Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rev. Lowery's Benediction was Racist

I posted Rev. Lowery’s benediction the day of Obama’s inauguration. I liked his ending and thought that it followed the style of many of the black preachers I have heard. Plus it added humor to a day of heavy emotions. I am always a fan of laughter.

A anonymous commenter though found it to be extremely racist towards white people. Here is the commenter’s quote:

That benediction was so unbelievably racist towards white people. Rick Warren thanked God that our country has elected an African American to the presidency, while Dr. Lowery separated blacks and whites once again. On the day of the Inauguration of a BLACK president, he prayed that one day blacks will not be asked to step back. And do only whites need to embrace what's right? I'm pretty sure everyone is equal in sin and should embrace what's right. Who's racist now? Can we PLEASE try equality and not self-pity, self-righteousness and reverse discrimination?

My mind went on the defensive because I have heard this argument before, many times from white people who think racism is dead but in reality they are still perpetuating it. As whites we have not done what is right MANY times in history. I came to this conversation thinking that the anonymous person was another white male (or at least that is what popped into my head). Come to find out I was wrong. Leonessa, the commenter’s, is a black woman who is raising a son. She is teaching her son that he is not to see himself as a victim. To quote her:

In all of history, including the white persons history, there has been slavery of one type or another. It is not only black people that have suffered. It isn't only a black persons history that has injustice in is unfortunately a human trait not a white persons trait alone.

This got me thinking. Was my initial reaction because of white male guilt? As a white male in our society (I am the majority, or at least the one represented by power, until now) I feel horrible about the way other white males have treated others in the history of nation, denomination, and really the Western World in general. I agree with Leonessa that all races are guilty of injustices, and all of us fall short of the glory of God.

Looking back at Rev. Lowery’s benediction he ends his prayer by saying,

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 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.

Leonessa is right, as I look at it again, closer. Rev. Lowery’s ending is positive to all the races except for whites. He grants all of them a positive light, a sense of redemption and affirmation, except for whites. I wonder how he could have changed it to not be this way? I wonder if a better ending would have been one where all races were holding hands and see through the eyes of God, as all God’s children. For the picture of the Kingdom of God is one of a rainbow, not one particular color.

Do you agree with Leonessa’s perspective? Apparently she isn't the only one who thought it was racist either, look at taking thoughts captive, and Perpetua of Carthage.


Allan R. Bevere said...


Racist or not, Rev. Lowry's comment at the end reflected the old politics of grievance, which is what President Obama is trying to move beyond.

I personally thought it was an unfortunate ending to what was a great prayer.

DogBlogger said...

Some additional contextual information: Rev. Lowery was making a reference to a blues song by Big Bill Broonzy entitled, "Get Back." Not sure very many people watching knew about this song. I know I didn't.

TN Rambler said...

I find the charges of racism to be much ado about nothing. In contrast, I found glaring racism on the part of some who commented at Perpetua of Carthage.

Unknown said...

Thanks DogBlogger, I did hear the reference to the blues song too. I pointed out to my commentator that it was probably a throw back to an age that Rev. Lowery knew well. Looking at the ending of this prayer more closely it is a sadder ending to an exceptional prayer. Just much a fuss be made...probably not.

What I found interesting is that Leonessa thought it was racist again whites? Was there any white's offended? I wasn't. I also agree with you Allan, Obama is trying to move beyond, which is wonderful to see.

Thanks again for the comments.

Anonymous said...

Yes -- I agree with Allan.
As a white person (EuroAmerican, thank you), it ruffled my feathers a bit. Actually more than a bit.
But, I will be anonymous on this comment as I am in his very conference, yea, I saith unto thee, his very district.

Perpetua said...

Hi Jim,
Very interesting post.

Hi TN Rambler,
Yes, some of the comments did cross over into racism. I discussed my concerns about the comment thread with a few people and decided to let it stand as a little fragment of the historical moment. It had the racism, but also people protesting the racism.

Part of the reason was that by Saturday, there was the very interesting piece by Charles Blow with some statistics about black children's lives that seemed to actually support some of what one of the racist comments was saying. So, I wound up not deleting any comments and posting the Charles Blow piece instead.

That thread was my most challenging time running a blog so far.

gavin richardson said...

i mentioned to a friend of mine who was upset by the comments as they felt they have done much in the way of justice and equality.

not to diminish what they had done, but rev lowery has seen and done much more than i. he has had to love and be peaceable when it was/is much harder than it is for me. his body of work is commendable, and tho this confusion is unfortunate i give him grace and a pass based on his body of work that he was not promoting a racist view.

in the grand scheme of things, this is very micro.. the day, was quite macro, we shouldn't loose sight in that

Theresa Coleman said...

Yes, and sometimes us preacher types loose track of exactly how our words are going to be perceived in the heat of the moment -- and lost in what we see as the rhythm of the words.

In that way we can use this as a cautionary tale.