"When white will embrace what is right"

Inauguration day 2009 - A long awaited and blessed day for many. As an person who is reluctant about Obama, I still enjoyed the history-making significant inauguration day. I keep high hopes for a bright future.
Watching the inauguration did not leave me feeling bitter or upset, but on the contrary, I tried to have hope....up until the final 18 words of the closing prayer (Benediction) of the ceremony.
-The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery
"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. " -The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery
Those words seemed to leap out as a dagger right into the backs of those (like myself) who had turned our heads to the hope of a bright future. While my face was looking for the light, my back was jabbed in the darkness of the past. As of to suggest that we are still living in the 60's, as if to suggest that we have not progressed, as if to suggest the white race is wrong or somehow keeping the black, brown, yellow and red man behind them. Have we not changed America, so much that we are now LED by a black man?
Perhaps its because I was born in the 70's and missed much of racist America, but I believe we have put those racist days behind us, and already are moving forward. I many ways, our society is a reverse racism, where Affirmative action, and diversity rule over reality and logic. I have sat through so many college classes where the discussions were lost to the topic of "Diversity" instead of the class topic. Can we let divisions go? Must we constantly reiterate the line that divides us?
Personally, I have so many friends who are not white, and many people know that I have expressed that if I were born again, I would love to be born black. There is so much to love about black (Afro-american) culture. Yet when I heard Rev. Lowery un-bury the hatchet as it were, I wondered if we will ever progress out of the past. Where would be be today if Britain was still complaining about US breaking away? They got over the past, and we now work well together in a bright future.
If we never let past go and "embrace" the new future , there will never be progress.
Anyhow, my point is just to say plainly that when a speech like that occurs, it basically tells me that come black Americans will never let racism go, iroinically, despite their call for its abolishment.
As someone who regularly chats with my black friend in southern US, and share laughs about our respective race's silliness, I believe it is time to embrace the fact that racism is not the norm any more. Yes, there are and always will be riff raff who hold on to racist beliefs. But that is not me. And I believe it is not you either. Lets focus on the progress.
Let us move forward.


Derreck said...

Dude, grow up.

Stephanie said...

I am offended by that prayer, too, and I agree with coy. It is not a step toward the future, but then again, isn't this how some of these preachers make their money? By keeping racism alive so they can rail against it? Seems like that (preaching for money) was called priestcraft in the BofM . . .

Besides, what is "when yellow will be mellow" supposed to mean? Give me a break.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, what does that mean?

Stephanie said...

It's actually a rather hypocritical statement after this part of the prayer: And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance. But, is that a surprise? Not really.

Anonymous said...

Cheese? In a can? To go with that boxed whine from World Net Daily?

Um.. 40 years. Do you realize that it has only been 40 years that African Americans have actually had 'equal' treatment from the US Government? So take a step back and think about how much of a logical leap you just took from one line of doggeral verse.

Racism is not dead, it's just not acceptable in polite conversation anymore.

Stephanie said...

Only 40 years and yet an African American is the President. Kind of seems like we are past the days of "black being asked to sit iin the back" . . . So, go ahead, embrace reverse racism for now. Maybe in another 40 years, we'll actually reach the point of "inclusion" and "tolerance".

Stephanie said...

To those of you (Derreck, bloggernacleburner, etc.) who think that coy is overreacting, please explain exactly what you think "when white will embrace what is right" means and why it is so non-offensive.

Coy said...

I think yellow must be referring to those with Liver Disease, who are jaundiced.
Now my man Derreck, don't get me wrong. I am not in tears over this, I just see it for what it is, a setback to race relations, and a disregard to progress.
It's simply sad and unfortunate.
Thanks for your comment nonetheless.
Bloggernacle... You are right. It's been 40 years.... 40 years of PROGRESS!

Anonymous said...

I'm going to side with Coy and Stephanie on this one (hi, everyone.) - That is irritating - and contradictory, and a few more things. I'm sick of skin tone being a reference point at all. The Rhyme Masta Reverend Lowrey should grow up, really. Oh well, not the worst thing that could happen, but still irritating.

