Cooper: De-Kate Smithing America

Cooper: De-Kate Smithing America

April 23rd, 2019 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Singer and area native Lauren Alaina performs "God Bless America" during a 2011 baseball game between the Chattanooga Lookouts and the Tennessee Smokies.

Photo by Jenna Walker /Times Free Press.

Two sports teams recently decided they'd punish a woman who's been dead for 33 years by halting recordings of her voice singing "God Bless America" at their arenas.

The Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League and the New York ¥ankees of Major League Baseball recently stilled the contralto voice of Kate Smith singing the iconic tune, pointing to several questionably racist songs she sang in movies nearly 90 years ago.

The Flyers, in addition, covered the statue of the singer in black cloth outside the Wells Fargo Center, where its games are played, then removed it Sunday from the premises.

One wonders at what point such political correctness will stop.

Consider:

* Should movies and television shows that depict white actors portraying roles in which minority characters are subservient to them be banned from sale or airing?

If so, goodbye "Showboat," "Gone With the Wind," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and "Maude," just to name a few.

* Should books that describe situations in which minority characters are subservient to white characters be banned from sale, use in schools or from being made into movies?

If so, goodbye "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Color Purple," just to name a few.

* Should songs that have become part of popular culture be banned from the airwaves or from sale if they describe minority characters in any way thought to be stereotypical today?

If so, goodbye "Brown Sugar" (Rolling Stones), "Island Girl" (Elton John) and "Half-Breed" (Cher), just to name a few.

* Should art that might be considered by someone somewhere as racist be removed from display, hidden in a warehouse or destroyed?

If so, goodbye to paintings by the likes of Anthony Van Dyck, Edouard Manet, Frans Hals and James McNeill Whistler, just to name a few.

Our argument against eliminating these works is the same as our thought about eliminating Civil War statues depicting one side of the war. It's a fact soldiers of the Union and the Confederacy fought each other. Eliminating statues or monuments honoring Confederate officers doesn't erase their presence in the war. It doesn't change the fact slavery was a major reason the war was fought, it doesn't bring back one Union soldier and it doesn't make a difference in the life of any slave descendant.

The job of artists, authors, songwriters, playwrights, teachers, parents and community members, then and now, is to be accurate historians of their time.

Mark Twain didn't use slave characters in his "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" books because he was racist. He used them because adolescents at the time in which he wrote and in the area about which he wrote were likely to know and associate with slaves.

Visual artists who painted black characters didn't do so to deride the black race. They painted them because they were a part of life at the time and place, or with the subject, they were painting.

A 1967 movie like "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" portrays the sudden romance between a white woman and a black man as upsetting because at that time it still was — to both the black and white parents involved. And the portrayal of the character of a black maid for the white parents was not done to shame those who were maids but to show that many white families employed black woman as maids or housekeepers or cooks at the time, even as individuals of both races were considering marriage.

The upshot about the long-dead Smith is that she sang a tune in 1931, "That's Why Darkies Were Born," that originally had been written for a Broadway revue and later was referenced in a Marx Brothers movie. The song, to which she neither contributed the words or music, was considered a satire of racism at the time, and even black civil rights activist Paul Robeson recorded a version.

She also recently was noted as having recorded the 1930s song "Pickaninny Heaven" — pickaninny being a slur for a black child — and as appearing in an ad for baking powder that also featured a black "mammy" character.

"Aunt Kathryn really did not see color," Smith's niece, Suzy Andron, told USA Today. "She didn't see a person's color. And this is why I'm incredibly sad."

In her day, the singer recorded some 3,000 songs. That two of them nearly 90 years after they were recorded would cause her statue to be removed in Philadelphia, where she sang before numerous critical matches, and her "God Bless America" rendition halted is not the end of the world but is a testament to the problem with political correctness that plagues us today.

Don't be surprised if the next move is to ban the song itself, one many on the political left already criticize because of the incorrect implication that God would bless America over any other country. But the song, instead, only asks God to bless America, to "stand beside her and guide her," which is all Smith's recording ever called for in the first place.

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