Armstrong Williams: A time and place for the ‘Black national anthem,’ Lift Every Voice and Sing

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

It is a long-standing tradition to air the national anthem prior to kickoff at football games. Now, the NFL has decided to follow this tradition by playing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is known traditionally to many Black Americans as the Black national anthem. 

The song was originally written as a poem in 1900 by author and civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson. The NAACP coined it “the Negro national anthem” in 1919 because of the poem’s powerful affirmation for Black Americans who suffered a violent and tragic history as they struggled for liberation. The song 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 Christian — it is a well-known hymn. However, the song may understandably be unheard of for many other Americans. However, it is important for all Americans — irrespective of race — to have historical knowledge of the song.

Unfortunately, it is clear once again that the NFL is attempting to placate the woke left and progressive Democrats by adding “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to the beginning of every game after first airing the national anthem. The overwhelming majority of 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 and their media cronies are set on finding ways to further divide Americans along the lines of 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 Johnson over 100 years ago? Absolutely. But that’s what history classes are for. Introducing a second anthem that is specifically for Black Americans only seeks to divide us further because, after all, the national anthem is for all Americans. 

Recently, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized for the treatment of Colin Kaepernick, who famously kneeled during the national anthem when he was on the San Francisco 49ers. Now, as a part of the NFL’s racial justice campaign, they’re trying to make Black Americans feel good by playing an anthem solely directed toward people of color. However, what does that have to do with the issues that impact inner cities? What does that have to do with the increasing levels of violence in Democrat-controlled inner cities that are spreading across America? I think of cities such as Baltimore or Chicago, where homicide rates are rising on a nearly weekly basis. These are the places that truly need attention. Black Americans living in these cities that are overwhelmed by gun violence are too busy constantly worrying about their children being killed by a stray bullet while going to school to watch the NFL game, let alone listen to the Black national anthem. Unsurprisingly, the NFL seems silent on those issues.

Instead, what the NFL has decided to do is not actually help Black Americans. The decision to air “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is nothing more than dressed up symbolism. I can assure you that it won’t change the life of a single Black person living in poverty. This is what I call progressive white wokeness: The belief that symbolic, self-fulfilling gestures will improve the position of Black Americans. But this couldn’t be further from reality. 

If the NFL were truly interested in helping Black Americans, it would invest in things such as after-school programs that offer mentorship and tutoring for students who struggle with math, English and other academic skills. It would invest in financial literacy programs to help young people learn how to properly invest so that they may become successful entrepreneurs. It would mentor young boys to become better men and encourage young women to focus on their academic education.

There are serious things the NFL could do if it wanted to truly make a difference in the lives of struggling Black Americans. Singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” won’t do anything to change the plight of inner-city Black Americans. 

We have to get away from wanting to make woke white people feel good about themselves. Instead, we should focus on and invest in things that will actually make a difference in people’s 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 and better provide for themselves and for their families. Transformations that will improve the opportunities available to their children, so that their dreams can supersede the realities of their parents.

The NFL should be ashamed of itself for thinking so poorly of Black Americans that their idea of recognizing the conditions of those who struggle and 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 will truly lift up Black Americans.

To find out more about Armstrong Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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