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Rev. Joseph E. Lowery Benediction Angers Some

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!


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.”


  1. this is crazy people , … some of the remarks here are a little suspect (smile) like saying ” I’m not a racist, my best friend is Black” …come on nothing has changed yet, its going to take time , but we have taken a giant step

    just my opinion
    60 year old Male

  2. Half-breed "White" Hillbillly Boy Half-breed "White" Hillbillly Boy

    Statements that villify ‘whites’ as a class of people do not promote diversity, and are NOT good PR.

    Take out the ‘white=evil’ message created by the implication that ‘whites continue to embrace wrong’ resulting from the phrase “when white will embrace what is right” and you’ve got a totally different rhetoric.

    The fact that it is poetic form, and not simply some off-the-cuff comment tossed in shows that, this speaker gave considerable thought to making this statement and to precisely how it was crafted. In short, the message that ‘white=evil’ is in my view not a coincidental one but a quite intentional one.

    There are definitely racist people in America, and people who, whether they are conscious of it or not, suffer from a variety of biased or prejudicial thinking. I hypothesize that one’s so-called ‘racial identity’ exhibits virtually zero association with their degree of racism or other forms of social-identity bias.

    Indeed, I am afraid to say that, because of the continuation of resentful, and vindictive if not hateful philosophies of racial conflict (e.g., Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan) and the insinuation, if not mainstreamization of ideas from these philosophies into everyday contemporary American culture (particularly African American pop cultures), the degree of association between ‘race’ and ‘racism’ seems to be as likely to be associated with ‘black’ identity as it is with ‘white’ identity.

    A lot of us ‘whites’ already embraced what is ‘right’ in our view, and we are alienated, and indeed disappointed when African American rhetoric falses attributes us with bias, racism or ‘wrong’ simply because we are ‘white’ in their eyes.

    Or perhaps some of these folks think they know our minds, our behavior, and our lifes better than we know our own, simply because they are ‘black’ and they got us ‘whites’ all figured out? Now if that is not a reversal of bias portraying itself as the correction/removal of bias, I don’t know what is.

    I voted for the man, I have high hopes that he will do a lot of good, and I would LIKE to believe in him. But if this is the sort of thing that will be tolerated in Obamaland I cannot say I am impressed whatsoever. I guess I should not be surprised given his 20 years in Wright’s church.

    Implying that all whities are racists is simply not implying something that is likely to be empirically true, much less socially progressive and useful.

    In all honesty, it offends me when someone just calls me WHITE, much less that they infer that I am a racist based on their perception of my belonging in some particular social category that they erroneously and ignorantly think is validly labeled ‘race.’

    I am of mixed ancestry, and I am from a disadvantaged background; I would say at least as disadvantaged as our ‘black’ President. But by virtue of labeling me white and him black, I am automatically placed stereotypically into a historically dominant, more powerful, oppressive social group, which I would tell is simply not the case.

    I look down at my arm . . . I see no white here! Beige, tan, pink, even some greenish in the veins . . . “WHITE” is simply a useless term, just as is “BLACK” “YELLOW” “RED,” and all the other nonsensical terms to divide humanity into racial clumps.

    We should be working to ELIMINATE these concepts from our minds, and from life on Earth. We are all HUMANS, PEOPLE, PERSONS, FRIENDS, COLLEAGUES, NEIGHBORS, etc. When we automatically think of one another, talk to one another, and refer to one another with these non-segmentary conceptions of joint membership instead of those tired and frankly evil racial typologies, THEN we will be making real progress toward the world that Dr. King and others dreamed about.

    I have no doubt that Lowery was a hero in his day, and fought the good fight for Civil Rights. But the Civil Rights movement is over, we are in a new phase of the evolution of true liberty and equality in our society, and to burden ourselves with unnecessary references, and false attributions to past divisions among us is simply not helpful.

    Very bad idea to have Lowery give your benediction Bama, or at least very bad idea not to have a look over his speech before you let him say it. But then, you did smile when he said it, so maybe you agree with the idea that you and I really are different because you are ‘black’ and I am ‘white’ and that those labels really do adequately describe our life experiences, our views, and our predispositions.

    Given your membership in Wright’s church for so long, I really do fear that this is what you believe, and I fear for what this means for our nation and the world, not to mention for your safety and well-being.

    Honestly, I think all the hoopla about Obama has made me just a tad bit depressed. No joke; while all you people have been having the time of your life cheering and shouting, and passing through waves of ideo-politic-ecstascy, I have been progressively cringing more tightly and worriedly with each CNN video and each blogosphere scan I endure.

