I remember in Kindergarten, after just having learned the pledge, I was walking along a street with my grandmother and saw the American flag hanging from a building. I stopped dead in my tracks, placed my hand on my heart, and recited as much of the oath that I could remember. When I had said the last words, ‘with liberty and justice for all,’ I had been so proud to have been able to memorize such a lengthy paragraph at the early age of six. My grandmother had beamed at me, impressed that I knew the entire promise to our country at heart. At the age of six, it didn’t occur to me what the pledge stood for. I didn’t think of what it meant to swear my allegiance to my country, and I didn’t think of troops fighting for us overseas. I was just happy that I knew all the words.
These past few years, however, things have started to change for me. In the wake of police brutality and the overwhelming systemic racism that is in our country, I have been exposed to the negative treatment of my race within these borders. When boys who have the same dark skin as my brothers have been shot down for wearing a hoodie or holding a toy gun and receive no justice, I find it hard to say that I have pride and respect for a country that has none for people who look like me.
I don’t participate in the pledge because I believe that blind pride and allegiance to your country is a very dangerous thing. Not questioning your government and it’s leaders creates a breeding ground for injustice. I cannot comfortably stand and say the words ‘liberty and justice for all’ when more than 100 unarmed black men, women, and children were shot and killed in the past year alone. I cannot let the words ‘one and indivisible’ through my lips when our country has been ethnically and racially divided since 1776, and continuously ignores these divisions instead of working towards change. I cannot pledge my allegiance to a country where racism is still rampant, and a man who spews hatred and bigotry is elected to be our next leader. I cannot pledge my allegiance to a country that has a history of ignoring the problems that it has created for minorities, such as the way segregation still persists and affects young people of color today, or the horrendous way Native Americans continue to be treated in our country.
To clarify, my refusal to say the pledge is not out of disrespect to our military. My father was a Marine, and fought overseas in Desert Storm. I have the utmost respect for those who risk their lives to protect our freedoms every day. I am aware that it is because of their sacrifice that I am afforded the privilege to write this article. I’m able to practice my faith, protest when I see injustice, and speak out for my beliefs. I’ve been given liberties in America that I wouldn’t have in other countries, whether because of my gender, race, or because the government there doesn’t allow as many freedoms. America, in the big picture, is one of the best places for me to be living.
That doesn’t mean it’s perfect. I’m not going to turn a blind eye to the many problems facing our country just because we aren’t as bad as we could be. I’m taking responsibility for what I see is wrong, and I’m trying to do something about it. When I sit, it makes people notice. I’m questioned on why I choose not to say the pledge. People want to understand why I use this as a form of protest, and the majority of the time, they’re open to learning a different side of the story.
Having people from different backgrounds come together to actually have a conversation and listen to one another is the first stepping stone towards change. I don’t stand for the pledge because the flag represents things that are not true today. I’m not comfortable swearing my allegiance by saying that there is liberty and justice for every American citizen when that is a lie.I don’t believe that everyone should sit for the pledge, and I don’t expect them to. Everyone has their own form of speaking up, and by no means does it have to be the same as mine. However, by sitting down I am taking a stand for what I believe in, and that is not something I will apologize for.