Stephanie said...

Welcome back, Rick!

Frank Staheli said...

With all the water that I let run off my back, the dagger could not pierce it. Do whites always embrace what's right? No. But do blacks and reds and browns and yellows? No as well. So we all got some improvin' to do.

Do some whites embrace what's right? Absolutely. Coy, I'd assume from your post that you're one of them. So there's nothing for you to worry about.

The Faithful Dissident said...

For the most part, I agree with Coy. I just want to give another perspective on this, however.

It's interesting to read all the different reactions and interpretations to the prayer on the internet. As just one example, I found this commentary and the comments afterward to give a broader perspective as to why I doubt that it was intended to come across as offensive to some as it did.

I have to wonder, though, whether the benediction had to be approved in advance. If it did, it's a bit surprising that it "got through," being filled with such generalizations. It sort of reminds me of when somebody at church makes a bad joke from the pulpit and you're not sure whether you should laugh a little to be polite or just look at the floor. No harm is usually intended, but it shows poor judgment nonetheless.

So, while my one half can't "stick around" and the other hasn't "embrace(d) what is right," I can't really say that I'm offended. I'm more surprised that he would make such a joke a) in a prayer and b) at the presidential inauguration!

Stephanie said...

I think the most useful comment in that link FD refers to is the one indicating that Lowery was paroding Big Bill Broonzy's "Black, Brown and White", which says:

Now, if you is white, you's alright, if you's brown, stick around,
but if you's black, hmm, hmm, brother, get back, get back, get back.

It was recorded in 1951 - 57 years ago - when racism was a completely different picture in America.

I can understand an explanation that says the real message he was trying to get across was that white people can help end racism. That is not so offensive, but, IMO, it was still in bad taste. (And, besides, what is with the "yellow will be mellow" that he added? Perhaps he was trying to be more inclusive. Bad joke gone worse, IMO).

The whole thing reminds me of Alma 38:13

Do not pray as the Zoramites do, for ye have seen that they pray to be heard of men, and to be praised for their wisdom.

RAP08 said...

I was thinking about this yesterday after hearing about it on a news break on the radio. I wasn't offended but that may be because I didn't take it personally. As you can see I am as white can be, I just figured it was something from back in the day and this 70+ year old civil rights activist/reverend was used to saying things like that. I did not read too much into it, though I am sure that the local conservative talk radio show guy either beat it to death last night or will do so tonight. I agree it was strange for a prayer, but then I found the white pastors prayer strange also, just not the type of prayer I am used to hearing. I assume both were written in advance and that the audience for both was in front of the stand and not above it.

It seems to me that those who spend all their time worrying about race are the ones most sensitive to comments along these lines. I don't doubt that there is racism is the US and I don't expect it to go away anytime soon. I think the only way for it to really go away is for greater exposure to diversity. I think when people get to know each other they realize they are not so different.

I think that racial discrimination and slavery should and for the most part are recognized as bad things. We should learn from the past and work together to make the future better. I am bothered by those who think they should be "compensated" for the past, or that blame the past for their current situation in life. I think there have been enough success stories to show that even with the odds stacked against them making great achievements is still possible. I also agree that there are those who profit personally by associated themselves with “the struggle”, and so have a vested interest in perpetuating it.

Stephanie said...

Also, the song was recorded in 1951, and in the prayer, Lowery doesn't indicate that anything is different from the song:

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

(except that the song says that "brown" can stick around, and Lowery's new version indicates that brown cannot stick around. So, he's actually implying regression rather than progress. Either that or making a statement about new racism toward Hispanics).

If the prayer was given in 1951 (or the 50s, 60s, 70s), maybe I could see his point of view more. In 2009, at the Inauguration of a black President, not so much.

But, I don't think it is really about racism at all as much as it is about him making money. This is what he gets paid to preach.

Don said...

