Opinion | GOP objections to the ‘Black national anthem’ are about control

1 month ago The Washington Post






MAGA Republicans had a conniption fit on Sunday as they witnessed the Super Bowl pregame show include “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” sometimes called the Black national anthem, alongside the national anthem and “America the Beautiful.”

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Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) howled on Twitter, “America only has ONE NATIONAL ANTHEM. Why is the NFL trying to divide us by playing multiple!? Do football, not wokeness.” Similarly, the campaign for former Arizona governor candidate Kari Lake tweeted that she 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.’”

This is ridiculous. The pregame show’s announcers referred to the song by its formal title, not as a national anthem. And its words are deeply inspirational and patriotic:


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.

The song never even mentions race. So what’s the problem?

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The NFL has rightly been pilloried for its exclusion of Black people from head coaching jobs (even though roughly 70 percent of players are Black). It was heavily criticized when, prompted by Colin Kaepernick’s taking a knee during the during the national anthem, it attempted to ban other players from doing the same.

The NFL has tried to address these concerns in ways big and small. Playing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which has become associated with the civil rights movement, before some games has been part of that effort. After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the league directed the song be played before every game on Opening Day. And again in 2021, the NFL announced that, in conjunction with its efforts to combat racial injustice, it would play the song at all “tentpole” events, such as playoff games.


Would Republicans have objected if another song on the struggle for racial justice (e.g., “We Shall Overcome”) was sung? Or did they protest simply because they knew many African Americans think of it as a Black national anthem?

If the Super Bowl freakout sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Like so many other issues, this is about control — control of U.S. history, of shared culture and of public spaces. Why do MAGA Republicans become so enraged when some Americans choose to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”? Why do they go berserk when the College Board constructs an AP African American studies course?

Of course, no one is forcing anyone to say “Happy Holidays.” Nor is anyone forcing children to enroll in an Advanced Placement course on African American studies (though doing so might prevent the next generation from going into the world ignorant about such basic facts such as when the Civil War was fought).


Similarly, no one is preventing anyone from missing the pregame show or — God forbid! — the Super Bowl itself. So why the level of visceral anger at “Lift Every Voice and Sing”?

This is a manifestation of the resentment among many Americans that the way they understood their country is being “taken” from them. In their concept of the United States, America is primarily White and Christian, and every other group is a footnote — peripheral to the majesty of the “real” American story.

Some might argue that not everyone who objects to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is a white nationalist. But far too many people have become so attuned to the status quo that something new or different is off-putting. They should consider the source of that irritation. What is wrong with allowing a richer, fuller expression of American identity? Why shouldn’t others who are not culturally dominant have their own source of patriotic devotion?


As Robert P. Jones, head of the Public Religion Research Institute, tells me, the song is “hopeful about an American future, but it does not trade in American myths of white Christian choseness or innocence.” More than a “competing national anthem,” he adds, it is a “more sober, more honest vision of America — a journey toward an unrealized future rather than a defense of an innocent past.”

Certainly, there should be enough time in the hours and hours allotted to the Super Bowl spectacle for such a moving tribute extolling devotion to God and country. As the last lines of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” proclaim, “May we forever stand true to our God, true to our native land.”


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