallway.
  2. A student wrote “racist propaganda” on Black History Month poster, and no one cares.
  3. A dean censored my senior quote, which expressed my experience at school.

Just from reading the beginning of these three examples, it is evident that the school chooses to ignore the racism, thus, allowing and therefore enabling it. Journalist and author, Ibram X. Kendi explains this concept best. He describes how allowing bigotry is just as racist as other discriminatory actions. And this is the most essential point I’m trying to get across. The teachers’ allowance of discrimination explains how racism circulates private school. Keep reading below, and I’ll explain those three incidents in more detail.

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My Most Racist Experiences

When I explain my experience through high school, it is vastly different from how the non-minority students experienced it. Most non-minority students met some of their closest friends at school, but I always felt like I didn’t belong to anyone. There were other Black students, but I rarely — if ever — had classes with them. These experiences explain why I always felt like an outlier and how racism circulates private schools.

I can vividly remember my senior art class, it was some time during February— Black History Month. The art teacher had planned a project to celebrate and honor Black History Month, and I was honestly impressed. The whole month, every time I stepped into that classroom, it seemed like something was hanging in the air as if it were just a matter of time before someone made a racist comment, and I would have to defend myself. Plainly enough, the day and the remark came.

It was the day we were finishing up the project, and a girl stood up:

“I’m making mine a ‘White Power’ poster!” she exclaimed.

“Um, why?” asked the teacher.

“Because like if there’s a Black History Month, like why isn’t there a white history month?” replied the student.

And the teacher said nothing to the student.

With the teacher leaving the girl’s question unanswered, she was essentially giving in and letting her express her “white power,” which is was just a blatantly obvious way for her to express her disapproval of black history. This example is indicative of the concept that when you allow racism, you enable it, and therefore, you are racist.

If you were wondering, yes, that “White Power” poster was hung up in our main hallway along with the “Black History Month” posters. And for weeks, the deans, teachers, and principles, walked past it, and yet it hung. Now, you may choose to argue that the poster was allowed because of freedom of speech and if you did think that, bravo, you’re a free thinker. Unfortunately, that was not the case — let me explain why the poster was grossly discriminatory and hypocritical.

This next instance took place towards the middle of the senior year, we were taking pictures and submitting senior quotes for the yearbook. The due date for senior quotes came quickly, so the night before, I looked up quotes online, and after several hours, I found the PERFECT one. Another black student at a different high school had used it, and it perfectly captured my four years — no, my past 12 years of private school.  

My senior quote submission read as: “Anything is possible when you sound Caucasian on the phone.”

Later that week — after I submitted it — I got called down to the dean’s office. I curiously, and slightly nervously, walked in and sat down. She — the dean — started off, “I get where you’re coming from, but we can’t allow this in the yearbook,” she said. I nodded my head and said, “OK,” — as I’d always been taught to — and I submitted a different generic motivational quote.

Now, I understand how someone could take this quote the wrong way, but that shouldn’t matter because if the school truly endorsed freedom of speech, then there is no reason it should have been censored. There were no curse words, no blasphemy, nothing hurtful, just a short quote that wholly described white privilege and my experience at school. Yet it was censored.

The last example of the allowance of racism takes place during Black History Month as well. Another African American student designed an awesome poster honoring all the young black men who’ve unnecessarily died, and all the Black activists and heroes. It was honestly a really cool poster. I walked into the lunchroom — where the poster was hung — and saw a student run up to it. I couldn’t tell what he was doing, but when I sat down with my friends, they said he had written “racist propaganda” on the poster.

It didn’t hit me until later, just how racist it was of him to write that. He was essentially claiming that the poster— honoring black history— was racist towards white people. Whether he was being facetious or not, I don’t know, but either way, it was a tactic to express his white superiority.

After the incident, and the teachers found out who wrote it, nothing happened. He was called to the dean’s office, but he was never put in detention, not one punishment at all. This, yet again, exemplifies that the teachers are pushing racism “under the rug.”

Looking at these contrasting situations, I believe they capture the essence of how racism circulates in private school. While it is not run with a racist mindset, it is undoubtedly set on ignoring and censoring it.

