That’s what the “Midnight Train to Georgia” songstress told Variety in response to the news outlet’s question about her stance on the NFL’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick, who refused to stand during the anthem in protest of injustices against African-Americans and other minorities in the United States and has been out of a job since the 2016 season ended.
“I understand that Mr. Kaepernick is protesting two things, and they are police violence and injustice,” Knight, a seven-time Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, told Variety. “It is unfortunate that our national anthem has been dragged into this debate when the distinctive senses of the national anthem and fighting for justice should each stand alone.”
She continued, “I am here today and on Sunday, Feb. 3 to give the anthem back its voice, to stand for that historic choice of words, the way it unites us when we hear it and to free it from the same prejudices and struggles I have fought long and hard for all my life, from walking back hallways, from marching with our social leaders, from using my voice for good — I have been in the forefront of this battle longer than most of those voicing their opinions to win the right to sing our country’s anthem on a stage as large as the Super Bowl LIII.”
She ended by saying, “No matter who chooses to deflect with this narrative and continue to mix these two in the same message, it is not so and cannot be made so by anyone speaking it. I pray that this national anthem will bring us all together in a way never before witnessed and we can move forward and untangle these truths which mean so much to all of us.”
Although Knight has many supporters (“You tell em, Gladys Knight” is representative of the backing she’s getting), doubling down on her decision has just fanned the flames. Her quote about giving “the anthem back its voice” in particular is one being discussed on social media, with commenters pointing to the complicated history of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“[Does] she know a man that owned slaves wrote that song?” one person asked, of course referring to Francis Scott Key, whose poem — about an American victory over the British during the War of 1812 — was turned into the anthem.
Do she knew a man that owned slaves wrote that song?
— cdub the PA (@CdubPa) January 18, 2019
The third stanza of Key’s poem, which was called “The Defence of Fort McHenry,” has been interpreted by some historians as racist for decrying former American slaves who were fighting with the British and were defeated. That section of the poem has been shared on Twitter Stories with Knight’s defense.
Be sure to sing these verses with it, Ms. Knight:
"Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave" pic.twitter.com/p8n2pIlhLH
— Author Leah Yehudah (@LeahYehudah_) January 18, 2019
"No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave"
– 3rd verse of the National Anthem…celebrating… https://t.co/Kit639YMgD
— TL Cool Tre (@TreReal) January 18, 2019
@939WKYS Gladys Knight should sing the 3rd verse of the anthem: "No refuge could save the hireling and slave, From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave." 🎶
— I'm That Type Of Guy (@Marrrrcussss) January 17, 2019
The Star Spangled Banner was written in 1814 when people who look like #GladysKnight had no Constitutional rights according to the 1857 U.S. Supreme Court in Dred Scott or 1855 Missouri State Court in re "Slave named Celia". Stanza 3 is offensive [nowhere for the slave to hide] pic.twitter.com/XbJwLNuzVg
— orville lewis (@orvillelewis1) January 18, 2019
Gladys Knight said she's "here to give the Anthem back its vioce." Sellouts or desperate for #money or both. The #author wrote that BS anthem bragging and demanding that the slaves stay #slaves. Sad, this happens when you are a sellout and need money or both. #GladysKnight pic.twitter.com/jFKTNkuEOR
— THE HILLS BOYS (@bootstate) January 18, 2019
Singing a racist song as a national anthem is wrong! Read the whole song. Gladys Knight Comments on Colin Kaepernick and Super Bowl – Variety https://t.co/5SydFjzwme
— The Federalist (@herxfighter) January 18, 2019
So Gladys Knight is dishonouring our Ancestors and the Descendants Of Slaves? She really is old enough to know better. pic.twitter.com/uL9RFQUN4I
— Starr X 🇸🇸 (@starr_abel) January 18, 2019
Gladys I love u, ur music & ur extraordinary career. Ur absolutely amazing! But, I disagree with u on this. The threat is not to our national Anthem (especially the racist third stanza), it’s to justice! Ur voice would sound sweeter if it joined the protest by not singing. https://t.co/r0eVJy6W8h
— F. Bruce Williams (@FBruceWilliams) January 18, 2019
Some comments from Instagram expressed similar sentiments.
Make no mistake, people have a lot of respect for Knight. Even though some were quick to “cancel” her after the initial news, there are many taking the “agree to disagree” route.
I'm not canceling Gladys….smh Imma leave it there. I have too much respect to say anything else. We gonna have to agree to disagree. pic.twitter.com/IQKcN7vxIZ
— Moe (@Mollyright) January 18, 2019
Others are pointing out that Knight singing isn’t the biggest problem here.
Again though, y'all coming for #GladysKnight but not the field full of Black players who would have a much bigger impact. SMH
— BevDiane (@BevDiane) January 18, 2019
This is nonsensical how yall gonna be all protesting #SuperBowlLIII the damm entire NFL players association ain't boycotting& aint one black player boycotting or not cashing a check! But yall want #TravisScott & #GladysKnight #GladysKnight to give up a check! 👌🏼👌🏼👌🏼#smart
— Mark Clark (@marksword) January 18, 2019
I see players still playing or preforming so why give her grief.
— Georgene Roselles (@GeorgeneRosell2) January 18, 2019
After Rihanna reportedly turned down the halftime show in support of Kaepernick, Maroon 5 was bashed for stepping in for the job. Travis Scott and Big Boi, who will be part of Adam Levine’s band’s show, were as well. Although there were reports that Scott had been given the OK from Kaepernick to perform, Kaepernick made it clear that that was not the case.
Kaepernick hasn’t spoken out about Knight. However, yesterday was the late Muhammad Ali’s birthday and he shared a clip of the boxer and activist talking and called him the “people’s champ.” In it, Ali said: “Money means nothing to me nor boxing when it comes to the freedom of your people. Everything I’m doing — if it means hitchhike tomorrow, if it means be raggedy, if it means look for a job, I’ll be happy because I go to bed, my conscience is clear and I didn’t sell out or trade my people just because I could be rich in Hollywood.”
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) January 17, 2019
The Super Bowl will be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Feb. 3.
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