Cue lots of white people are clutching their pearls in horror and having attacks of the vapours. Just look at some of the comments on the Sun Times' transcript. Try not to read too many its just painful. Even supposedly liberal-minded people who say they voted for Obama are going frothing mad over this:
"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 in 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. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen."
Stereo Zeitgeist was also intrigued by the lines and its a story worth repeating. I could have sworn I'd heard those lines before. Turns out I probably have.They're based on a song by the early 20th Century blues singer Big Bill Broonzy. "Get Back (Black, Brown and White Blues)". A song recorded in 1951 documenting Broonzy and other's experiences of racism, where blacks who could pass for white were very much better at getting and keeping jobs.
"I went to an employment office,
I got a number and I got in line,
They called everybody's number,
but they never did call mine.
They said, "If you was white, you'd be alright,
if you was brown, stick around,
but as you's black, oh, brother, get back, get back, get back."
The website devoted to Big Bill Broonzy notes that in turn these lines are part of black oral culture describing internalised racism.
"Internalized racism ensures that the values encapsulated in this vernacular
rhyme serve as an insidious, self-fulfilling prophecy:
If you're white, you're right.
If you're yellow, you're mellow.
If you're brown, stay down [sometimes changed to 'stick around']
But if you're black, stay back."
Brenda Dixon Gottschild: Dancing in the Dark: African American Vaudeville and Race Politics in the Swing Era (New York, Palgrave, 2000; p. 135)
White people have a history of ignoring what is right. There are individuals who don't, but as a group? Jesus we're awful. Segregation no longer exists, but that didn't end racism did it now? America quite clearly still has problems with issues of race- black people are vastly overrepresented in the prison population for instance, and Native Americans have all kinds of health problems largely related to their social status. The rich white people who run Western countries have grudgingly handed over freedoms and civil rights to minority groups. If it wasn't for people like Lowery, Mandela, and Luther King it would be an awful lot worse. It isn't exactly peachy now is it? Frankly to everyone complaining about Lowery's choice of words. Shush. You're only making yourself look stupid.
( Anyway shall we end on a song? )