An Uproar Over the “Racist” Prayer

A full day has passed since the inauguration of President Obama. I thought it all went pretty well. I have some thoughts about the speech he gave, but this is not the post for that. What I am amazed by is how many people are talking about the prayer given towards the end of the ceremony where the words “where white will embrace what is right” were incorporated into the prayer. It seems many people are angry about this. It seems others are feeling it is dead on accurate. I am not in either of those camps…

So let’s set the stage shall we? The inauguration is just about over. All that remains is a prayer offered by an old black veteran of the civil rights movement and the singing of the National Anthem by the Navy choir. I knid looking old gentleman walks to the podium and delivers the following words:

lowery-inauguration“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.”

Delivering these words is the Reverend Dr. Joseph E. Lowery. I admit that I was chaffed a little by the words. After all we had just sworn in the first black President of the United States, voted to that position by white people. Blacks only make up 13% of the US population, after all, so obviously whites were who put the man in office. Yet he was asking the lord to help us work for the day when white will embrace what is right?

Let me first say that I think that this is why racism still exists in America. Because our black brothers will not allow it to go away. See white people hear a comment like that and we are hurt by it and offended, because most of us don’t care what color your skin is, we judge you by the content of your character. Before you go decrying me as a racist for saying the first two sentences of this paragraph, just know that no one who knows me would say that.  I judge people by actions and character. But when I live my life by the principles of everyone is equal, you can understand (I hope) why I am offended when someone makes a statement that one day whites will do what’s right. 

drlowery-prayingLet us first understand before we get too angry, why this man may have said that statement. Dr. Lowery is an 87 year old man who went through the civil rights movement on the wrong side of the debate (by wrong I mean only that he was the minority fighting for his rights rather than vice-versa). He saw segregation. He lived in fear with no rights. He took a stand for those rights when it was dangerous to do so. 

He led the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Dr. Martin Luther King. At King’s request he lead the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, after the state of Alabama seized his property and home as part of a racially charged libel suit. He has been a civil rights leader for his entire life. And we should remember that when judging him.

So I understand his prayer and why he put the content into it that he did. And I am not offended that he feels the way that he does. He didn’t scream God Damn America, like some men of faith in the past have been recorded doing. I don’t dislike the man, in fact it is safe to say that I greatly admire him. He epitomizes the greatness of America, that while we may not do everything right at first, we learn and correct. And in his lifetime he has watched America go from a place where blacks were segregated and forced to the back of the bus to a place where blacks can be elected by whites to the highest position in the land. 

But I do think that his prayer was out of place. Besides the obvious fact that it directly followed a speech made by a black President, the tone of the day was one of coming together rather than being divided. A great step had been taken, and our new President had just spoken of getting past the dogma of the past. We were entering, in the words of the President, a new post-racial America. One where the color of a person’s skin was no longer a reason for discord or divide. 

And the President did not look shocked or disappointed by the prayer. He simply smiled and clapped. I felt as though this was his first chance to usher in a post-racial America, by quickly speaking out and letting people know that these were not his feelings. And by not doing anything at all, he has by default given credibility to the statement. The most powerful man in the world failed to step forward and make good on not allowing race to be part of the equation. By doing so he told black Americans that racism by whites is still the status quo in America. 

Perhaps the words were not meant to mean the way that they sounded. I would find that difficult to believe knowing that Lowery has been a key leader in the civil rights movement. Perhaps the President didn’t like what he heard but felt a public cutting off at the knees was not appropriate. I wouldn’t disagree with that. I wouldn’t want Dr. Lowery embarassed in any way. Again, I feel as though he earned the right to say those words in his prayer.

But I listened today to people calling in from talk radio over and over, and I heard a lot of them say that white people are still racists in America. I completely disagree. There will always be that 10% who simply cannot change. But I feel the majority of white Americans are not racists. I wish Dr. Lowery had not made those comments because blacks in America became more galvanized in that belief.

Tens of millions of white Americans have gotten past racism. It wasn’t fair to lump us all together and claim we need to someday embrace what is right. The same way it wouldn’t be fair to say that all blacks are thugs and criminals because rappers say so.

So what do all of you think? Did the statement offend you or bother you in any way? Was it out of place? Should the President have said or done anything? I look forward to your thoughts.  


