News & Politics

Yankees Drop Kate Smith's Version of 'God Bless America' Because People Were Racist in the 1930s

This is a tricky one, but is worth examining:

From The Washington Post:

The New York Yankees reportedly confirmed Thursday that they were no longer playing a Kate Smith version of “God Bless America” during the seventh inning of home games, after the team learned of a Depression-era song she’d recorded that raised questions of possible racism.

Two songs cited by the New York Daily News, which broke the story, included “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” a 1931 hit for Smith, and “Pickaninny Heaven.” Smith’s 1939 version of “God Bless America” had been in the rotation at Yankee Stadium since the team began regularly playing the song following the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

Are those song titles offensive?

Oh yeah.

Can they be excused merely because of context?

Not really.

Still, it isn’t exactly a closely-guarded secret that America in the 1930s had a lot going on in regard to race that we now find horrifying. The Yankees have been playing this song since 2001 and no one was flooding their front office with complaints about Kate Smith’s (who has been dead for over thirty years, by the way) racism.

I would wager that’s because almost every American over the age of five in 2019 knows that the country has a most troubled past when it comes to race. It wouldn’t take much effort to dig up some racist dirt on almost any white American entertainer from the early 20th century.

Are we to disavow it all, or do we divorce the work from the people?

It is a valid question but, as a white man, I am certainly not going to offer a definitive answer. What is almost a given though is that one or two zealous social justice warriors who have time to Google could probably make a case for sending a lot of what was popular in music, film, radio, and literature back then down the memory hole.

It would be interesting to find out how many people who have attended Yankees games in the last eighteen years even know who Kate Smith is. The song she made popular is far more famous than she is, and it isn’t racist.

For those who do know, she is inextricably linked to the song. Does that mean her racism taints the song itself?

That’s the tricky part I alluded to at the beginning. We will just have to wait and see.