Tuesday
May292007

« Ray Charles' America »

I've lost a lot of faith in the promises that have been made about my nation. I really resent the rightward motion in the land now, and the decaying liberties that come with our transformation from a republic into an empire. Such a transformation has spelled the death of other great nations, and here we are, acting out the same steps in a desperate-but-pathetic attempt to be great. As Kevin Phillips said in American Theocracy, the dying days of a powerful nation-empire are accompanied by religious-nationalistic fervor often voiced in sentiments like "God is on our side" and "God Bless [our nation]." What dreck. Even the National Socialists of Germany talked that way, and look where it got them. But first of all, look what a toll it took on those who didn't fit in! Look who pays for such misguided sentiments—everyone but a narrowly defined citizenry devoid of diversity of opinion, experience, potential contribution, etc.

Ray Charles' version of America the Beautiful just defies logic for me, but in a delightful, hope-giving way. Just think of what it takes for a blind black man to sing such passionate words to a nation that would not have him as a member of the society. It defies logic, particularly when you consider what he was up against during his lifetime. When I listen to this song, I tear up a bit. I think Ray's rendition is actually a protest song. It is a prophetic protest song. For him to sing it—blind and black as he was—is an act of defiance against it being just a sappy anthem. To a blind man, what is a majestic purple mountain, or what does a shining sea look like? To a black man in the early and middle 20th century, what does it take to sing with great passion "I love you America"? Well, it's clear to me. He isn't singing from experience. He is singing from unbridled hope and faith. Given his time and place, that took a lot of balls. I for one can't imagine mustering such kind words these days.

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