Sunday, July 25, 2010

“Lift Every Voice and Sing”

As was clearly in evidence with Tea Party’s spokespersons Mark Williams and Andrew Breitbart, as well as with others, racism is apparently central to Tea Party politics and our American mores. And, apparently, the election of an African-American President has not allayed racial or ethnic prejudice. It seems, in many ways it has only heightened racial tensions and has not made, as many had hoped, racism a relic of the past.

Conservative activists Andrew Breitbart’s exploitation of Shirley Sherrod, whose telling parable of her life as a black woman in conflict with her most innermost personal feelings regarding race, and how she evolved to understand that not only people of color, but white people as well are discriminated against, not because of their whiteness but because they are poor, is a very repulsive example of racism

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the media’s rush to judgment without providing Shirley Sherrod, Georgia’s USDA's rural development director, the opportunity to tell her story is deplorable. De facto racism still exists in America; however, there is an unacceptable reluctance to have an honest conversation regarding it. There is a dread of being accused of racism, evidenced by Vilsack asking for Ms. Sherrod’s resignation in haste because of his fear that Breitbart’s video was going to be shown on Fox’s Glenn Beck program before he could respond.

Moreover, what does it mean for America when its President and Congress do not publicly address the issue and denounce Breitbart, Fox’s Beck and O’Reilly, and those media outlets who ran with the story. It’s an ideal teachable moment that has not been taken advantage of. Other than saying, someone jumped the gun on the story, or that Ms. Sherrod should be given her job back, no one in the Obama administration has stood up and had the courage to condemn the racism that is so blatantly clear, and of which is so rampant in America.

And, now a new book, "Cultural Hegemony and African American Patriotism: An Analysis of the Song, 'Lift Every Voice and Sing,'" by Timothy Askew, associate professor of English at Clark Atlanta University. The song, recognized as the Black National Anthem, whose designation, Askew declares in his book, as a "national anthem" is racially divisive and implies separatism.

The song has musical and lyrical value, and a memorable and historic tradition. "Lift Every Voice and Sing" is an uplifting spiritual, applicable to all those who have had a struggle in life. "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was publicly performed first as a poem as part of a celebration of Lincoln's Birthday on February 12, 1900 by 500 schoolchildren at the segregated Stanton School, and it has been an integral part of America’s black heritage ever since.

I have always had a problem with our National Anthem. As with "Lift Every Voice and Sing," it too was first a poem. The poem was set to the tune of a popular British drinking song and then renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner.” From that standpoint alone, it’s not uniquely American. However, my principle objection is that our National Anthem is a celebration of war, and not of peace, harmony, unity, or even a celebration of our beautiful country, which would have made “America the Beautiful” an appropriate choice. Even "Lift Every Voice and Sing" would be an appropriate choice for it speaks to peace, harmony, faith, and hope, and it is undeniably uniquely American. Nevertheless, labeling "Lift Every Voice and Sing" as the Black National Anthem is a mistake. The black community should celebrate it, label it as a hymn, but refrain from using the label Black National Anthem.

Instead, with the President of the United States taking the lead, we in American unity should “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”