Monday, July 14, 2008

Opening a Dialogue on Racism in Black National Anthem

Last week, we blasted as racist the unexpected rendition of our national anthem by singer Rene Marie. Rather than the words penned by patriot Francis Scott Key at Baltimore's own Fort McHenry, Marie interjected lyrics known as the "black national anthem" to the tune of The Star Spangled Banner at a Denver government event.

One of our readers commented, wanting to know why we thought the song was racist. Commenting back would not do this controversy justice. My preference is to start a real dialogue, not simply attack and retreat. The more we discuss our biases and bents, the easier it will be to reach common ground.

Either that or obliterate one another in a hail of flames.

But seriously, without trying to fan the flames of inherent passions and prejudices, I'll tell you exactly why the singing of words other than those of The Star Spangled Banner to the tune of The Star Spangled Banner symbolizes racism, the title of our article, at least from my own subjective and perhaps prejudiced perspective.

Let's begin with the definition of racism:

1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.

2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.

3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

Next, let's explore the lyrics of the "black national anthem:"

Lift every voice and sing 'til earth and heaven ring
Ring with a harmony of liberty
Let our rejoicings rise high as the listening skies
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea
Sing a song full of faith that the dark path has taught us
Sing a song full of hope that the present has brought us
Facing a rising sun of a new day begun
Well, let us march on ‘til victory is won
Now, I don't know about you, but I have never been on any dark path that has taken me anywhere, let alone taught me anything. I'm second generation American on both sides of my family. And while I'll admit the road has been somewhat rocky at times, I've never considered myself an outsider looking in at the opportunities America holds for those who want to take advantage of them.

Ergot, I have no reason to march on until victory is won. As far as I'm concerned, victory was won for all Americans a long time ago. If pockets of Americans continue to struggle and believe they have not found victory, it is only because they have not found a way to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I sympathize with those Americans and will do anything within my power to help them help themselves, but I will not wallow in their mistaken belief that victory is not theirs as well. That would be like admitting the American dream is a lie, something I am not prepared to do.

Now, getting back to the belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement. When someone sings about a dark path and marching on until victory is won, those lyrics symbolize an experience that is completely foreign to me as an American. They are not my American heritage, nor the heritage of all Americans. They may symbolize the heritage of a particular group of Americans, making it fine for that group to feel a kinship with those lyrics.

But when examining the American experience from a cultural and historical perspective, those lyrics are antithetical to the common collective. The lyrics of Marie's song apply only to a small sector of Americans, not the American population as a whole. That's why those lyrics, and more specifically, singing them at a government sponsored event symbolize racism.

Contrast those lyrics with the actual lyrics of The Star Spangled Banner to understand what I mean. The defeat of the British at Fort McHenry is part of every Americans' heritage. Without victory during the War of 1812, we might still be subjects of England's royal crown. Our national anthem binds us together as Americans because the lyrics immortalize an event helping to shape an entire nation, not just one segment of the population.

Agree or disagree which, thank heaven, is your right here in America.