Here’s why Bill Maher got the black national anthem wrong

With predictable bravado, on a recent episode of his eponymous show, Bill Maher doubled down on his frustration with the NFL’s decision to play the black national anthem with the “Star Spangled Banner” ahead of the 2021 Championship games. (apparently as part of its 10- a year, $ 250 million pledge to fight racism and promote racial equality). Maher seems to take offense at the very existence of the black national anthem, insisting that it takes us back in time and that there should only be one national anthem. One can only wonder if Maher also has a problem with the June 10 celebration or with a pride flag. After all, we can’t recognize two different independence days or recognize more than one flag, can we?

Maher’s previous insistence that having a black national anthem is a potentially harmful form of re-segregation sparked outrage from Whoopi Goldberg, so Maher responded to his comments by boldly and arrogantly saying: opinion on the hymn is, that’s all. It’s the right one. We shouldn’t have two. At first glance, this may seem like an admirable position, but the truth is that, like many anti-racist topics, this one is much more nuanced and complex, and again, it is dead wrong.

The black national anthem is not the problem. This is the symptom of the problem. The solution is not to get rid of a hymn. The solution is to create a truly just society devoid of conditions that have made black people in America feel the need to write their own hymn in order to truly feel included.

How we got here

Consider some hard facts. Since black slavery began in this country in 1619, we have experienced 349 years of race-based, legal and government-sanctioned discrimination, followed by just 53 years without. True, this oppression has evolved and changed over time – from movable slavery to lynching / convict hire to Jim Crow – but everything has been codified by law no doubt until at least the Fair Housing Act of 1968. In other words, 53 years represents only 13% of the total time (since 1619), so for blacks and brunettes, life in America without this overt discrimination / subjugation has been a fairly new phenomenon. With this story, it should come as no surprise that there are deep and lasting remnants and impacts of this white supremacist system that have created long-lasting racial divisions, barriers and challenges.

Consider an imperfect analogy. Imagine a couple married for 15 years, but for the first 13 years (87% of marriage) the husband was openly sexist and violent. Then, for the last two years, he decides he wants an equal marriage and tells her he’s offended that she continues to sleep in a separate room. Naturally, before even considering cohabitation, she would expect a significant investment in marriage therapy and active work to recognize and repair past damage. Likewise, many black and brown people continue to navigate a legacy of oppression compounded by continued systemic racism, and doing so authentically means embracing certain spaces and traditions specially designed for us, given a history of oppression. well documented racial hostility.

How it often manifests itself in the workplace

While Maher may have a more visible platform, he is certainly not the only one (of any racial background) to address this ‘having race specific groups / activities / events is a step forward’ mentality. back and actually promotes racism ”. Indeed, many leaders are similarly outraged when a group of employees want to create an employee resource group for Latin, Native, Asian or Black employees. What they fail to realize is that these groups offer tremendous support to historically marginalized racial groups, just as pride parades and women’s conferences often offer targeted support and celebration to these often underprivileged groups. represented.

While for some leaders it can be disconcerting to be approached about creating a new racially targeted affinity group – as they might interpret the request as “unnecessary segregation” – a leader with increased levels of racial literacy and humility would oppose this impulse. and instead consider questions such as “Why do they feel the need to form such a group?” “” How are they not supported? “How could this affinity group become a vehicle to signal our support to all staff and possibly help enrich our community at large?” “

Part of the danger of this color blind “just recognize a hymn” mentality is that it oversimplifies the problem and makes us settle for performative “solutions” that do not address the root causes or satisfy the problem. real need for reparation and reconciliation. . While the post-George Floyd racial calculus has prompted many companies to commit to racial equity like never before, the truth is that many of those commitments have been performing at their best, with organizations taking a few very steps. visible to check the boxes without any sustained and serious issues. action aimed at eradicating racism and creating a culture of equity.

Why celebrating the black national anthem is a step forward, not back

To be clear, Maher did not specifically call for the elimination of the black national anthem; instead, it is casually mentioned, “maybe we should get rid of our national anthem” (while offering no specific criticism of it). That said, to suggest that the country abandon the ‘star-spangled banner’ (apparently replaced by the black national anthem) seems utterly misleading – more likely a politically correct attempt to avoid coming up with the much more obvious (although not) preferred solution. specifically articulated), eliminating the black national anthem.