    It is so discouraging to be so poignantly reminded of how simple, emotive, and pliable people are. I’m not saying he is ‘the Anti-Christ,’ but I would like to point out that: the cult of personality which has steadily grown, and most recently erupted into Krakatoa proportions is disturbingly similar in some basic social psychological dimensions to those which surrounded some very sketchy past leaders. For example, Hitler and Mussolini . . . yes, yes I know, ‘good guys’ have also had massive cult followings too (JFK comes to mind, but beyond that . . . hmmmm, can’t actually think of any others) . . . but there is just something that is honestly [to me] rather creepy about how people feel about Obama.

    He strikes me as a very smart, very capable, respectful and thoughtful man who will surround himself with people who are highly knowledgeable in their chosen disciplines. I also do not doubt that he really is a visionary with an inspired mission to ‘make the world better,’ who has an incredible charismatic ability to inspire people that whatever the specifics of that ‘mission,’ they believe in it, and are devoted to it.

    With the exception of every single one of those descriptors except respectful and to a certain degree thoughtful, you could use the paragraph above to describe Adolf Hilter. He was very smart, very capable, ‘thoughtful’ depending on exactly how you want to deploy that word. He surrounded himself with people who are highly knowledgeable, and he clearly was a real visionary with an inspired mission to ‘make the world better,’ and who had an incredible charismatic ability to inspire people that whatever the specifics of that mission, they believed in it, and were devoted to it.

    I am NOT saying that Barack Obama is the latest incarnation of a genocidal maniac despot who is going to usher in a period of massive bloodshed, suffering and catastrophe. I am simply pointing out that, many of the dynamics of a Great Leader with the capacity to inspire people are not mutually exclusive with megalomania, prejudice, vindictiveness, even callous inhumanity and hatred.

    I guess if he had been in the Senate for 20 years, and we had more of a history of how he actually thinks and feels, how he tends to vote, and what he really believes in, I might feel differently.

    But we don’t have that. What we have is a past that is hard to pin down with any particular term except ‘ambitious, tending to be liberal, populist, litigiously-competent and eloquent.’

    How many times is it that he voted ‘Present’ during his legislative days?

    Add to this the whole Rev Wright connection, some comments he has made during his campaign, his response to the Lowery benediction . . .

    ‘Uneasiness’ sincerely describes how I feel about this man at this point, and I am DEFINITELY not a ‘conservative.’ I am pro-Gay Marriage, I voted for Clinton, Gore, and Obama, and I tend to think that socialized medicine is a good thing.

    Understand, I am not saying that I am dead-set against Obama; I am not firmly convinced that he is malignant force, and I am not [yet] opposed to him . . . but just uneasy, a bit wary, and very much skeptical.

    This latest incident with Lowery’s Benediction is IMO, just the latest “blip” in a series of blips that indicate a kind of megalomaniacal elitism and vindictiveness as a person of color. Perhaps we are on blip #11 or 12, but we are not yet on blip #20.

    Barack Obama still “IS MY PRESIDENT.” I voted for him. I hope for the best for him, and for us; and I very, VERY much _WANT_ to believe in him, and place my trust in him that he will always do what is right for the greater good of America and the world. After 8 years of Bushes general incomptence, bullheaded stubbornness and arrogance someone who really had the characteristics of diplomacy and skill which Obama seems to have would be a refreshing change.

    But when I see repeated instances of his complicity if not agreement with what I consider to be racist views of Black-White relations in the U.S., I get very uneasy . . . VERY uneasy, and I am reminded of just how inspiring Adolf Hitler was to the German people.

    In the present PC climate, in which reversal of bias is all too often portrayed as ‘leveling’ or ‘righting wrongs’ or as reforming bias, I am planning to keep my head down . . .

    Stop and consider this: If McCain had won, and they got some aging born-again preacher from a holdout racially segregated white privilege district of the South. Say for example, a Jerry Falwell type of caricature.

    What if, during his benediction, this joker gave some poetry something about like this . . .

    Would you think that that was equally as ‘trivial?’

    Or how about this, leave everything the same as in Lowery’s original transcript

    Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in 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. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.[quote]

    But just change “when white will embrace what is right” to “when non-whites will embrace what is right.”

    Would THAT be trivial?

    No it would NOT be trivial, and neither is implying that “whites embrace what is wrong!!”

  3. Half-breed "White" Hillbillly Boy Half-breed "White" Hillbillly Boy

    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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