After character assassins at The New York Daily News portrayed the late singer Kate Smith as a racist this past week, MLB's New York Yankees and the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers announced that her version of "God Bless America" will no longer be heard in their respective venues. That prompted Fox Sports 1 commentator Jason Whitlock (in file photo) to defend Smith and expose the double standard of media giving black rappers a pass on racist language.
The Flyers first covered up a statue of Smith outside their arena, then removed it. Her voice was a fixture at their games since 1974, on tape since she died 12 years later. The Yanks canned Smith's God Bless America, a part of their seventh-inning stretch since 911. The seriousness of the charges led to quick verdicts by the two sports clubs.
Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News wrote that Smith's "shocking lyrics from 1939 are neither humorous nor ironic in 2019 — and the Yankees acted swiftly." Richard Cohen, also of the NY Daily News, wrote yesterday it's beyond question that these songs are "insultingly racist." "The Yankees moved with commendable alacrity — as did the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers. Neither team bothered to say if Smith was indeed a racist or had merely recorded the songs of the times."
Other media joined in on the attack against Smith and some extended racist charges to the nation as a whole. Yesterday I reported on an ESPN/The Undefeated blog attack by Michael Fletcher on Smith and his assertion that America is a racist nation. "Somehow, it always feels like some intolerant attitudes are lurking behind the beautiful ode to our nation," he wrote.
Seizing on an additional opportunity yesterday, the NY Daily News editorial board circled round for another attack, only this time aimed at the Washington Redskins. "The truth is, in 2019, the NFL’s Washington franchise has a nickname blatantly offensive to Native Americans, and yet there are still fans who would argue for its continued usage — and deny that it or they themselves are racist."
The Smith controversy centers on two songs she sang in the 1930s: "That's Why Darkies Were Born," and "Pickaninny Heaven." African-American activist Paul Robeson sang the first song as well, but, unlike the white Smith, his reputation has thus far escaped scrutiny.
Whitlock wasn't having any of this, and he exposed the double standard of destroying Smith's reputation while making allowances for the blatant racist language of African American rappers:
"Once again our emotions and minds are being toyed with. The people who blackmailed the Yankees into dumping Smith's version of the original God Bless America are not trying to clean up American racism. They're sowing seeds of division and undermining American pride under the bogus pretense that they're promoting racial harmony. No rational person of any color thinks eliminating a dead woman from Yankee Stadium improves race relations.
"In fact, it does the opposite. It creates the impression of a ridiculous racial double standard. A long-dead white woman is held to higher standards than any millionaire or billionaire black rapper. You wanna hear an anti-black song? You don't have to go back to the 1930s. Go listen to my 'favorite' rapper Dr. Dre's "Rat-a-tat-tat." He brags about never hesitating to put an n-word on his back."
Whitlock further defended Smith as a performer who gained fame in 1938 when Jewish composer Irving Berlin wrote "God Bless America" specifically for her, as a peacetime protest of Adolph Hitler. Whitlock said it became this country's "second national anthem," and Smith used its popularity to raise $600 million in support of U.S. efforts during World War II. President Ronald Reagan awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Smith, who died in 1986.
USA Today's Maria Puente knocked Smith and also, without naming him, Virginia's Democrat Governor Ralph Northam, in the process. "It isn't a good look, even for a long-dead singer, especially in an era when politicians are discovering that pictures of them dressed in blackface when they were young and reckless can get them into political trouble now that they're grown up and ambitious."