African Cultural Calendar blog

Amazing Grace: How we have been bamboozled!

Amazing grace how sweet … at this point in hearing that song I always have the same thought: singing this song is sending praises to a devil. I believe that’s true. I believe that the man who wrote that song was the very definition of the devil. When Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X told us that the white man is the devil, it must have been that white man who led them to that conclusion.

But even so, I still sing along because after a minute or so, I am no longer thinking about how singing Amazing Grace is giving a devil a day pass out of hell. I am thinking, wow! Jennifer Hudson can sing or Aretha Franklin or whichever one of our great singers whose voices have made that song sound so sweet. For me, the song, Amazing Grace, highlights a dilemma; actually, it’s more than just a dilemma, it is a symbol of how hard it is to step out from beneath our oppression. My first instinct and it should be the instinct of anyone of us, who is trying to overcome the invisible chains of our oppression, is to say that we should not be singing that song. But I cannot or I have not yet had the strength to articulate it openly. Even though, I know that neither the meaning of Amazing Grace nor the lyrics of Amazing Grace could overcome the fact that it was written by one of the worst human beings who has ever walked this earth. The sweet voices of our singers cannot wash away the fact that the evilness of the devil, who wrote Amazing Grace, was reserved only for us. Every time I hear the song I know that we have been bamboozled and the fact is we have chosen to do nothing about it. The song has deep roots among us. It is everywhere in the diaspora. It is most popular at funerals but it could be heard on any given Sunday in our church services. We have used this song in practicing our spirituality, in our marches, in our struggles to be free. We may not know it but when we sing that song, we are not uplifting our ancestors. When we sing that song we are sending praises to a devil, a man who should not get any of our prayers. ...

One of the interesting things about Amazing Grace is that it was not a song that was written for the world. It was written for the devil who wrote it. It was his life he was trying to save that night on the high seas when he called out to some supernatural power to save him. To give him more time, so he can continue to do the same evil things that he had been doing all his life. In that moment, he was not reformed nor was he born again. That moment on the high seas did not change him. He continued to do the same things he had been doing all his life. Because our singers have made Amazing Grace sound so sweet, we assume that he was calling out to god but that was not demonstrated in his behaviour.

I like to think that we can turn our backs of our enslavement and become a whole people again. Every time, I think we should throw out Amazing Grace and move forward, I asked myself, how can we turn our backs on the Fisk Jubilee Singers, how can we turn our backs on our people, who song that song for us, often at our most difficult hour? It is hard and what this tells me is that it will be a life long struggle to shed every single oppressive thing that has been forced on us. We know that the source of so many of these things, like Amazing Grace, was evil. It might have even come directly from the hands of the devil, himself. But can we shred them all? We might not have to; we only need to shred enough of them to set our minds free and to become a whole people again.

The man, who wrote Amazing Grace, we will not use his name, did not invent the slave trade but he was its Patron Saint. Even after writing Amazing Grace he continued to participate in the slave trade. As a captain of slave ships he was particularly innovative in finding ways to destroy the homes of our ancestors, so that he can dragged them, fighting all the way, in to slavery all over the world. The lyrics of Amazing Grace do not apply to us. We are not and have never been wretches but he was. He had a particular flair for cruelty. Our ancestors who fought and rebel against him endured some of his most barbaric treatment. Killing people was his only method but he would not just kill them. He would first drown them but not to death. Next he would hang them but would grab them back from the doors of death so that he could cut them into quarters. A quick and humane death would not have satisfied his evil. Anything this man said, did or touched should not be found among us, much less when we are practicing our spirituality.

We have turned Amazing Grace into a great song. The voices of our people have truly uplifted our souls. I am certain that I am going to hum, if not outright sing along, the next time I hear a Jennifer Hudson or one of our great singers singing Amazing Grace; and, every time, I am going to ask myself, why! Why I cannot turn my back on a song that was written by a man who took babies out of their mothers’ arms and threw them over board because their crying, on his slave ship, annoyed him? Fighting against the invisible chains of our oppression is hard but we have to find a way to overcome.