Oh Say Can You Kneel

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Lezak Shallat

Pro football season starts this weekend, and many will watch to see if some players ‘take a knee’ to protest racial injustice. But the practice has spread beyond the football field to unlikely venues. Lezak Shallat has this Perspective.

It's not everyday that I get to feel like an NFL football star. But I had my chance recently when I “took a knee” in front of thousands of people singing the Star Spangled Banner.

The occasion was California Big Sing, a concert in July where 10,000 choristers in five cities across the state sang together via simulcast.

I was one among 2,000 at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall.

The national anthem opened the program, but as the Maestro gave the downbeat, I missed my cue when a tenor in front of me dived into the aisle.
My first thought was that he'd dropped something and was scrambling to retrieve it as the lights dimmed.


Then it dawned on me .... no, he's “taking a knee”!

By the next beat, I'd followed his lead, and so did several others. The woman across the aisle looked over approvingly, then wagged her cane to indicate that she, too, would be kneeling — if only she could stand.

I'm fond of several national anthems, and I memorized Chile's, where I used to live. Under the dictatorship there, refusing to sing the second verse, in praise of the Army, could land you a beating or a night in jail. In my small choir, singers were reluctant to protest by even just mouthing the words, unless there was a big, loud orchestra playing along to cover our silence.

I love the power of music to stir emotions. But I feel no such affection for ritualistic displays of patriotism and the “my country right or wrong” mindset. I thank those football players whose example of “taking a knee” against racial injustice inspired me and other singers to accompany them with our own spontaneous chorus of solidarity.

With a Perspective, this is Lezak Shallat.

Lezak Shallat has sung around the Americas and lives in Oakland.