I thought this was a joke until I read the comments. You people cannot possibly be serious. I am no Obama supporter (voted Barr!) but seriously, you sound like a bunch of school girls going through puberty.

You do realize it was a poem, and he was reaching for words that rhymed. Someone this missed you it seems.

Get off your high horses and pull your pants up. We're grown ups, not grade school victims.

The Faithful Dissident said...

"And, besides, what is with the "yellow will be mellow" that he added?"

Well, what else rhymes with yellow?

It's a joke. Yes, a bad one, but a joke.

Stephanie said...

The thing that bugs me the most here is the sheer hypocrisy. Okay, so Lowery makes a joke in the Benediction of the Inauguration. He's a preacher offering a sincere (assumingly pre-approved) prayer in front of the entire nation, and he makes a racist joke against a couple of races. Of course, it's only a joke. Get off your high horse and pull your pants up. I have not seen a single story in the mass media over the issue.

How many white guys have been fired or publicly skewered over racist jokes? I am thinking of Don Imus, in particular. As a comedian, in his line of work, he made a racist comment (yes, it was racist and offensive - I am not defending him). All of the sudden, it is all over every news media. And you have good ol' Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson (always at the forefront of making racist issues bigger - it is their occupation, after all) calling for his demise. From wikipedia:

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton's role in the controversy has drawn complaints. Conservative African American columnist Armstrong Williams criticized Jackson (who in 1984 referred to Jews as "Hymies") and Sharpton for "ratcheting up the rhetoric" and holding Imus to a “higher standard” than they would have themselves judged. Columnist Jason Whitlock questioned the motives of Sharpton and Jackson, "who pushed the hardest and shouted the loudest for Imus’s demise," suggesting that their aim was not to help the Rutgers basketball team but to "cause division for profit." However, Williams and Whitlock both called Imus' statement offensive. Sharpton has been criticized for his hypocrisy by not attacking rappers who use similar terms.

Witnessing hypocrisy kills me.

Stephanie said...

I mean, here's the gist of the situation: a black man made a derogatory comment about the white race in the most public forum possible. The general consensus I gather from people defending his statement is this: it was a joke, it is a statement about how whites have treated blacks, as a white person, you can never understand, etc. etc.

What if it were reversed? What if a white man had said a derogatory comment about the black race in a prayer at the inauguration? Even if it was a joke, or a play on words? He would be crucified. The same standard does not apply. Some people seem to think that the same standard doesn't need to apply because whites still need to "make up" for all the wrong done to blacks.

I don't think that we will ever reach the point of "love, not hate; inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance" that Lowery prays for until we apply the same standard and respect to everyone.

I don't think that this prayer was a step towards that, and I am disappointed that so many don't see the hypocrisy both in the prayer and in the response to it.

Stephanie said...

Another point of irony/hypocrisy is this:

Rainbow/PUSH founder The Rev. Jesse Jackson said it was not so much what radio/TV jock Don Imus said about the Rutgers University women’s basketball players, although it was very offensive, but rather the size of the media megaphone he had to say it.

I can't really think of a bigger megaphone than the inauguration of the first African American President in American history.

Anonymous said...

I am an obama supporter (voted obama) and I am more than excited to have him in office - and that in no way has anything to do with my feelings that Lowrey's humor was ill concieved and ill timed. The demographic that I really feel bad for is the ones that he so blatantly left out...So I've decided to finish his little ditty for him...

When Green will not be mean.
When Orange will won't be so strange
When Purple will start to be supple (that one was a stretch)
When Blue will be cool too
And when Teal can get a meal.....

I'm not offended and my feelings aren't hurt - I just think its about time that skin tone and color demigraphics be done away with - and I find it ironic that those who supposedly are the ones that are the most against racism (like the good Reverend) are the ones who perpetuate it more than any others.

big.bald.dave said...

I had a raised-eyebrow moment when I saw the prayer live, and it appeared that Obama did as well - he flashed an embarrassed smile during the black/brown/yella/white bit. In my opinion, it was a dumb joke that feel very flat, but nothing more. And certainly nothing to get worked up about.

