Vanessa Williams Sparks Firestorm With ‘The Black National Anthem’

Vanessa Williams is no stranger to racist vitriol. Back in 1983, she became one of the most notable black figures in modern history when she was crowned Miss America —the first African American ever to win the coveted title. Instantly, Williams had her detractors, like the many racists who denounced the win because she was black. And, sadly at the same time, within the African American community itself, she was ridiculed by some who complained she wasn’t black enough.

Through her iconic win and an unexpected scandal that at the time cost her her crown (no need to rehash that here), Vanessa remained a strong, dignified and unbreakable force to behold, even when, as she recounted to Buzzfeed, she took her historic walk in the 1983 Miss America Home Coming Parade,

“There were sharpshooters on the top of [the] roofs of my hometown, just because of the threats that were against me because of who I was. I had death threats.”

Since then, further solidified was Vanessa’s place in history as one of the most celebrated Afro-heritage entertainers with a career spanning Broadway, Movies, and Television, culminating with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

She emerged as one of her generation’s leading black role models, never shying away from conversations about race and the past racism she’s endured in this country over the years. And she was not about to start shying away from it now. 

And with that, Williams is facing some good ol’ American racism once again; this time for a PBS performance over the past weekend. It seems quite a few people lost their sh*t after learning she was to perform a specific song on the July 4th celebration. All was fine until news outlet The Hill covered the story and referred to that song — “Lift Every Voice And Sing” as the Black National Anthem. Well, that’s what it is.

Williams had pre-recorded her performances of “Lift Every Voice And Sing” and the “Star-Spangled Banner” that aired in PBS’s 41st annual “A Capitol Fourth” event.

According to YahooNews 

As the first Black woman to be crowned Miss America back in 1983, Williams shared that with President Joe Biden officializing Juneteenth as a national holiday last month, she felt performing the song was a great way to honor America’s newest holiday — a day which celebrates the freedom of Black slaves in this country — while also celebrating what the outlet referred to as “the nation’s traditional independence day.”

In addressing her decision to include “Lift Every Voice,” Williams told the Associated Press, “It’s in celebration of the wonderful opportunity that we now have to celebrate Juneteenth. So we are reflective of the times.” Of course, almost immediately, the ignorant jackassery on Twitter was in full effect, with many expressing their dismay with the utmost caucasity. And it appears that some of them thought “Lift Every Voice” was just written recently as part of America’s current reckoning of its past. No, it is not new.

Check out some of those responses highlighted by Yahoo:

“What? I thought we were ALL Americans?! Now divided by color? What happened to one nation, under God, indivisible? Talk about dividing us.”

…and another misguided soul:

“Seems kinda like segregation….” 

… then more lunacy:

“Lift Every Voice and Sing, is not any National Anthem. There is only one NATIONAL ANTHEM ‘THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER”  and “What is the Asian National anthem? The Latino national anthem? Just curious.”

Thankfully there were also those out there ready to shut down people’s foolishness with an academic response.

“Dear Racists, ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ was published in 1905, 116 yrs ago. Some of us choose not to sing a National Anthem whose 3rd stanza boasts about killing our ancestors: ‘No refuge could save the hireling and slave From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.”

Okay! Say it again for the people in the back!

“Lift Every Voice and Sing’ has been named the ‘Black National Anthem’ and an anthem of our experiences/culture for 100+ years. It’s been sung for generations as our anthem. These comments attest to the extend of how invisible we are treated in this country. and “Often referred to as ‘The Black National Anthem,’ ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ was a hymn written as a poem by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson in 1900 (a mere 35 years after the end of slavery) His brother, John Rosamond Johnson, composed the music for the lyrics.”

The response above is the most poignant and, as it points out, the irony. “Lift Every Voice” was written to respond to the exclusion of America’s oppressed black citizens in a system of Jim Crow segregation. “Lift every voice and sing” was written as a song Black people could sing with dignity in reflection of their unique existence, from slavery to freedom, in a country to which they belonged – but that country abused them, exploited them, then shunned them. They were since categorized as the “other” Americans who were not equal enough to share lunch counters, water fountains, and classrooms. 

And so…those other Americans got their own anthem in 1905. And maybe if racists weren’t so busy being revisionists, trying to deny the horrors of slavery and blocking African American studies from being taught in schools, they would have already known “Lift Every Voice” existed for the past 116 yrs and was written not out of defiance —but out of necessity when were made to not feel welcomed singing “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Read more at YahooNews


This post is an opinion piece by one Contributing Writer for Instinct Magazine and may not reflect the opinion of the magazine or other Contributing Writers.

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