Friday, February 22, 2013

Black National Anthem

In the midst of all the "celebrating" of Black History Month on GW's campus, I've taken some time to actually listen to attitudes toward the month and learn opinions of what people outside the race understand as being Black.  Needless to say, I was not impressed.  But I was intrigued however, at the extent to which race is avoided and unacknowledged in order to create the illusion of progress.  It is my understanding that students at the university are from all backgrounds and walks of life, and without blaming the individual, I am shocked at the mass of ignorant American students. And by ignorant, I mean unaware individuals who are products of an environment promoting a post-racial society.  I've concluded from class discussions, Black History reaches White Americans mainly because it is sought after, having to either take a African American focused course or research.  I am often hesitant to respond during class discussions because a singular Black voice about Black anything seems to resonate as THE Black answer, and I am no spokeswoman for Black people.  However, I do firmly believe that Black History and American History are indivisible and thus should be equally accessible especially in facilities of primary education.  One of foremost memories I have from being in Elementary school is reciting the Black National Anthem.  I wonder how many non-Black people have heard it? Have recited it? Or are against it entirely?  And so my post is dedicated to just that: opening discussion about the Black National Anthem and Black History Month.    

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 died?
We have come over a way that with tears have 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.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Response by Matthew Gennari:

    Hi Dayna,

    I want to say thank you for posting this and tell you that I appreciate your candor. Although every individual has a different ethnic and racial background, being Black is something that is harder for others to understand because of the abominable acts of America in Black History and the sensitivity surrounding the present day illusion of a post-racial America. When I say acts in history I mean the capturing and enslaving hundreds of years ago, the Jim Crow south that supposedly ended 50 years ago, and the blatant act of racism that took place somewhere in America at some point today. With that being said, I am someone who has friends of many races and nationalities, and many Black friends. Some are more open about their being Black than others and as much as I hate it, but every now and then there is that I'm white and he or she is black moment. I value what you have to say in class as much as anybody else contributing, but you're right that maybe subconsciously I might listen you a bit closer to get your opinion in a Black Freedom Movement class that is predominantly made up of white students.
    As far as I can remember, no school I attended ever recited the Black National Anthem. I have heard it before, although I would not have been able to recite a line other than lift every voice and sing. I also would not be able to recite the star spangled banner entirely. This anthem is certainly more emotional, but more importantly I imagine it resonates with Black people more than the star spangled banner.
    It is certainly not as triumphant, but it reminds us all of the horrors, while providing hope for a better America. At this point I cannot tell you how I feel about the anthem being sung every time the star spangled banner is, but I can tell you that I am open to other arguments, but when I tried to research some opinions online, I ran into much of the ignorance you talk about.
    In regards to your statement that "race is avoided and unacknowledged in order to create the illusion of progress." I think this is true, at different degrees in each stage of life. Like we have said in class, at a young age we are taught about MLK because, we are taught slavery, we are briefly and cautiously taught about slavery and depending on what we are learning in our home environment is schools should be able to promote acceptance and understanding. As children reach middle school they've seen what's on T.V., heard what's in music, and becomes products of the society around them. With Black history modified and screened by schools students have to decide themselves if they want to dig deeper and try to discover truths of the matter. People in this class assumingly have various reasons for registering, but let's hope that one is just to develop a better understanding of Black History.

    I know you mean that Black History is sought after in a different way that German, Chinese or Spanish History would be sought after because it is not as accessible, and especially the fact that at most schools Black History is neglected in early grade history classes because it makes the United States look bad. Children in American learn every year about the Holocaust, which was also a loathsome tragedy, but also historically makes the United States land promotes the notion of American Exceptionalism. This is obviously problematic.

  3. Dear Dayna,

    Your post rings truth here at GW. I actually heard a student argue that there shouldn't be one designated month for Black History because it should be all year round. While her answer made sense to me, I found it to be somewhat stubborn. Because most of us do not address black history and Identity in our every day lives, it is necessary, in my opinion, to set a time date to really focus on the theme of black history and identity.
    You write that "Black History reaches White Americans mainly because it is sought after". I honestly don't entirely know what you mean by this statement. I chose to take a class on African-American literature/history because I felt very ignorant on the issue. There were spaces in my mental history of American history, where the black voice should have been heard, but wasn't because my teachers and community chose to ignore it. They were scared of inciting debate, confusion, and guilt, which I think are the three main factors as to why most white Americans don't like to talk about black history.
    On another note, I have heard of the Black National Anthem but only for the first time in college. While hearing a GW sponsored event about Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and Obama, the speaker asked all of us to stand up and sing this song together. We were given the lyrics to the song and the GW Voice Gospel Choir led us. Within the song, there is an overall image and metaphor of a ground path, and I find this image beautiful but complex.

    1. You've understood very clearly what I stated and have proven it to be true. You stated that you felt ignorant because of a lack thereof, and therefore you SOUGHT to learn. But to further my point, White people aren't force fed Black history in the way that Black people are force fed American history. And according to students who have completed high school and have never heard of the Black National Anthem, those histories are not the same. But I beg to differ; the physical labor endured to build an economy for an entire country suggests otherwise. Just as you "chose" to remove yourself from ignorance, there are those who chose not to and lived unbothered in ignorance, and I guess it's not their fault because of the school systems, right? That's a problem.

  4. Dayna,

    Thanks for your post. The first time I heard the Black National Anthem was at a rally put together by the BSU last year to call for justice after the murder of Trayvon Martin. I find the anthem very moving and exceptionally pertinent at all times, but especially during Black History Month when the more uncomfortable discourses about race in the United States are avoided in favor of progress narratives. You're quite right to call our attention to the ways in which people of color are positioned as speaking for a wider community beyond themselves, something a white person will never have to do in the same way. It is a form of academic violence to subsume your thoughts under a wider framework of "the" Black experience. I'm happy that you've chosen to share your thoughts with us and appreciate your input always.

    If there's one theme I would stress for those people who fail to grasp the significance of Black History month (mostly white folks) and the pressing issues of white supremacy in the U.S. it is this: checking one's privilege. I was taught this in a feminist theory course, and take this to mean that I must be cognizant of my racial, class, cisgender, able-bodied privilege before speaking to issues of injustice. I must realized that I approach the world with a privileged epistemology and that my experiences impair my ability to assess the power structures that have benefited me personally. This is why I love reading Malcolm X. He poignantly addresses the issue of well-meaning complicity in oppressive structures, something I do my best to do everyday. In order to have a safe space to talk about racial injustice, privileged people must check their privilege.


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