‘Let’s lift every voice’
Some people suspect that Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” camp is barely a step away from “Make America White Again.”
They found a lot of food for that thought in the MAGA world’s reaction to this year’s Super Bowl pregame show.
The show included Sheryl Lee Ralph of “Abbott Elementary” singing James Weldon Johnson’s 123-year-old hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” frequently called the “Black national anthem.” It’s a galvanizing song for the civil rights movement — and just about every other church or school where African Americans congregate.
Country music star Chris Stapleton beautifully performed “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the nation’s official anthem. Yet, that wasn’t enough for the predictable gaggle of MAGA detractors who apparently saw some sort of low-octane race war.
Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Colorado Republican, tweeted: “America only has ONE NATIONAL ANTHEM. Why is the NFL trying to divide us by playing multiple!? Do football, not wokeness.”
Similarly, I was in rare agreement with Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene when she tweeted “Chris Stapleton just sang the most beautiful national anthem at the Super Bowl.” But not when she added, “we could have gone without the rest of the wokeness.”
Really? I am somewhat amused by the MAGA right’s embrace of “woke” as an insult word for liberals. Would they just as soon remain asleep? Dream on.
“There is only ONE National Anthem in the United States of America,” tweeted rising 20-yearold Black conservative commentator-activist CJ Pearson. “The National Anthem is for EVERY American. What’s the purpose of a black one? Super Bowl Sunday should UNITE America, not divide it by race. It’s not the 1960s.”
Well, the purpose of “the black one” has something to do with the value of knowing and understanding American history, but that’s a topic that unfortunately has become fashionable for some conservatives to ignore.
The official campaign Twitter account for Arizona’s defeated Republican nominee for governor, Kari Lake, let us know that “Our girl is against the idea of a ‘black National Anthem’ for the same reason she’s against a ‘white National Anthem.’ She subscribes to the idea of ‘one
Nation, under God.’”
Fine. I, too, believe in “one nation under God,” but we don’t get there by fanning the flames of fear and paranoia purely for political exploitation.
But let’s clarify this much: As much as the song is often called the “Black national anthem,” as I, too, have done on occasion, the Super Bowl announcers quite properly referred to it by its formal title, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
That means every voice.
The song doesn’t even mention race. It doesn’t have to. Written in 1900 as a poem by Johnson, a onetime NAACP leader, it was set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson, according to NAACP historians:
Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.
There’s more, but these opening verses are most often sung at churches, schools and other public gatherings in my lifelong African American experience.
I have always sung it and heard it the way my schoolteacher grandmother taught it, not just as a vehicle for us to sing the blues about our suffering and victimization as a people, but as a rallying cry to our resilience and determination.
Yet the MAGA culture warriors insist on making a simple gesture of outreach sound like something sinister, threatening and even racist. Like the other culture war battlefronts over Confederate statues and the teaching of Black history to our children, the “Black national anthem” dust-up is a contest for power.
Worse, it is used to fan the flames of cultural xenophobia, as if interracial relations have to be a zero-sum game, in which no race can advance itself without some other race losing.
Instead, folks, let’s lift every voice — until victory is won.