Lift Every Voice

Pulling on the introduction and selection from When Bullets Begin to Flower and some topics that we discussed in class, I wanted to discuss the relationship that exist between symbols as re-presentations of history and who exactly is granted access to those symbols and histories. As an extension of the question “who get to share what meaning?”, I’ve been thinking about the process in which history is written (and immortalized through symbols), and subsequently who get to access them.

To frame my thoughts, I considered a ritual in my life that connects me back to a shared history. As a member of the Black Student Movement, every Wednesday, I sing the Negro National Anthem Lift Every Voice.  It is a ritual within the organization to begin each meeting with this song. This works to connect members through a shared history and link them to the foundations of the organization.  Using a symbol (the song) to accomplish an acknowledgement of purpose, the action brings people together. However, moving beyond this, I considered the fact that the Negro National Anthem is probably only sung during BSM meetings and generally not along side the US National Anthem. The history that the Lift Every Voice symbolizes is, however, apart of American history, but it is not represented as such. From its practice and exposure, it seems that African Americans are granted or tasked with the responsibility of taking up this history alone.

With this, it is an example of how symbols can be used to fight against oppression and empower the oppressed. However, if they are not incorporated and taking up by the dominant, which usually is also the oppressors history, then the history they represent can be easily overlooked—still working to reinforce systems of power and oppression.


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