Saturday, October 21, 2017


Lecrae recently gave an interview that's getting some buzz:

Permit me to say at the outset that I don't listen to hip-hop/rap music, be it Christian or secular. I'm not familiar with his work.

1. I'm not quite sure why this interview has gotten so much attention. He's been saying things like this for a while now, in different venues. Perhaps the fact that John Piper wrote a sympathetic response, as well as a predictable thumbs up from Christianity Today, was the tipping-point. 

2. I don't resent what he says. He's entitled to his opinion. I don't take it personally. It doesn't put me on the defensive. What he says and does is his prerogative. 

3. His reaction is native. He's a businessman. As an entertainer, he ought to know his audience. For him to be surprised and shocked by the reaction shows how out of touch he was with a major segment of his own constituency. That's a professionally hazardous position for any performer to be in. If you alienate your fanbase, that has utterly predictable consequences. Although he should be free to say whatever he wants to, protest is a two-way street. His erstwhile fans are entitled to their opinion, too. 

4. I'd understand why he'd bristle at being characterized as a mascot for white evangelicals. 

5. He felt he had to choose between his black fanbase and his white fanbase. It was a business decision. If he didn't think he could please both factions, it's natural that he broke in the direction of his black fanbase. He's entitled to feel more at home with members of his own race. I don't fault him for that. 

6. I don't think he has a duty to be loyal to "white evangelicalism" (whatever that means). But there's the question of what he means by that. Apparently, he defines white evangelicalism in terms of a particular historical and political outlook. And he doesn't share that. Okay, that's his prerogative. 

7. I don't think of evangelicalism, or white evangelicalism in particular, as something to either be loyal to or disloyal too. Evangelicalism is a broad theological frame of reference with some political and ethical dimensions. I suppose it could be viewed a social movement with an implicit membership, but that's secondary to the underlying theological commitments. 

If I wanted to (re)classify the issue in racial categories, most of the books I own were written by white evangelicals. Bible commentaries. Systematic theologies. Ethics. Christian apologetics. Bible reference works. And so on and so forth. I generally identity with the theology. But I don't consciously relate to them in terms of a white reader engaging a white author. It's not a personal relationship. It's just about ideas.

To some degree it's filtered through the experience of an American or Englishmen or whatever. That's unavoidable. 

8. Tthese books didn't have a formative influence on my sense of who I am. They don't function as personal role-models. Rather, I bring my preexisting theological viewpoint to this reading material. I buy them and read them because I'm already sympathetic to their viewpoint.  

9. For me, there's a deja vu quality to LeCrae's complaints. I lived through the Black Power movement. I watched Tony Brown's Journal as a kid. So what he says is terribly old hat.

10. In my experience, constructive dialogue about race in America is usually futile because black and white interlocutors don't share the same the rules of evidence. Blacks like LaCrae typically base their impressions on anecdotal evidence and stories hyped by the "news" media.

White conservatives/libertarians, by contrast, typically base their impressions on comparative crime stats as well as examples of law enforcement run amok. They agree with blacks that there's a problem with our law enforcement culture, but they don't think it targets blacks. Rather, they view it in larger terms: rogue police, rogue prosecutors, a police state mentality, the "war on drugs," for-profit policing (e.g. ticket quotas, civil forfeiture), stop-and frisk, random checkpoints, the surveillance state. 

I don't deny that black Americans are sometimes abused by law enforcement. Case in point:

But are these isolated incidents, or do they reflect a pattern? That doesn't seem to be the case:

Conversely, take cases of white Americans abused by law enforcement. For instance:

If those altercations happened to black Americans, RAAN, Reformed Margins, Black Lives Matters et al. would point to that as incontrovertible evidence of structural racism. But when it happens to white Americans, that doesn't figure in their narrative. 

11. I'm interested in hearing from authentic minority voices, but that's hard to come by. And that's a problem I have with RAAN and Reformed Margins. They pose as the minority voice, but it's not a distinctively minority voice. Rather, it simply echoes the white establishment. Like a muppet show where the muppets have minority faces, but the voice and script are supplied by white academia. Minority muppets ventriloquizing white muppeteers. 

For a genuine minority perspective that presents a distinctive outsider perspective, I look to social commentators like the Pakistani born and bred Anglican Michael Nazir-Ali, Singaporean Christians like Daniel Chew and Dominic Foo, or Chinese-American missiologist Allen Yeh. 

12. How many black policemen and black judges has Lecrae spoken to? Has he made a good faith effort to get their side of the story? 

13. To what extent should your race be your frame of reference? There are more fundamental elements of self-identity than race. Take your sex (male or female). Or your family. Or your religion. Or your nationality. Or your social class. When and where you spend your formative years has tremendous impact on the person you become. 

For me, race is a window rather than a mirror. If we turn race into a mirror, the exercise becomes circular. We become very self-conscious. It degenerates in playacting. Ironically, that invites an identity crisis. We lose ourselves when we try too hard to find ourselves. When we try to fit into a preconceived role. Constantly second-guessing ourselves. Memorizing a script that someone else wrote for us. Playing the role they assigned to us. 

Why not feel free to absorb whatever is good and true in different cultures, be it art, music, philosophy, theology? You begin wherever you are. Your racial status quo is a starting-point. But you can branch out from there. 

It's misguided for Lecrae to turn this into group-loyalty oath, as if this must be a mutually exclusive choice between joining this club rather than that club. But that's not freedom. That's not authentic. That's laboring to live up to the expectations of others. But what made them the standard of comparison? Why should you be constantly glancing over your shoulder for their nodding approval? 

That's one reason we need to make the Bible our benchmark. Otherwise, we have no center. We shift back and forth in reaction to ever-shifting peer pressure. 

14. Lecrae indicated that he's trying to compose authentic black music. Screen out alien cultural contaminants. But that's silly and futile. Art and music have always been eclectic. Have always been open to outside sources of inspiration. That infuses fresh blood into art and music. Contributes to a dynamic creative synthesis. That's the difference between expressive art and music, on the one hand, and imitative art or music, on the other hand.

15. Isn't the outlook of this black man much freer and healthier than Lecrae's studied, effortful pose:

1 comment:

  1. The divide isn't lessened by what Lecrae is doing. In fact, it's only being enabled. Note:

    a) If there's a difference between a black fan base and a white fan base;
    b) and if there is a difference between authentic black music and black music that has been adulterated with white influences;
    c) and if the divide over some aspect of the style of music is enough to incense blacks or whites;
    d) and if the incensed fan base is enough to force Lecrae to choose between the two;

    then the ones holding to the differences are the ones maintaining the divide.

    No two groups can reconcile with each other without giving up a significant part of the identity that made them divide in the first place. That goes for blacks and whites both.

    The other side of the story is that it's not as significant as we are made to believe:

    i. "Blacks" and "whites" are hardly monolithic groups. Nor are they alone. Within whites, there is a vast array of differences. Within blacks, there is a vast array of differences. Both groups also have significant relationships with other people groups: Hispanics of all kinds, Asians of all kinds, Middle Easterners of all kinds, Native Americans of all kinds, just to name the largest general groups. The black vs white narrative in the US is relatively insignificant with regard to divisions between people groups in general.

    ii. That doesn't mean that people need to stop sinning in their racism. However, there are many other sins that get a short shrift in these discussions. That only speaks to the overemphasis on this one sin.