How could anything starting off with lyrics from Lift Every Voice and Sing wind up being so disasterous?

I distinctly remember the controversy brewing a few weeks ago when it was announced that Pastor Rick Warren would deliever the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration. But in the end, the controversy actually came from the other guy. For your viewing pleasure, here is Rev. Methuselah Lowery sharing what was supposed to be an enlightening and stirring benediction:

Words cannot begin to express the level of abject capitulation I have with old vanguards of the past like Rev. Lowery. While many black folks have openly embraced candid and inept ministrations like this as a refreshing divergence from “being polite”, I see it as an unfortunate move overshadowing the significance of the day. As I mentioned in my previous post, we should never lose sight of the fact that – for centuries – folks have used their blood, sweat, and tears as currency, purchasing the future that we enjoy today. I remain committed to that philosophy. But honoring past deeds does not mean that I have to pardon the misdeeds of the present-day.

“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…”

One of the pictures forever etched in my mind will be the dazed look from a white spectator next to me. While thousands of people all around me shared some kind of inside joke, my eyes stayed fixed on this bewildered woman. For the briefest of moments, she turned in my direction; though I’m sure she did not notice me noticing her. I immediately turned away, embarrased to look at her. Perhaps more than anything, I was hurt for her.

During the long ride back to Michigan, several thoughts raced in my head. I thought about the woman next to me and – perhaps – the thousands of  other anonymous white people who took part in this event with the expectation of joining in on the joyous celebration. I thought about the sense of depreciation that must have been theirs as they listened to a prayer wholly bereft of any acknowledgment of their role in the phenomenon we know as Obama. I thought about the white brothers and sisters with whom I had the pleasure of working during the election. The same people who had doors slammed in their faces while preaching the Gospel of Obama. The same people with whom I traveled to neighboring cities and states. The same people whose voices were heard in the voting booths. The same people who shared in the solemn pride of hearing the words “President Barack Obama.” Obama’s win was not merely a victory for people of color. Indeed, it was a victory for us all. But by lumping white people into a group who apparently has an inability to “…embrace what is right…”, Rev. Lowery’s flaggellating words trumped their involvement in history.

I suspect that there were just as many white people who found Lowery’s prayer entertaining as there were white people who saw it as something which outraged their moral sensibilities. Similarly, I am sure that it was not Lowery’s intention to monolithically place all white people in the same group. But this was neither the time nor the place to allow residual indignation from past events to surface. We were celebrating the historic election of a person of color to the highest office in the land; an election which could have never taken place without some of the same people being attacked – directly or indirectly – by this man’s words. As I said on another blog, if after that spectacle, white people decided to pack up, leave the event, and give up on standing alongside black people, they would be justified. They are stuck in a perpetual conundrum best summed up in one phrase:

“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”