  1. Nice words USW – here is another view of all this – my brother-in-law & sister own a townhome in what used to be public housing in an area outside of Baltimore. I mention it this was because many of the residents are current or former recipients of public aid for the housing they now have in this neighborhood – it so happens as well that many of them are minorities – it is the ultimate melting pot. In this complex all owners have two assigned parking spaces directly in front of their homes. Recently, my brother-in-law and sister returned home from shopping and dinner and found that their parking space was occupied by another vehicle. A next door neighbor was hosting a party at the community recreation center and apparently either didn’t pass along the parking requirements for attendees, or, he did and people didn’t oblige (there was ample parking in neutral slots – I’ve seen the photos). As it were, the party was attended predominantly by African-Americans – or – as I like to say – Americans / people / etc. My brother-in-law parked directly behind the car that was in his space – this is normal protocol – once the occupier needs to leave they could simply knock on the door and the cars swap spaces. This time something different happened – when the owner of the car returned (with 5-6 other revelers) he didn’t knock on my relatives door – he simply started yelling expletives and honking his own. My brother-in-law came outside and attempted to diffuse the odd situation brewing by simply stating – “you were in my space, let me just move my car so you can get out”. The response was something to the effect of “I’m not moving my @&%!* car you &#%!’n white trash. You can move your car. The others in attendance approached my brother-in-law aggressively, threatened to kick ass, pushed him to the ground and stated, and I quote: “our man is in the white house now – now its time you get yours”.

    Short of the easy to state WTF here – I can understand that there may be years of anger and frustration boiled up in some – I am not a fan of retribution, comeuppance, or thinly veiled rhetoric buried in prayer that seeks to remind me, someone born in 1971, that I am somehow responsible for inequities of the past. I don’t think we’re out of the woods for more ‘prayers’ like you shared or more “now its time you get yours”. Soon enough this will die off as the denizens of both sides of the argument pass on before us and newer, hopefully more open minded people prevail. As for Obama – I don’t think a public tongue lashing was merited here. I do think a private consult with Lowery is warranted and a not-so-subtle invective to move ahead and not continually look behind.

  2. blackflag2012 says:

    Why is this an historical election?

    It’s just another well-dressed thief taking over from a previous well-dressed thief.

    Oh, it’s because this one has black skin!

    We are a long way from this dream….

    “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

  3. Ray,

    What a horrible story! Unfortunately the previous generations have infused this generation with some of the same hatred and bigotry on both sides of the coin. I believe all we can do is wait for it to die away, and it will over time.

  4. BF,

    We are a lot closer to that statement than we were when it was initially made. And if you want to be bitter and not recognize that this was a historical moment, you have that right, but don’t demean the moment for those of us who see it differently.

  5. blackflag2012 says:

    Why not?

    You want me to suffer the anointment of person who believes violence solves problems?

  6. You can “suffer the anointment” or not. Your feelings on the matter certainly won’t impact whether it happens or not. But you could zip that hate trap closed for a change and just not comment on subjects that you obviously have nothing pertinent to add to.

  7. blackflag2012 says:


  8. Well, I think right now black people feel pretty powerful because Obama looks like a full blooded black man, but I’m hopeing in time this well wear thin and I’m really hopeing that Pres. Obama will make some reference to the behavior of some blacks. I have to say that I felt while watching the inauguration that it was very much leaning toward the black and us white people just weren’t part of it. I felt it during Obama’s speech and also the ministers. Well, we will just have to wait and see how it goes….could be a very long 4 years. I have a feeling we still have a long way to go as far as our 2 races are concerned.

  9. It is only a “historic moment” to racists. Seriously, unless you think melanin content of the skin is an important issue, why even mention it? Obama is no different than any other president.

  10. blackflag2012 says:

    I asked a question, USWep. You abandoning your post again?

  11. BF,

    You are referring to the “why”? I have been busy the last couple days and haven’t had time to get on much. But I thought the question was rhetorical to be honest. Why what? Why not say anything when you have nothing pertinent to add? Because you have nothing pertinent to add, that’s why. The purpose here is to discuss thoughts and debate ideas, all your comment was was nothing more than a shot at government and didn’t really add anything to the discussion. I provide you ample opportunities to take your shots at government, it just didn’t seem to serve a purpose in this conversation.

  12. Kent said “It is only a “historic moment” to racists. Seriously, unless you think melanin content of the skin is an important issue, why even mention it? Obama is no different than any other president.”

    I disagree Kent. Unfortunately the melanin content of people’s skin has been a dividing point in this country for a long time. A step taken towards not allowing it to be is a good step. It doesn’t make me a racist that I simply see that his skin is different than mine. That is an observation. Judging him based on it would be racist. It doesn’t make someone a racist for realizing that the inauguration of America’s first President with dark skin is a step forward for race NOT being an issue in the future.

