Timothy McNair was living his best life in 2013 as he worked towards a masters in music at Northwestern University.
That all changed when a course assignment required him to perform a song deeply steeped in racism.
“Song of Democracy” is filled with idealizations of a brighter, more equal tomorrow written by the beloved “poet of democracy,” Walt Whitman - a man who also proclaimed Black people were “baboons” and “wild brutes.”
McNair refused to perform.
“I’m so tired of being forced to promote the myth of white supremacy by performing works by old white men like Whitman who said Blacks were stupid, shouldn’t be allowed to vote, and didn’t have a place in the future of America,” McNair said.
For his resistance, his professor FAILED him.
An expert on Whitman, David S. Reynolds, expressed that while he understood McNair’s perspective, we should give Whitman a break since MOST whites of the day held racist beliefs.
And therein lies several issues.
Time and time again, we’re told to shelve our humanity and wait for white folks to catch up. We’re forced to forfeit our identities and assimilate to white norms, as Andrew Johnson was, or punished for calling out a system that oppresses us, as Timothy McNair was.
Who knows when this lack of respect will stop, but it’s high time we stop putting up with it.