Was the Reverend Lowery’s little race rhyme racist? I don’t know. I personally found it more than a little jarring–because of where I had previously heard a version of same. During various water shortages in California in the 1970s signs appeared in public bathrooms with the conservationist suggestion: “If it’s brown, flush it down. If it’s yellow, let it mellow.” Yes: yuck, gross, ick. Flushing toilets always seemed like a reasonable use of water to me. I understand that there is some cultural debate about this. Actually, the original jingle was a personal favorite of former California Governor Jerry Brown–an early ‘conservationist.’
Having googled the phrase, I now understand that there is a longer history still involving the capacity of septic systems and/or common practice in rural areas during extended power outages. In any case, bringing up that jingle and the imagery inevitably associated with it seems like a pretty unnecessary addition to an inaugural benediction. And no, I probably shouldn’t have written this post.