  13. I choose to see beyond his skin color, and to my way of thinking, a racist is anyone who makes an issue of race in any way. Only when it becomes totally irrelevant, other than as a description of physical characteristics, will racism end. As long as people celebrate a new president based upon his skin color, racism is being reinforced.

  14. Kent,

    You are certainly entitled to your opinion of what being a racist is. While I admire the thought process, I just respectfully disagree with your definition. I think that a recognition of how Obama’s skin color plays into the picture is nothing more than an observation. Again, I don’t judge anyone on their skin color, but to ignore its impact on any situation would be negligent. It isn’t about my caring whether he is black or white or yellow or whatever. But an honest appraisal of today’s situation would be blind not to take race into account. Whether we like that it is there or not is not important. Just like discussing government means we have to acknowledge that it exists, we have to acknowledge that race is an issue. Does that make sense?

  15. If race is an issue to you, then I suppose it makes sense for you to take it into account. I think you are playing into the hands of racists when you do that, but it is your choice.

  16. It isn’t about whether race is an issue to me. It is about whether it is an issue to a significant portion of the population. I simply want to acknowledge that, right or wrong, people care about it. And if everyone else seems to take it into account, it is negligent to not take it into account when discussing those people and their issues.

  17. blackflag2012 says:

    As long as people make race an issue, it will always remain an issue.

    It cuts both ways.

    One side is using race as an example of the 2nd coming of Christ – he can do no wrong.

    The other side is smarter than that – and knows he cannot do all right. When he doesn’t, it will be because of his race (or if it was woman, because of her sex).

    When you play such games, pro or con – always leads to inflaming the issues.

    But being Jackie Robinson – who refused to play the race game – is the only way to overcome racial attacks.

    But this is politics – I’m sure Obama would have loved to be elected without the race issue – but he used it, because – as a scorpion – that is what they do.

  18. Kentmcmanigal!
    i totally agree with you!!!
    and i’m so thankfull that there is a person like you are still out there! (i hope you are in US!)
    because of person like you this Great Country(USA) still have hope that someday it’ll be the best and #1 country in the world!(we’ll be #1 if we get rid of racism in US cuz this never happened in the history of the world!!)
    (and i was hoping this presidency will light the fire that would burn away the racism in US but…i don’t know… maybe needs more time and patience)

    but racism will never go away until we(all race) change the way we describe a human being!

    i’m talkin in our every day daily lives!
    you see.. i was born out side of US and so when i have a great conversation with a stranger… like on ski slope, bars, on a bus or even at work or just anywhere that normal people would carry on a good fun conversation…. after a few good chats, most will ask me “where are you from?”
    then i just reply with the name of town i live in…
    and 99% of them will ask “no no i meant what nationality are you?”
    as soon as i hear that question i’m so unhappy!!!
    cuz i’m thinkin that this person was carrying on our short, long, joke or good laugh conversation or what ever the subject was, for the sake of a human level… as man to man or just human being to another human being!!!

    many people ask this question to me cuz (i’m guessing)that by knowing my nationality maybe it “completes” his or her views of my race deep deep corner of thier hearts and minds.(wether positively or negatively)
    and i think this is bad to have in thier hearts and minds cuz someday in their life they may come across with “my race” and wether in positive or negative ways that they have already “judged or completed” views in thier hearts and minds!
    instead of dealing “my race” as person to person bases but now they look with a “filter”.

    so everyday i try my best to let people around me (especially my kids and youngsters… cuz they ARE the future of this Great Land and the protectors of our Greatest Constitution ever witten by humans!) know that if we want to be the BEST nation in the world we must, everyday in our daily lives, treat people at human level.

    so when i read comments about race on internet sites like these i get sad cuz the solution to racism is in our (all and everyone) hearts and minds.

  19. The entire election seemed to be a bunch of people trying to ease their consciences by voting for an African-American. If we were really “over” the race thing then it would not be so significant that Obama is black. But we are not over it and we now want to pat ourselves on the back for what we just did.

    I think the prayer was a sad example of how neither majority nor minority races have let their prejudices die. Too bad for America’s sake.

  20. Anyone who think that race was not a factor in this election, needs only to check out what Acorn has done! They did NOT register ONE Republican! ONLY BLACK and Hispanics and a few Whites who were tired of the Bush years! I have NEVER seen as many blacks care one bit about who was in the White House until a black man was nominated! I was NOT raised to be a racist, but this is getting to be a race war like we have not seen in this country!

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