The Super Bowl is an American tradition that brings football fans across the country together. The game is a massive event, which brings in tens of millions of dollars in revenue for the NFL, both through ticket sales and advertising dollars. The size of the event ensures that it’s a spectacle, and sometimes that isn’t necessarily a good thing.

The Black National Anthem

A Democratic congressman made a spectacle of himself on Sunday when he took a public shot at the Super Bowl crowd in Vegas. According to the rep, very few fans stood for the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is colloquially known as the “Black National Anthem.”

Source: Twitter/X/RepCohen

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” is a hymn that premiered in 1900, drawing from the experience of African Americans in the 19th century. The NAACP began to promote the song as the “Negro national anthem” in 1917, and its prominence began to increase in 2020 following the George Floyd Protests. A bill was sponsored in 2021 that would have made the song the “national hymn” of the United States, though the bill didn’t ultimately go anywhere.

Sung by Grammy winner, Andra Day

At the Super Bowl, the song was sung by Grammy winner Andra Day, as a part of the pre-game festivities for the event. Evidently, the reaction of the crowd was not significant enough for Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN), who was in attendance at the game.

Source: Wikimedia/Andy Witchger

He took to Twitter, writing, “Very very few stood for ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing. The Negro National Anthem. Not a pretty picture of Super Bowl crowd.” As a representative of a majority-black district in Western Tennessee, it’s understandable why this would be an issue important to the representative.

Responding to Tweets Live

Cohen’s tweet drew attention online from both supporters and critics almost immediately, and the representative spent time during the pre-show and the game itself responding to comments live.

Source: Twitter/X/RepCohen

One comment stated that Americans should only stand for the Star-Spangled Banner, the official national anthem of the United States. Cohen responded, stating that he personally stood for both songs, and that many from his district in Western Tennessee did the same.

Accusing Democrats of Stoking “Race Wars”

Another person drew on an old argument, stating that the Star-Spangled Banner, which was written by Francis Scott Key, didn’t see color. He accused Cohen, as well as other prominent Democrats, of trying to divide the country with so-called “race wars.”

Source: Twitter/X/RepCohen

Cohen responded that, of course, he respected the national anthem and everything that it represents to America. He did point out that it does make references to slavery, though, and not in a questioning manner that can be misinterpreted.

The Song Has Been Sung for Years

The decision to perform the song stirred debate ahead of the Super Bowl on social media, despite the fact that the song has been sung annually at the game since the 2020 football season.

Source: Wikimedia/The White House from Washington

Critics of the song have stated that America only has one “true” National anthem, and that singing both songs at games such as the Super Bowl only serves to divide races and nationalities of people further.

Gaetz Chips In

Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) even took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to explain why he and his wife would not be watching the Super Bowl this year. Gaetz has been one of the foremost voices accusing Democrats of “race wars” in Congress, and his commentary about the Super Bowl did not deviate from pattern.

Source: Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore from Surprise

He wrote, “They’re desecrating America’s National Anthem by playing something called the ‘Black National Anthem’.” Again, comments like this are ignorant of the fact that “Lift Every Voice and Sing” has been a staple in the Super Bowl show for several years, now, and was not a new occurrence that was simply decided on this year.

The “White National Anthem”

Critics of the song are not the only ones who have made their voices heard regarding the issue, though. The founder of the “1619 Project,” which is a long-form journalistic endeavor which focuses on slavery and its role in the foundation of the United States, shot back against critics of the Black national anthem.

Source: Wikimedia/Associacao Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo

Nikole Hannah-Jones stated that the “White national anthem” is already played at every game, and that the Star-Spangled banner was written by a racist enslaver who believed that Black people were inferior. She also pointed out that Key was anti-abolition in his time, and that he actively fought against the freedom of slaves in the 19th century.

A Rallying Cry for Civil Rights

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” is a song that was written in order to plead for liberty and the freedom of Black Americans, and it became a rallying cry of the civil rights movement in the 50’s and 60’s in America.

Source: Wikimedia/Rowland Scherman

It is not the only patriotic song that was sung at the Super Bowl this year, either. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was sung by Reba McIntire, and Post Malone performed “America the Beautiful” during the pregame show as well. Clearly, there was no shortage of patriotic endeavors at the Super Bowl, despite complaints from individuals on both sides of the aisle.

Divisive, No Matter What

Major events like the Super Bowl can bring out both the best and the worst in people. It lets people speak their mind freely, whether that’s about racial politics or who they most want to see win the big game.

Source: Wikimedia/John Tornow

Discourse like that over the Black national anthem is, unfortunately, par for the course in an increasingly divided political landscape. There are many who are trying to bring the conversation back closer to the middle of the aisle, but clearly, there are hardliners on both sides willing to say or do just about anything in order to make their point clear.