The Pledge as a Plague

Saurish Srivastava / January 15, 2022

6 min read–––

Now, please stand for the pledge of allegiance.

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and for the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

You may be seated.

An image of students saluting to a flag
An image of students saluting to a flag

Each morning, almost every K-12 student in America undergoes an ironic "patriotic" brainwashing. The instant a child enters the educational system, they are inculcated a pledge as meaningless as an imprint on a worn-out coin. It is a form of "cognitive training": each student is forced to hear, if not support, a pledge that supposedly attests to America's strengths as a nation "under God."

Yet, a nation "with liberty and justice for all" would not have created the conditions of hyper-exploitation and violence towards Black people; manifested through systems of inequalities (even post-creation of the pledge, such as the Jim Crow era, the mass amounts of lynchings supported by the State, and today: the prison-industrial complex and the school-to-prison pipeline), anti-Blackness is still fundamental in the post-slavery United States. It would not have allowed for the ruthless murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jonathan Prince, Ahmaud Arbery, and many more. It would not have allowed for the tier-gassing and rubber-bullet shooting of protestors (although an "indivisible" nation would not have needed protestors, to begin with). It would not have allowed for the massive stereotypes and violence against Asians in America due to the COVID-outbreak. It would not have allowed for orientalist racism against Muslims, and any member of the Brown community for that matter, post-9/11.

The pledge then becomes oxymoronic: to claim that the United States of America grants "all" liberty and justice is a ruse and a contradiction at its bare nature.

So why is it detested to refuse participation in a pledge that solely affirms the wrong-doings of a country – a country unable to confront its historical entanglement with race?

A brief history

The creation of the pledge of allegiance was an "American expansionist project" [1] beginning in the late 19th century. It was one that attempted to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's discovery by "capturing the underlying spirit of the American Republic" [1]. Francis Bellamy, a former pastor, was deployed to write the pledge of allegiance; yet, his definition of this "underlying spirit" that captured "true Americanism" fell in line with a nativist theory "that made enemies of the 2.5 million Slavs, Jews and Italians who immigrated to the United States throughout the 1880s and 1890s" [1]. Thus, the words and poetry that he wrote were paradoxical – how can a nation claim liberty and justice for all, yet only define that liberty and justice for white "true" Americans?

The original thought that designed and scripted the pledge was instantiated in deep racism. "Bellamy lamented that 'we cannot be the dumping ground of Europe and bloom like a flower garden.' To him, 'every dull-witted and fanatical immigrant' granted citizenship threatened the American republic" [1]. His work, thus, supports a theory of "white native-born Protestant American culture" [1] that "built the American republic" [1] (although this is most definitely not true).

What's more, is that the original rendition of the pledge did not foster the words "under God." This was added in 1954 as an assault towards other forms of governance – most notably: godless communism. The addition of this clause into the pledge may not seem like much, yet it recognizes the path America was already progressing towards: almost an anti-communism (first seen with the Red Scare in the 1920s). Yet, the words "under God" present another complication in the modern era: does the Pledge of Allegiance endorse a specific religious belief? The Judeo-Christian concept of deity is referred to as "God." Yet, other religions, which the First Amendment Right supposedly protects a right to practice, may not just have a single deity, "God." Does this reinforce the idea that America is a land of the Protestant white American?

The flag is almost worshipped as an idol
The flag is almost worshipped as an idol

A call for solidarity

Given this history, it's almost laughable that there hasn't been a massive call towards the end of the pledge. The pledge isn't really a pledge – it's a plague. It's a plague that takes form through cognitive repetition and serves not to represent the heart of America but rather everything that America is not.

Although it is not required to stand and recite the pledge of allegiance, the effect is essentially the same. Each recital is an engraining of specific pro-America content into the minds of the next generation of America. We are worshipping America as an idol. As aforementioned, it is a form of "cognitive training" as if each member of society is now mandated to pledge their life for their countries. This is very similar to the latin lieDulce et decorum est pro patria mori – "It is sweet and fitting to die for the homeland."

Schools should denounce racism and support community efforts for solidarity
Schools should denounce racism and support community efforts for solidarity

Works Cited

1: Petrella, Christopher. “The Ugly History of the Pledge of Allegiance — and Why It Matters.” The Washington Post, 3 Nov. 2017, Accessed 13 Jan. 2022.

2: Rhein, Walter. “Schools Should Replace the Pledge with a Denouncement of Racism.” Medium, 12 Feb. 2021, Accessed 13 Jan. 2022.