Why I Don’t Stand: An American Minority on the Pledge of Allegiance

“Please stand for the Pledge and a moment of silence.” Growing up, it was a phrase that was branded in my mind as the one constant in my life. At first, since I was young and didn’t know any better, I would stand with my right hand over my chest and recite the words I’d been taught not necessarily to love, but to tolerate and repeat — as though I were a machine — for the sake of the American pride white people were so desperate for me to have; thereby forcing me to abide by American traditions, uninterested in my qualms about the history and my feigned love for this country. I know what you’re thinking: “Not all of us are like that, so please don’t generalize.” And maybe you’re also wondering why I’m not proud to be American, to which I would respond that I’ve never been given a reason to be.

When I was in middle school, in the eighth grade, a substitute teacher told us to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. I denied her request, saying that I don’t do it for religious reasons. She then got irrationally upset and told me that if she were in my country, she would stand for whatever it is that my country does, out of respect. She didn’t realize that what she said was incredibly disrespectful; nor that I am black, and though I wear a scarf — a religious symbol in Islam known as the hijab — I was born here with a lineage that’s been American since slavery. 

Islam teaches us to be respectful, even if we don’t agree with someone or something. Islam teaches that we don’t pledge allegiance to anything other than our Lord, which is why I don’t participate in the morning routine our school enforces. I think if people would’ve taken the time to ask questions rather than skip to judging me, they would see that I don’t do it out of hatred for America. But most don’t want to understand.

I sincerely imagine it was easier for the substitute and many others I’ve come across in my years to believe that I am foreign, than to believe that I can be a hijabi Muslim from America.

Another reason I don’t stand for the Pledge is because America does not stand by anything we say we value, nor do we live by the words we repeat every morning. These are words that should be taken more seriously than they currently are, the reason being that it became just another rule that schools enforce. Kids and teenagers like myself tend to blindly follow the rules, because doing anything else would cause a conflict — complications we wouldn’t dare deal with.

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” These are the words to the Pledge, engraved in my brain from 10+ years of hearing it — that’s close to 4,000 times that I’ve heard the same lines repeated over and over again, my mother and father even more. These words have come close to meaning nothing to me, to the point where I stopped reading or playing on my phone when the Pledge was recited on the intercom, but instead listened intently to what was being said. I know the meaning, so why do I still refuse to stand?

One line in the American Pledge of Allegiance says, “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Let’s dissect. First of all, this nation — America — is split in halves, quarters, even tenths with some left over. Liberty and justice only ring true for a straight white male. Now, because I know straight white men will get offended (and they’re only offended because it’s true), I’ll list some minority groups and what they have to undergo in this country, because again, straight white men generally don’t like any of us very much.

The LGBTQ+ community is attacked all the time, just because they may have feelings for someone or about themselves that others aren’t used to, feelings and actions many would call abnormal and punishable. It makes people from this community feel afraid to come out and live freely, fearing for the loss of their family or for their lives, simply because they may feel like their body isn’t theirs or because they love who they love — which, in case we forgot, is a feeling, not a choice.

Black people (and yes, you can say black — African American sounds too formal and certainly uncomfortable) like myself have to figure out how to survive in the face of gun and gang violence, police brutality, and overwhelming racism everywhere — and unfortunately, that’s only a portion of what we go through, simply because of our skin color. Black is likely the majority color in the prison system, but it’s also got the number one spot for the most innocent people convicted, while murderers and terrorists are let go, get a slap on the wrist, or are labeled as mentally unstable because they are white.

Last but not least, women. My sisters have started #MeToo — a movement many laugh at because they don’t feel or see what we do — to finally speak out about sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace or anywhere. We have to learn to fight, carry a burden at all times, and further protect ourselves out of fear that we may be attacked and possibly killed. Cyntoia Brown was 16 when she got a life sentence in prison for killing her pimp and attacker, while Brock Turner raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and got less than six months plus probation.

That is not liberty. That is not justice.

My social studies teacher in eighth grade understood that I didn’t stand. My English teacher in the 10th grade sees me not standing but doesn’t say a word, as she believes that it is because my religion tells me not to. And while that is important, that’s not the only reason. We need to stop forcing our children to stand and recite a pledge that the rest of our country cannot stand by.

Children are the future, but we cannot expect them to lead a great one unless we teach them about our past, and give them their own voices and a platform to do what they feel is best: whether that means standing, kneeling, or just sitting quietly.

We are not robots. We are not minions who blindly follow orders or risk death. We have a Bill of Rights. We have options — as people, not just as Americans. So when we take away the rights of the youth to peacefully protest if they want, when we take away their freedom to believe what they want to believe, then we are in the wrong. We are taking away their ability to think for themselves and instead take our word for everything. We can’t pretend like right and wrong are black-and-white, because they’re not, nor can we fantasize that life is devoid of choices.

Personally, I feel that we shouldn’t have our children stand up and recite the Pledge every morning, not until we learn and take in what it means. It should no longer just be a standard procedure, but something that we stand up for every day and believe in wholeheartedly. Because otherwise, what is the point?

And I ask again for emphasis, what is the point?

(Featured Image Credit: AdAge)

Na'ilah Williams

she/her. black woman. writer. 🤎

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