Thursday, July 3, 2008

Black Nationalism Re-emerges As An Issue

At Denver mayor John Hickenlooper's recent State of the City address, it was announced that jazz singer Rene Marie would sing the national anthem. But she stepped forward and sang what is known as "the Black National Anthem." View it here.

As she begins to sing, we hear the familiar tune, but the words are different. They aren't the words of the national anthem at all. Instead, they are the words of a hymn written by the celebrated black poet, James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938).

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.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou Who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou Who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.

The mayor was light on outrage, saying only that, "If anyone has got a right to be angry it's probably me. I guess what I feel most is just deeply disappointed," Fox News reports. He then went on to defend her: "What she said was that she was very sorry, that she meant no disrespect, that she was trying to make a creative expression of her love for the country."

What I find most striking in the video is not this renegade jazz singer substituting an ethnic anthem for the national anthem, implicitly rejecting the nation and declaring her higher allegiance to her social subgroup. Watch the video. As she sings, no one on the stage even bats an eye. There is no puzzlement on anyone's face. No one is looking around the room to see if anyone else is noticing that these are not the words of the national anthem. Then the camera gives us a view from the back of the room. Again, we see no heads turning to neighbors with questions or concerns. We hear no murmurring. We certainingly hear no one shouting, "That's NOT the national anthem!" In fact, when the singer is done, the assembled dignitaries APPLAUD! If I were a Denverite, I would make that an election issue.

But every American should be concerned about this response. Once again, what does it say about the culture that has formed Barack Obama? I would not connect this Denver incident with the Illinois Senator from Chicago were it not for similar attitudes we have observed in the church he has attended and cherished for the last twenty years. But America's concern should also extend to the horse (or donkey) he's riding in on. The man brings his party to office. The party is the well from which he draws his administration. If the well is poisoned, how will the nation fare under an Obama administration?

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