An experiment: Which conversation do you like better?
Conversation Version A
JA: Did you know that the third stanza of the Star-Spangled Banner is considered racist?
You: No, didn’t know that! Interesting!
JA: Yeah, Francis Scott Key owned slaves, and they’re saying the verse is about some runaway slaves who fought for the British, and that it was glorious that they were being killed.
You: Huh. Well, can’t say I’m shocked, there was a lot more racism back then.
JA: So, what does that make you think of the national anthem?
You: I don’t know. Maybe we should find a new national anthem? Or—well, I’m open to whatever. I could still sing it in good conscience I think. Though I might think about racism when I sing it… Which, maybe that’s not the worst thing…
Conversation Version B
JR: Did you know that a lot of progressives are trying to divide Americans now with the Star-Spangled Banner?
You: No! How so?
JR: Well, the third stanza has references to slaves. And in 2016, a liberal academic named Johnson said that made the song racist, pro-slavery, and anti-black!
You: Huh. Well, do you think it is?
JR: Well, lots of scholars dispute it. There’s no direct evidence that Francis Scott Key was referring to the Colonial Marines, and “hirelings and slaves” was a common rhetorical device at the time, and there’s other reasons they dispute it. And while it’s true that Key was a slaveholder, he also gave free legal representation to slaves petitioning for freedom, and once even stood between a slave and a lynch mob!
You: Uh-huh. Sounds like you’ve done your research.
JR: And anyway, no one cares or knows about the third stanza. In fact, during WWII, suspected spies were asked to sing the second (or third or fourth) verse of the Star-Spangled Banner. If they knew the words, we knew they were spies.
You: Sure, ok. So, it might be questionable whether the song’s really racist, and no one knows the third stanza. But, not sure I see the big deal, what’s the harm of raising the question? Free speech, no?
JR (exasperated): No, can’t you see the point? They’re trying to bring up racism all the time! We need to heal and move on! It’s the national anthem! Why can’t we just leave the Star-Spangled Banner alone, and not bother people with this baloney?
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Which person do you think is more helpful: JA, or JR? Who is more reasonable? Who do you think is less manipulative?