Posted by: nquest2xl | July 6, 2008

Anthem Inapplicable

The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins;

the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land.

by W. E. B. DuBois from Chapter I of “Souls of Black Folk”

Color me educated. I didn’t know the Star Spangled Banner contained four stanzas. I also don’t know how it represents an anthem applicable to African-Americans any more than The Fourth Of July (n)ever applied. As P6 pinpoints, the African-American freedom celebration comes quite a few years after July 4, 1776 and I’m not talking Juneteenth either, for reasons noted in a previous post, and we are certainly not confusing this freedom concept with independence. But that’s another topic for another day.

What P6 clearly alluded to, with his usual precision, I might add, was, say it with me: THE CIVIL RIGHTS ERA!

That’s recent history folks. That’s when anything approaching an approximate degree of freedom was obtained by “America’s citizens of African descent.” It was, perhaps, the whole question of citizenship, perhaps even a DuBoisian Dilemma — the famed “double consciousness” — that brought about this whole controversy over this awkward U.S. anthem.

I’m assuming you’ve heard about jazz singer Rene Marie creating a firestorm of sorts for her impromptu substitution of the words from the beloved Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing, a “national anthem” applicable to the African-American experience, in place of the Star Spangled Banner she was contracted to sing. From an aesthetic standpoint, IMO, her acappella rendition is only marginally worse than it is it in this otherwise lovely jazz medley, with musical accompaniment, that’s perfectly “patriotic” from a DuBoisian perspective.

\Voice of My Beautiful Country\

As for the question of citizenship or, perhaps, more correctly, a peek into what may have inspired Rene Marie’s unauthorized move to take on-the-spot artistic license, all we have to do is take a look at her website. Referring to the medley included above, Marie explains how “Voice of My Beautiful Country” is her “love song to America.” She goes on to explain her feelings about her country with what may be called the pain and disappointment that’s inherent in the African American “love” experience:

It had its germination over three years ago when, during an interview in Russia, the interviewer referred to me as an American. I started to interrupt her, to tell her she was mistaken. But I caught myself and was extremely surprised and dismayed to discover that I didn’t feel like an American. The rest of the interview I don’t remember because I was too focused on this startling and disturbing discovery.

On the flight from Moscow, I felt anxious to get back home. Yes, ‘home’. And yet, I had nearly corrected the Russian interviewer when she called me American! Why? I didn’t know, but I wanted to find out.

Flying across the Atlantic, I thought about how, from the time I was a very young child, I had always loved singing “America the Beautiful”, “God Bless America” and how my heart always swelled with pride, how I always teared up whenever I heard the beginning strains of the “National Anthem”. I loved these songs, loved singing them. I loved my home – the dirt and the sky and the trees and the grass and bugs of my home. I loved the people in it, the way we walked and talked and interacted. I loved the way things are done here, problematic though they may sometimes be. I tried to imagine living permanently in another country – and couldn’t. I loved this land! So why didn’t I feel like I was an American?

For the next few weeks I puzzled over it, analyzing every little thing I felt. I dug deep. And this is what I came up with:

Beautiful as those songs are, when I learned them as a child, the black community was still living under Jim Crow laws.

She goes on to recount her families personal story; how her father’s sit-in activism cost him his job and blacklisted him into lesser employment and how the daily insults and discrimination created a disconnect for her and made her feel as if “American” didn’t apply to her. Marie concludes noting how her bout with self-discovery lead to her interesting and, yes, American mix of anthems.

“…two warring ideals in one dark body”

Is the way DuBois described what Rene Marie expressed as “the dichotomy and contradictions of being a person of color in America.” Those contradictions persists (see Reparations Exhibits #1, #2 and #3) no matter how individual African-Americans deal with their “two unreconciled strivings.”

And, yes, I’m still applying the Multiple Choice approach to this idea of freedom (and progress) in America which, by itself, explains why the Star Spangled Banner is the “Anthem Inapplicable.” It just doesn’t fit or “best describe” a song that typifies the feelings African-Americans have for the country of their birth nor does it speak to the depth and difference in their experiences to other Americans who immigrated here.



  1. Great Post. Many people I feel are missing the complexity of what actually went on.

    P.S. I haven’t seen you over by JJP in a while. I actually have been on and off going there because I am sick of arguing. They are becoming more and more delusional by the minute! You cannot even slightly disgree with Sneator Obama without being stoned and Rene marie surely got stoned because some of them felt that she was some how looking to sabotage him.

  2. Rhonda, as much as it’s out of my character, I guess I’m like you, sick of arguing the same stuff with the same people. Plus after all the things that have happened, it’s clear where the core JJP’s stand. It’s sad to say but to too many of them Obama can do no wrong.

    I’m like where are your principles?

    I do have to say though that when I do pop in over there, Jack (I believe) always calls it like it is without the blind pro-Obama partisanship and rationalizations.

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