Rev. Joseph E. Lowery Benediction Angers Some

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivhWlHjCtOs

I thought my ears played a trick on me when I heard Rev. Lowery open his benediction with words from the Black (Negro) National Anthem, “God of our weary years, God of our silent tears….” Although many that are not Black may not know the words to James Weldon Johnsons’ song, Lift Every Voice and Sing, it seems that some have misunderstood the meaning of the rhyme at the very last part of Reverand Lowery’s benediction: “We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right.” When I was a kid we use to say:

  • If you’re white, you’re right
  • If you’re yellow, you’re mellow
  • If you’re red, your dead
  • If you’re brown, stick around
  • And if you’re black, get back.

What Lowery is talking about is institutional racism and the color preferences that existed in America, especially during his time. He is not talking to or about White people per se. To break this down further:

  • Blacks getting in back refers to having to sit in the back of the bus and not having equal rights in America.
  • Browns sticking around is the solidarity that was forming when Hispanics began to join with Blacks during the “revolution” of Black Power.
  • Reds being dead refers to the slaughter of the Native American and the plight they face in “their” land.
  • Yellow being mellow means that Asians were pacified especially after WWII (internment of Japanese-Americans and other Asians being lumped into the “Jap” category).
  • And finally, white being right refers to the preference and power that whites (as deemed by various Jim Crow laws and US government city, state and certain federal institutions) had/have in America.

Listen to Big Bill Broonzy‘s song “Black, Brown and White” to hear the origin of Rev. Lowery’s poem. So please, before you slam Reverand Lowery try to understand where he and we (Americans) came from, ask somebody, do some research or just shut the hell up before you start bitching online! You’re messing up my groove! By the way, today’s inaugural speech is the first time a president has ever explicitly acknowledged “Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus” but non-believers as well. If that is not a good path to inclusion, I do not know what is! GOD (or whom/whatever you follow) BLESS US ALL!

lowery

Here is an explanation from another poster at USA Today. I will add additional commentary later if necessary:

“Try keeping in mind the message of peace and unity he had the entire prayer, and maybe try to understand that perhaps you’re misunderstanding the last few words of a man of peace.

The REAL racist rhyme was the original that has been used forever and ever.  The rhyme he reworded is old as dirt and very ugly. You have to understand that context to understand where he is coming from. Lowery took the original and reworded it into something far better.

Because the racial group in power – whites (doesn’t mean all of you) embraced what was morally right, Black people could vote without a race war. Because white people embraced the right, Martin Luther King marched side by side with some of you to promote his message. The difference it makes to have white people, as the powerful racial group, take the hard road and say ‘Hey you know what? We AREN’T any more superior to any other racial group.’ – I give alot of respect to every white person who has done this. It is not easy for people in power to let that power go, or even share it.

Lowery is saying that thanks to that, we are where we are today. All races need to work hard and grow together – we all have different challenges. Remember again – who did Black people have to go to in order to have any rights in this country – whether by violent means or by peaceful means – we needed the white people in charge to allow that quite frankly. Fortunately, most of us Black folk chose peace. And white people embraced the right thing and chose peace with us. Lowery is simply saying we all need to keep that up. We got where we are today because of a joint effort, but we have to always be aware of the white people who embraced the right thing. Black people fought for years to show you guys the right thing. And eventually enough white people joined up together to help us make it happen. So we all need to embrace the right thing, but if the people in power don’t do it, then the going is that much tougher. Thanks white people!!

rofl I am sorry you guys didn’t see the inspiration in what Lowery had to say, but then again, I guess most decent white people would not have heard those kind of sayings like other racial groups have had to hear for generations, and therefore you couldn’t quite grasp it the same way.

There are also things about your culture that is misunderstood because people like me have not lived it and have no exposure to it. Trust me, racism is real and it hurts. However, with more communication between us all, I believe we can overcome hurdles like this. If Lowery sat at a card game with you, yall would come to an understanding and not hate each other’s guts at all.  If nothing else, keep in mind all the peaceful, unifying things he said before the rhyme at the end. The rhyme at the end was supposed to help wrap it all together. If that didn’t work for you, fine. Ignore that part and try to understand what he meant later. The man is talking about crushing tanks to make tractors. That’s a man of peace, not a man behind racists words.”

37 Comments

  1. Thanks for your response Zurui. Indeed I am familiar with Malcolm X through reading of his life, not through movies.

    I believe that the very concept of race is the problem, and as you point out, we are still a long way from relinquishing this crutch to understand and relate to one another, in all our individual differences and in all our cultural and linguistic affinities.

    I have read that this litany of red-dead, yellow-mellow, etc., is a take on a traditional African American poem. This does NOT make it acceptable for use in the benediction of the inauguration of the United States of America. I could recount to you many ‘traditional white cracker’ aphorisms to which I was subjected in my hillbilly youth by my paternal kin, which are equally as ‘quaint’ if viewed as harmless from a racist ‘white’ person’s perspective. As I said, we should be striving to eliminate these conceptions of one another from our minds, our lives, and our societies, not reaffirming them by treating them as humorous glimpses into our traditions.

    Something is never okay to say if it is not okay for anyone to say it at any time, that is my view on language which may have a racially or socially divisive nature.

    I have no intent to become a regular here, but I hope my essay will provoke thought and will keep cheking back in for a while to engage in any dialogue. I was simply quite shaken by these events, and even more shaken to read how universally positive many Obama fans are about the Lowery benediction.

    If that constitutes trolling, my apologies, but I appreciate your keeping my essay intact.

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