The racism in my private school was definitely not unique, nor was it the worst, but it was unquestionably eye-opening.

At my high school, racism circulated because no one wanted to talk about it. This is much like how racism works throughout the entire world. It’s similar to a societal response:

Something racist happens, the news reports it, people act as if it never happened or call it “fake news,” and thus, the cycle repeats. This is why racism circulates the entire world. We need to encourage conversations about racism. It should not be “controversial” to talk about race. I urge you to have a peaceful conversation about something “controversial.”

One conversation at a time, we can normalize essential topics and change the world.

4 Untold Truths About The Mass Incarceration Of Native Americans

In recent years, news and media alike covered the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. They are an organization that shined light on the mass incarceration of African Americans. Unfortunately, while BLM got much-needed attention, one specific ethnicity was left out from that light… Native Americans— ignorantly called “Indians.” Native Americans are often forgotten and thought to have “died off” or totally assimilated into the United States, but believe me, they’re very much alive, and their abject struggle is just as real. You may or may not know about the mass incarceration of Native Americans— if you do kudos to you. But for those who didn’t know before clicking on this article, keep reading to better understand the mass incarceration of Native Americans.

Where Did They Go?

People often believe that Native Americans are “gone” — they’re not. I believe this is mostly a result of what we are taught in US education system.

United States history literature is infamous for misleading people. The books explain that our pioneering ancestors committed unnecessary genocide against the Native Americans. However, the books either stop there or continue to say that remaining were forcibly put on land during the Indian Removal Act.

Whichever way they proceed, they all fail to mention the ongoing list of nefarious aftermaths that Native Americans faced in the United States. On a list too extensive to write out, there is one of many that impacts communities to this day — the untold mass incarceration of Native Americans.

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The Great Falls Tribune reports in their article — Survey: People think Native Americans don’t exist/aren’t discriminated against — that 64 percent of people surveyed don’t think Native Americans are discriminated against. And that 64 percent alone is the reason why Native Americans are grossly incarcerated — no one knows.


Incarceration Statistics

Now, when looking at the statistics of things like incarceration, it is essential to realize that the total number of Native Americans will be lower than that of Black and White constituents. You must understand the proportionality of the number of inmates in comparison to the total US population of Native Americans.

Of the approximately 300 million total people in the United States, there are about 5 million Native Americans.

Of the 5 million Native Americans, 34,500 of them are incarcerated. In the United States, there are a total of 2.3 million incarcerated people. Which means Native Americans make up 1.5 percent of prison populations. But only 0.9 percent of the country’s total population.

  • 2.3 million total US incarcerated population
  • 1.5% of total incarcerated population ins Native American
  • Native American US population is 5 million
  • 34,500 Native Americans incarcerated total in the US

This means that 0.7 percent of the Native American population in the United States is incarcerated. 

Mass Incarceration In Montana

In my research, I found that Montana is one of the worst for perpetuating the mass incarceration of Native Americans. Within the state, Native Americans comprise 6.5 percent of the population yet make up 20 percent of the state’s prison population.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reports the various reasons why Native Americans make up 20 percent of the prison population

  • Most Native Americans are arrested for violating their parole and probation.
  • As a first time offender you are more likely to become a reoffender
  • Montana is home to 13 federal reservations.
  • Most indigenous people have trouble trekking back and forth to visitation.
  • For most Native Americans, it is almost impossible to meet parole and probation requirements due to a nearly 60-mile trip to check in with their officers.

This is a system that’s supposed to be rehabilitating and able to reintegrate offenders back into society. But instead, this justice system is marginalizing, oppressing, and discriminating.

United States Justice Systems

Unfortunately, this isn’t unique to Montana. Around the United States, once you’re in the justice system, it’s more or less like a Chinese finger trap. The harder you try, the more you struggle.

The United States justice is a trap for those who enter. Now that’s not to say that you can’t make it in the free society, or that no one ever has, but it certainly isn’t easy.

 In the United States, approximately 44 percent of first-time offenders are going to become reoffenders. In the United States, .8 percent of the 300 million people are prisoners, and nearly 45 percent of that .8 percent will commit another crime.

These numbers may warrant much more context, but I’ll leave that for another article.

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