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  • Writer's pictureDr. Speshal Walker Gautier a.k.a. Dr. Spesh

Sis, Remember that time Whitney Houston reminded us that patriotism is not reserved for White men?

This morning I listened to an episode of It’s Been a Minute on NPR where Sam Sanders spoke with Danyel Smith, creator of Black Girl Songbook. I was inspired as they spoke about Whitney Houston’s iconic rendition of the national anthem and its implications in discussions on race, patriotism, and pop culture. The lessons on Black womanhood felt palpable as I listened to the podcast which fueled this love letter today. Thirty years ago, a Black female icon wearing big curly hair and a windbreaker tracksuit graced the Super Bowl stage and delivered arguably the best rendition of the national anthem that America has ever heard. Let that sink in, Sis.

I remember belting out many of Whitney Houston's songs as a young girl. I was a huge fan and even as a naïve child, with little experience on the subject matter of many of her songs, I felt the emotional impact of Whitney’s music. At the time, I was less aware of all the reasons that I felt such a strong gravitational pull toward this beautiful Black woman. Her talent was an undeniable draw, but I later realized how much it meant to see myself represented at a time when not many Black people got to be superstars featured on mainstream music channels. Not only was this woman topping the charts and making movies, but she also now had an opportunity to perform the most patriotic American song at the Super Bowl, essentially an American holiday. In true Whitney fashion, Sis effortlessly showed out!

Thinking about the magnitude of Whitney’s national anthem performance hits different this year. My reflection on this moment in history comes against the backdrop of a darker moment in American history with yesterday marking one month since violent insurrectionists essentially attempted to take back what they view as “their America.” An America that according to them, Black people are not allowed to protest despite valid grievances. Let Whitney’s historic performance remind us that despite the nationalist rhetoric, White men do not have propriety rights over America. She is a literal reminder to Black women and Black people to take up space. She is a reminder to give yourself permission to show up authentically and unapologetically in historically White spaces because this is your America too.

Whitney took up all the space when she belted out that anthem in 1991. Ironically, she performed without being overly performative. Black women spend so much time and energy “performing” while navigating White spaces. Too often, Black people are faced with pressure to look and act in ways that align with the expectations of Whiteness. Yet here was Whitney, showing up in a chill tracksuit with a big curly do, nonetheless bad as ever, as she took ownership of the national anthem. After all, this was her anthem and it’s your anthem too, Sis (that and "Lift Every Voice and Sing," of course). Whether you are gearing up for Super Bowl or not today, take a moment to pause and take in the lessons from Whitney’s legendary Super Bowl performance. Take in that energy and harness it when you need it. Let’s remind ourselves to keep owning and taking up space, Sis.

Rest in Power, Whitney Houston.

*Dr. Spesh is an Atlanta based Clinical Psychologist, blogger, and diversity consultant.*

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