Can’t believe I agree with MAGA crackpots — keep the Black national anthem out of sports

OPINION: James Weldon Johnson’s lyrics to "Lift Every Voice and Sing" have no meaning when they’re sung by white people — allies or anti-Black — who can’t relate to the struggle. The song is wasted on folks who refuse to acknowledge that there are two Americas.

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

My daughters will testify that I don’t play regarding “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” aka “The Black national anthem.”

They were young schoolgirls when I began drilling them on the lyrics over and over — ad nauseam by their account — until they could sing the song from memory with nary a flub. Of course, they had to know all three verses. Whenever we’re somewhere where the audience sings the BNA, I’m that person who keeps going a while longer if we stop after the first verse. 

Stony the road we trod! Bitter the chast’ning rod! Felt in the days when hope unborn had died!

I know it’s a bit long. But, dammit, how often do we sing it? We can’t take an extra couple of minutes to get through the entire song a few times every year? Those words should mean that much to us, what with our weary feet now in the place that our ancestors sighed (and died) for. 

We should ALWAYS sing the whole thing and do it without the need for handouts. You know every word of some songs and the BNA should be on that list. 

So, yeah, I’m kinda radical about James Weldon Johnson’s masterful summation of Black people catching hell in America and looking forward to better days. It’s not meant to be performative entertainment; it’s a solemn ode conveying our pain and hope; it’s not to be played with.

Which means it has no business being sung at the Super Bowl, the NBA All-Star Game or any other mass gathering where it doesn’t reflect most attendees’ history. 

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” should be reserved for voices in Black spaces, where the heartfelt message matters.

I never thought I’d agree with MAGA crackpots on anything, but here we are. 

They lost their minds Sunday when Andra Day sang the BNA before Kansas City beat San Francisco, giving the song her own twist (and regretfully stopping after the first verse). The way right-wingers like Megyn Kelly and Matt Gaetz carried on, you might’ve thought Colin Kaepernick pissed on the flag and wiped his ass with the Constitution during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” There was a similar outcry last year, too, when nutjob Lauren Boebert complained that the NFL was “trying to divide us” by playing multiple anthems. “America only has ONE NATIONAL ANTHEM,” she tweeted.

The song is wasted on folks who refuse to acknowledge that, actually, there are two Americas.


Johnson’s lyrics have no meaning when they’re sung by white people — allies or anti-Black — who can’t relate to the struggle.  They haven’t tread their path through the blood of our slaughtered, or come over a way that our tears have watered. It’s like the Lone Ranger saying, “Looks like we’re in trouble, Tonto,” as a bunch of angry Native Americans prepare to swarm. 

“What you mean ‘we,’ pale face?” 

Please don’t suggest that the NFL honors Black folks by having someone sing the BNA at the Super Bowl, while white folks stand around awkwardly, wondering what it all means or tune out like it’s the other anthem. If you really want to honor us, stop discriminating against our candidates for head coach and offensive coordinator positions. Stop shirking responsibility for former players’ broken bodies and damaged brains. Stop putting “End Racism” in the end zone while employees yuk it up over racist jokes in long email chains. 

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While we’re here, let’s talk about “The Star-Spangled Banner.” 

I don’t care if you stand, sit, kneel or spin on your head because this is America.  But as far as playing the song before every single professional game, college game, high school game and youth league game: Oh say can we stop?

Don’t tell me that Francis Scott Key’s most famous work signals love for the country. Few litmus tests reveal less than a person’s posture during the anthem, especially at sporting events. People talk, eat, text, whatever, throughout the song. It isn’t routinely played before other public gatherings and nothing about athletic competition is special enough to warrant an exception.

Expressing one’s love-hate relationship with America by sitting or kneeling during the national anthem is perfectly fine. Better to do that and work tirelessly to improve society, than to stand at attention and do nothing outside the stadium. Even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell agrees.

“It’s one of those things where I think we have to understand that there are people that have different viewpoints,” Goodell said after Kaepernick’s protests. “The national anthem is a special moment to me. It’s a point of pride. But we also have to understand the other side, that people do have rights and we want to respect those.”

The BNA doesn’t stir any conflicting emotions. We don’t wrestle with contradictions like “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” fully understanding KRS-One’s translation, “the land of the thief, home of the slave.”

We don’t need the BNA sung in front of thousands of ambivalent white spectators, with millions more watching at home as if Louis Armstrong were singing “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”

No offense to my Caucasian cousins of every stripe, but “Lift Every Voice and Sing” ain’t about them or for them.

It’s OK to have some things to ourselves, marching on until victory is won.

Singing the BNA in mixed company doesn’t speed up the process.

Deron Snyder, from Brooklyn, is an award-winning columnist who lives near D.C. and pledged Alpha at HU-You Know! He’s reaching high, lying low, moving on, pushing off, keeping up, and throwing down. Got it? Get more at

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