Alexander Bland is a board member of the Cape May County NAACP.
In the wake of the Kate Smith controversy, due to racist songs she recorded in the 1930’s, the New York Yankees stopped playing Ms. Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” and the Philadelphia Flyers’ decided to not only stop playing the song and but also to remove her statue from the stadium grounds.
I cringed just by the title of the songs but the cringe became unbearable when I heard the lyrics:
Someone had to pick the cotton
Someone had to plant the corn
Someone had to slave and be able to sing
That's why darkies were born.
I hope you can understand why people would be offended. Although these songs were recorded in the 30’s I find that irrelevant due to the nature of where we are today. In a world so diverse we must strive to progress and turn away from what were once considered norms. We must recognize the evil of a time when every man, woman or child, wasn’t considered equal, let alone given a fair shake.
That’s why I was surprised by Wildwood Mayor, Ernie Troiano, Jr. who took a strong stance on the matter in his decision to continue playing the song on the boardwalk.
“I’m a small town mayor, and I look at what’s happening to the world and it’s amazing how everyone wants to rewrite history,” Troiano Jr. said. “Nobody wants to allow history to be an educator or a teacher to help us improve in the future.”
History can be an educator without being offensive. It is impossible to “erase history” and its even harder to correct history, but we can progress by making all people feel love and to feel wanted. By doing that, we preserve America’s core values. By ignoring it, we exacerbate the divide.
This is not an assault on Kate Smith. In fact I feel sorry for her memory because she is now being used as a tool for people to use against healing our culture. She sung a great version of God Bless America but there a lot of other renditions of the song that can be played and it wouldn’t hurt anybody.
We will never know what we can become if we stay stuck in a period a time when it was permissible to condescend to a part of the community that was seen as less than. That is not genuine to today’s value of rising tides lifting all boats, and making sure everyone is thought of equally.
We have come a long way from the 1930s but that doesn’t mean racism doesn’t still exist. The racism of 2019 is much more than just the actions of the Klan and White Supremacists. It exists in subtle undertones of the words and actions of our establishments when they cling to a past that was inherently evil to a portion of its citizens. It sends a message that hate speech is okay, as long as you understand its context, but denies the truth of the history of a whole race of Americans.
The last thing I want to do with this piece is make accusations to anyone’s sincere intent. But what I would like to do is is open your mind as well as your heart to the possibility of understanding. Even if no minds are changed, you can at least have an understanding outside of yourself.
The great Maya Angelou said, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”
If we can get come together and agree on that, then it will be undeniable that God has blessed America.