The NFL’s decision to play ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ is a false start
There has been a longstanding tradition of playing the National Anthem prior to the opening kickoff at football games. Now, the National Football League has decided to follow this tradition by playing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which many Black Americans know as the Black National Anthem. The song was written as a poem in 1900 by writer and civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson. His brother, a composer, set the poem to music and the NAACP then coined it the “Negro National Anthem” in 1919 because of the poem’s powerful affirmation for Black Americans who struggled for liberation through a violent and tragic history.
The song itself is powerful in that it evokes the biblical Exodus from slavery to the freedom of the Promised Land. For many non-Black Americans, particularly those who are active in Christianity, it is a well-known hymn. However, many other Americans may not have heard the song — and that’s understandable. But, with that being said, it is important for all Americans, regardless of race, to have historical knowledge of the song.
Unfortunately, once again, the NFL is attempting to placate the woke left and progressive Democrats by adding “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to the beginning of games after first playing the National Anthem. Most Black Americans believe in the symbolism and the words from the National Anthem and, frankly, don’t have a problem with hearing or singing it. However, the woke left is set on finding ways to further divide Americans along the lines of race by adding a song that’s specifically in honor of a single race.
Should all Americans know about the significance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing?” Yes. Should all Americans find value in the powerful words written by James Weldon Johnson over 120 years ago? Absolutely, and that’s why schools have history classes. Introducing a second anthem that is specifically for Black Americans seeks only to divide us further because, after all, the National Anthem is for all Americans of all races.
Recently, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized for the treatment of Colin Kaepernick when he knelt during the National Anthem while a member of the San Francisco 49ers. Now, as part of the NFL’s racial justice campaign, the league evidently is trying to make Black Americans feel good by playing an anthem solely directed toward them. But what does that have to do with the living conditions in inner cities that impact many Black Americans? What does that have to do with the increasing levels of violence in Democrat-controlled cities, violence that is spreading across America? I think of St. Louis, Baltimore, Birmingham, Ala., Detroit and Chicago, with their inordinately high homicide rates. These are the places that truly need attention. Black Americans living in these cities plagued by gun violence may be too busy worrying about their children being killed by a stray bullet to watch the NFL game, let alone to listen to the Black National Anthem. Unsurprisingly, the NFL has been silent on those issues.
Instead, what the NFL decided to do is to not actually help Black Americans. The decision to play “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is nothing more than dressed-up symbolism — and I can assure you that it won’t change the life of a single Black person living in an impoverished, violent neighborhood. This is what I call “progressive white wokeness,” the belief that symbolic gestures to make themselves feel good will change the position of life of Black Americans. This couldn’t be further from reality. If the NFL truly wants to help Black Americans, the league should invest money in things such as after-school programs that offer mentoring and tutoring for students who struggle with math, English and other academic skills. They should invest in financial literacy programs to help young people learn how to properly invest their money so that they might become successful entrepreneurs. They should focus on guiding young boys to become better men, and young girls to become strong, independent women.
There are serious things the NFL could do if, as a private organization, it truly wants to make a difference in the lives of struggling Black Americans. Singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” isn’t one of them. We have to get away from trying to make woke white people feel good about themselves. Instead, we should invest in the things that actually will make a difference in Black Americans’ lives. We have to stop falling for wokeness and focus on transformation, which is what many struggling people want and need — transformations that will help them be more competitive in the workspace, so that they can better provide for themselves and their families, and transformations that will improve the opportunities available to their children so that their dreams can supersede the realities of their parents’ lives.
The NFL should be ashamed of itself for thinking so poorly of Black Americans that their idea of recognizing the condition of those who struggle or face adversity is by singing a song instead of doing tangible things that will lead to educational and economic advancement. Those are the things that truly will lift up Black Americans.
Armstrong Williams (@ARightSide) is the owner and manager of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the Year. He is the author of “Reawakening Virtues.”
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