If there was a black person on the show (there wasn’t), viewers might have benefited from a culturally informed perspective. “Despite Bill Maher’s Dunning-Krugeresque protests, the American national anthem was not written with black Americans in mind,” insists the anti-racist writer and Introverted sisters Podcast co-host Lisa Hurley. “Although the third verse of the American national anthem is seldom sung, most descendants of American slaves are aware of its existence. The lyrics include this triggering and hopelessly truthful verse… ”

No refuge could save the mercenary and the slave

From the terror of theft or the darkness of the grave

Also, suggesting that there is something wrong with singing the lyrics to the Black National Anthem, Lift up every voice and sing, till earth and sky ring, ring with the harmonies of freedom today, as blacks continue to be subjected to monument navigation, the road signs and building names celebrating Confederation seem hypocritical at best. DEI practitioner and activist Shevara Orrin insists that “Maher’s ideas of ‘forced patriotism’, ‘national unity’ and a post-racial America that we have yet to realize are indicative of his limited goal of privilege as a white man in our world. “

While some may argue that the black national anthem is anachronistic since there has been significant racial progress since its writing, the truth is that this anthem sung for over a century has become a beloved and revered part of the culture. African American much like jumping the broom at an African American wedding, and challenging this cultural tradition is unnecessary and offensive. As Maher insists that the black national anthem is somewhat of a step backwards in re-segregation, it is important to recognize that no one is proposing the creation of a black national anthem today. We are just showing respect for the one written in 1900. There is a difference.

Not all “segregation” is the same

Another important point that Maher seems to miss is that not all “segregation” is the same. Segregation because we choose it isn’t the same as segregation because we have to — and let’s never forget we didn’t start the business of segregation. It has been ingrained in our society for centuries and has not simply evaporated with the civil rights movement. This is why many of us still live in mostly separate neighborhoods and send our children to mostly separate schools in 2021. It is also important to remember that where we find racially organizations or entities specific today like historically black colleges and universities, black student unions, or race-specific professional organizations, they are not founded on a basis of racial superiority (in the vein of Jim Crow segregation). “It’s about taking care of yourself and surviving,” says Setche Kwamu-Nana, a San Diego-based diversity, equity and inclusion practitioner. “In a nation full of predominantly white institutions, whites can easily have their safe spaces, but blacks cannot without systemic intentionality.”

To punctuate Maher’s point, he played an excerpt from former President Barack Obama’s famous speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention where he brags: “There is no black America and white America, Latin America and Asian America. There is the United States of America. I can only imagine that virtually everyone agrees with this ideal, but lofty ideals have never been our problem as a society. The challenge has been the implementation and realization of these ideals. I’m sure Thomas Jefferson’s 600+ slaves absolutely believed in the ideal that all men should be created equal, obviously more than he. Interestingly enough, the clip didn’t go on to insist that there should only be one national anthem. That said, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that there are likely blacks and brunettes who might agree with this sentiment, just as there were probably women before 1920 who did not advocate for women’s suffrage. or even blacks during the 18e or 19e centuries that may not have argued for equal rights (for a variety of complex reasons); however, these outliers clearly do not represent the views of the wider community. Needless to say, though, black America really doesn’t need to lecture on the need for greater unity in this country – that’s kind of our mantra for the past few hundred years.

Yes, it is tempting to fall into the myth of the “color blind” or attain the handy fruit of fast paced, racially ambiguous and performative work, but that does not solve the race problem, nor does the decision making. acetaminophen can eliminate the headache of a cancer patient. but will not cure cancer. Maher insists that “symbols of unity matter,” but doesn’t real unity matter more? Instead of eliminating a group’s national anthem to avoid the emergence of a racial division, why not instead recognize the division and focus our energies on repairing it?

Note: The author reached out to Real Time reps with Bill Maher for comment and did not receive a response prior to publication.

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