Sheryl Lee Ralph performs Lift Every Voice and Sing prior to Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Feb. 12, 2023. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
By Tom Ozimek
February 13, 2023Updated: February 13, 2023
The NFL’s pre-Super Bowl festivities included a performance of a song known colloquially as the “Black National Anthem,” stirring controversy and debate on social media and beyond.
Actress Sheryl Lee Ralph performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” unofficially known as the Black National Anthem, ahead of the Feb. 12 Super Bowl game at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
The song, written by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson in 1900, served as a rallying cry for black Americans during the civil rights era.
Ralph teased the performance in a post on Instagram before stepping onto the field.
“It is no coincidence that I will be singing the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing at the Super Bowl on the same date it was first publicly performed 123 years ago (February 12, 1900),” she wrote in the post.
“Happy Black History Month.”
Hers was the first performance of the song live on-field during the Super Bowl.
Ralph told ET that she was thrilled to be picked to sing the song, saying that it sent a political message.
“I thought what a wonderful honor it is for me to be here singing this song inside the arena with the NFL, making a huge gesture for diversity, inclusion, and the end of so many of these isms that people want to keep alive to divide us,” she told the media outlet.
There were mixed reactions to the song, however, and while Ralph saw the performance as bridging divides, others saw it as sowing division.
‘Do Football, Not Wokeness’
Photos posted on social media showed former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake remaining seated for the Black National Anthem at the game.
Her campaign’s Twitter account, Kari Lake War Room, explained in a post: “Our girl is against the idea of a ‘black National Anthem’ for the same reason she’s against a ‘white National Anthem,’” namely that “she subscribes to the idea of ‘one Nation, under God.’”
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) expressed a similar sentiment in a post on Twitter.
“America only has ONE NATIONAL ANTHEM,” she wrote. “Why is the NFL trying to divide us by playing multiple!? Do football, not wokeness.”
Bill Kristol, founder and director of the advocacy group Defending Democracy Together and an avid “never Trumper,” reacted to Boebert’s criticism by posting the lyrics to the song and encouraging her to “sing along.”
‘Uncomfortable With Blackness’?
Other left-leaning voices also took aim at criticism of the singing of the Black National Anthem.
“All of this ‘there’s only ONE national anthem! What is all this wokeness!?’” pro-abortion activist and director of Politics and Government at the NGO Gen-Z for Change, Olivia Julianna, wrote in a post on Twitter.
“Y’all are just too afraid to say what you really mean—which is that you just hate black people and you’re uncomfortable with blackness. It’s a beautiful and historically rich song. It should be sung.”
Black conservatives who didn’t share the view that opposition to singing the Black National Anthem is rooted in racism also spoke out.
Xaviaer DuRousseau, a media personality and ex-BLM activist who once said he “shattered [his] own indoctrination and woke up from the Left’s lies,” took to Twitter to criticize the performance of the Black National Anthem at the game.
“‘Black National Anthem’ is an oxymoron. We are ONE nation under God. If you think otherwise, you’re in support of segregation. It’s that simple,” DuRousseau said in a post on Twitter.
Darrell B. Harrison, host of the “Just Thinking” podcast, took a similar view, writing in a post on Twitter, “What more divisive message could be sent than to suggest we’re a nation of two anthems.”
‘Antithetical’ to America
Benny Johnson, chief creative officer at conservative organization Turning Point USA and host of “The Benny Show,” objected to the performance of the Black National Anthem, saying that it was divisive because it highlighted racial differences.
“Sports is woke culture and it’s really repugnant to me, and so I don’t follow sports super closely,” he said in a Feb. 13 episode of his show.
“That being said, I do watch the Super Bowl for cultural moments like the Black National Anthem being sung. How the hell is this even a thing? What a repugnant, degenerate thing to do, to split up a national anthem by race.”
Johnson said it’s “antithetical, of course, to America and should quite frankly be illegal.”
“You shouldn’t be able to do that. Is there a white national anthem? I’m not sure anyone would be very happy with that being sung,” he said.
“There shouldn’t be a black national anthem because America is a country that is founded upon all of us being created equal, regardless of the melanin amount in your skin or where your ancestors were raised.”
Johnson also praised Lake for refusing to stand for the Black National Anthem.