The Reporter (Lansdale, PA)

What critics don’t get about the ‘Black national anthem’


Some people suspect that former President 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 actress Sheryl Lee Ralph singing James Weldon Johnson’s 123-yearold 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.”

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 tweeted: “America only has ONE NATIONAL ANTHEM. Why is the NFL trying to divide us by playing multiple!? Do football, not wokeness.”

Really? I am somewhat amused by the MAGA right’s embrace of “woke” as an insult for liberals. Would they just as soon remain asleep? Dream on.

“There is only ONE National Anthem in the United States of America,” tweeted Black conservati­ve 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 our history, but that’s a topic that unfortunat­ely has become fashionabl­e for some conservati­ves to ignore.

The 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.’ “

I, too, believe in “one nation under God,” but we don’t get there by fanning the flames of fear and paranoia for political exploitati­on. But let’s clarify this much: Though the song is often called the “Black national anthem,” the Super Bowl announcers 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:

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.

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 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.

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States