Racial tensions are especially strained as of late – some African American actors are boycotting the Oscars, the Black Lives Matters campaign speaks out about African Americans killed by police officers, and Donald Trump’s controversial statements about Mexicans and border control have offended many. R&B singer Joe Thomas humbly suggests a viable solution on “Our Anthem,” a song and video released Sunday night.
Thomas sings that having empathy would foster more unity. He cleverly fuses portions of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” with new lyrics for his track.
The song opens sounding like a soulful rendition of the national anthem; however, he begins to alter the lyrics by the third line. Instead of ‘Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,” Thomas sings, “See our stripes and our scars, a perilous fight.”
As Thomas sings the lyric, he sits in front of a video projection of a flag blowing in the wind. He continues, “Our young men behind bars, gunned down in the night.” When he adds, “Is this red, white, and blue?” the camera pans to him walking down the street and witnessing a white officer handcuffing a black man who is slumped over the vehicle’s trunk as the red, white, and blue lights flash. His following words are, “Ask yourself is it wrong or is it right?”
Thomas’s disposition is more concerning and hurt than angry, a point clearly made when he sings about how children are impacted by the ills and he asks, “Why can’t we all try a little tenderness?”
The more upbeat pace of Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” kicks in three-quarters of the way through the song, when Thomas enthusiastically makes his plea.
The video closes with a poignant statement. While walking through a courtroom, Thomas passes by nameplates engraved with the dates of birth and death of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, LaQuan McDonal, and Sean Bell, who were all killed by law enforcement.