Matt said...

I'll assume that Derreck is speaking about Lowrey's comments.

I think some of you have a great point...why should we get out panties in a bunch over this? C'mon, we ought to know by now that anything from the Obama camp is goes without question.

I agree with FD in that, "I'm surprised he would make such a joke a) in a prayer and b) at the presidential inauguration!"

I think this Rev. is a lot like Jesse Jasckon and Sharpton in that they don't really know what to do know that we have a "black man" as president.

Bloggernacle is right on. Racism isn't dead. It's alive and well especially with the blacks that love blamin' everything on the white man.

When was the last time a Jew said "Shucks, I sure with them Germans would quit holding us down"!?

p.s. did any of you see the Jon Stewart bit about Bush and Obama?
Pretty funny. It's the "hope and change" you were all looking for.
sorry, i'm not link savvy.

matt said...

Sorry, It's been a while.
Know- now
with- wish

Coy said...

Another interesting Racist issue...


Why do we need to keep jobs AWAY from any race?

Stephanie said...

I wonder how long it will take to get to the point where we go to the government to find out what kind of job we are assigned to do.

Jesse said...

There is nothing more disgusting than looking into the eyes of the biggest hypocrite of the day on the mirror every morning.
Whether this makes any sense to any of you. Only people that had been subjected to discrimination in any form can tell how meaningful the prayer was to all of US. WE THE PEOPLE. It does not take Genius or a Nobel Prize Winner to see or understand what Thomas Jefferson meant when he pointed out that "of all tyranny, judicial tyranny is the most fearful".

First,love yourself so you can start loving others... Peace and Love to all.

Stephanie said...

Hmm. I've been subjected to sexist discrimination on the job. I fought it - he was fired. And I still did not find the prayer "meaningful" at all. I found it discriminatory. Discrimination is discrimination. Racism is racism, whether you "agree" with what is being said or not. I think it is hard to establish ourselves as "we the people" when you support making derogatory comments about half the "we". That doesn't inspire unity.

Stephanie said...

Here's more info on the origin of the poem Reverend Lowery used:

It was an old rhyme in black oral culture before "Big Bill" Broonzy and others changed the subject from intraracial to interracial color caste, by editing it. To quote from a review of mine in "Blues & Rhythm":
Big Bill abridges an old rhyme, which he may have got from Zora Neale Hurston via Alan Lomax. In Hurston's "Story in Harlem Slang" (American Mercury, July 1942), one pimp says to another: "Man, I don't deal in no coal. Know what I tell 'em? If they's white, they's right! If they's yellow, they's mellow! If they's brown, they can stick around. But if they come black, they better git way back!"
Personally, I suspect that the first line originally started "If they's bright . . .," (light-skinned black) rather than "white." In other words, it originally expressed internalized racism, as Brenda Dixon Gottschild notes in "Dancing in the Dark: African American Vaudeville and Race Politics in the Swing Era" (New York, Palgrave, 2000; p. 135):
"Internalized racism ensures that the values encapsulated in this vernacular rhyme serve as an insidious, self-fulfilling prophecy:
"If you're white, you're right.
"If you're yellow, you're mellow.
"If you're brown, stay down [sometimes changed to 'stick around'] But if you're black, stay back."
Her endnote is interesting:
"According to folklorist Roger Abrahams, the words to this refrain, as sung by the Almanac Singers in the 1940s, did not include the second line, "If you're yellow, you're mellow," but the group was responsible for spreading the 3-line version of the rhyme in a song frequently performed in northern, leftist labor movement concerts. . . . The origin of the saying is unclear, but it seems probable that it is African American. [She goes on to describe the membership of the Almanac Singers.]"
Hard to say if the pastor had Bill in mind; maybe, but he riffs on the "if you're yellow" line that Bill left out. He also doubtless intended his listeners to understand something different by "yellow" and "brown" to what Bill would have understood.

Well, now I know where the whole yellow/mellow bit came from! It's an interesting study in the evolution of a rhyme.

az grad said...

This reminds of when I was in High school. There was an Asian club, an Ebony club, and a Hispanic club. We tried to start an Ivory club and got shot down. I admit it was a joke. But when just as many Hispanic students attended the school as white, making it nearly a minority... Now about five year later, I saw some statitics that there are definitely more Hispanic students then white but the Hispanic club hasn't been sent to the chopping block...

The Faithful Dissident said...

Az grad, that's something that I've also thought about. Even though we never had any groups or clubs at any of my schools that were defined by ethnicity, I know that they exist and it is, in a way, a double standard. Look at the black Essence awards, or the Latino music awards. Can you imagine if there had been an "Ivory" or "white" awards? Of course it would have been shot down. It's hard to not see a huge double standard there, but it doesn't offend me. I see the double standard in the prayer, but once again, it didn't really offend me.

I think that Stephanie and the others have raised some very good points. I agree on a lot of them. I definitely think that the inauguration would have been better without Lowery's little rhyme. But maybe it's not as easy for Lowery and other minorities to just "forgive and forget, and move on" as we think it should be. Racial hatred left such a gaping wound in the soul of America that I think it will take many, many, many generations before it's truly healed. Obama's election was a huge step, but it's not the end.

I think white America is in much the same position as ethnic Germany. I remember from my time there a certain political party that was causing quite a stir with some of its nationalistic slogans. There was a bumper sticker that said, "Ich bin stolz, Deutscher zu sein!" (I'm proud to be a German!) Even that statement, said aloud or displayed on something like a bumper sticker, could be seen as provocative. People assume that German nationalism = Aryanism or Nazism. Now, it's not really fair, is it? A German who was born decades after WWII is still paying for what his grandparents did. But that's the way it is. The Holocaust was a mammoth sin that I'm not sure that Germans will ever be able to truly put it behind them or really be proud of their country in the same way that many others feel such a deep love for their nation. There are too many who won't allow it and I think that many Germans are afraid to openly love and praise their country, perhaps for the same reason why the white race in America can't really say that they're proud to be white in the same way that Latinos are proud to be Latino or black is proud to be black. They would quickly be labelled as white supremacists.

I can't help but think that white Americans are like Germans. Many want to move on and look forward, but others won't let them forget. Lowery is perhaps one of these people. Is it fair? I honestly don't know. It seems silly to be stuck in the past and to keep harping on the sins of the past. At the same time, though, I think that Lowery is probably afraid that people will forget the past. And that would be a crime.

I think, though, that there are better ways to remember the past than to make statements that could be possibly cause offense, something like "white embracing what's right" being a good example of such.

Jesse said...

I am sorry you've been subjected to "sexist discrimination" and I applaud you for standing up for your self, this is what is expected from people like you. If you keep standing for your self and others like you, your standing up about this issue will make the issue of sexism more "noticeable" in our patriarch society. I want to let you know that I am a proud single parent of a 17 yrs old girl, whom I've bee educating in the reality of sexism in the world. She and I've been reading books written by Ms. Jessie Bernard (if you have a chance take a peek into this writer' work) since she started to show interest in reading by reading about Harry Potter. I've also noticed that at her young age she is very keen in perceiving and discerning between discrimination and sexism. These both are very different however being a female other than white is usually seen as being less than 2/3 of a human been, no matter where you go in the world. I love my daughter,I love my mother and I loved and respect my ex-wife. I thank you for letting US know that yes, discrimination is still brewing in the world. I will keep thinking that the prayer we heard in its totality actually gives a lot to think about and expands the mind to the extent that had inspired a lot of people to do, accomplish, and dream more that that just the minimums. By the way I was browsing through the net and clicked on o link. I could just have pass by with out leaving my comment, But I didn't. Thanks and farewell to all of you and lets keep WE THE PEOPLE together for ever. Peace and Love to all.

Stephanie said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jesse. Please feel free to come again.