F*ck the police! Comin’ straight from the underground
A young ni**a got it bad ‘cause I’m brown
And not the other color, so police think
They have the authority to kill a minority
F*ck that sh*t, ‘cause I ain’t the one
For a punk motherf*cker with a badge and a gun
To be beating on, and thrown in jail
We can go toe-to-toe in the middle of a cell
F*ckin’ with me ‘cause I’m a teenager
With a little bit of gold and a pager
Searchin’ my car, lookin’ for the product
Thinkin’ every ni**a is sellin’ narcotics
Depending on who you are and where you’re from, you respond to these lyrics differently. Some will shudder and close their browsers, checking out from the rest of the article’s content. Some will immediately head straight to YouTube or Apple music to find the song and reacquaint themselves with the sound and sentiment. These lyrics have the same polarizing effect as they did 30 years ago. It resonates with some and repulses others.
If I could take a wild stab at how many white, conservative evangelicals would react to these lyrics, I would muster the courage to guess that they’d be repulsed. This isn’t to say that a black evangelical wouldn’t feel the same. But for the sake of argument, I think a statistical response would overwhelmingly show an adverse response from the white, conservative evangelical.
Point of Condemnation
It would be interesting to know the moment this individual disconnected from the song or lyrics. What would be the initial internal trigger that sets off the alarm of “WRONG” or “DISGUSTING” or “I HATE THIS”? Is it the profanity? Is it the opening phrase? If they’re watching the video, is it the artist’s attire? What prompts the rejection?
If you’re a black Christian, you may also have a negative reaction to the song. However, I’d venture to guess that you may be a bit more gracious in your response.
Perhaps you’d turn the song off quickly, you wouldn’t play it loudly in your home or car, and maybe you wouldn’t repeat the title of the song itself…but you probably would “get it.” Perhaps I’m making a huge assumption, but maybe you’d have a little more reservation with writing it off completely. Your critique would be a bit more measured, commenting on the execution rather than the sentiment. Even if you disagree with the sentiment entirely, you can contextualize it.
Assuming my hypothesis is correct, what causes the black Christian to hesitate in outright condemnation of these lyrics? Maybe they resonate because of experience. Maybe this person has lived long enough to understand why such a sentiment exists. There’s a possibility that deep down, they feel the same way. It may not be right, but it’s real.
It seems black people and white people have been at the same deadlock in the same discussion for decades in this country. To define this gridlock would require unpacking many layers, which I don’t intend to do here. I just want to deal with one—tone.
The dilemma is not only does one side say something the other doesn’t understand, but the way one side says something affects the receptivity. There are many scholars who possess writing specificities and articulation skills well beyond my ability. However, if any of the scholarly commentary is delivered with any hint of anger, frustration, or accusation, their message falls by the wayside. Such has often been the discourse of racism and inequality.
Dr. King was considered a race baiter and an “outside agitator” for his form of protesting society’s inequalities. Malcolm X was a brilliant man who was reviled by white society leaders because of the aggressive tone of his speeches. Muhammed Ali was a brash talker who was not celebrated the way he is now, as he took a Muslim name to mainstream notoriety. Even the integrity of Colin Kaepernick’s protests has been reduced to a rubble of rhetoric about him “disrespecting the flag.” This is an outright disconnect from his intended message.
We are often struggling as a Christian community to find a home in this discussion. On a broad scale, we lack civility and on a narrow scale, we lack connectivity. We love the same things in word, but we find ourselves far apart in deed. While still bristling at seeing itself as an institution of white supremacy, the white evangelical community seems to require much from black Christians in order to even entertain discussions of equity and repentance.
Many white evangelicals often struggle giving up their authority on “right thinking” and “right doctrine.” They often charge into discussions with unconfessed fragility in tow and then monitor the conversation with subjective standards of “gracious speech.” Sometimes I wonder if Paul had a decibel level or an amount of vocal baritone in mind when the Spirit inspired him to write Colossians 4:6.
What if the pain of an experience is a required element to communicate a message? What if my ability to share fellowship in Christ also includes you modeling Christ in “counting me more significant (Philippians 2:3)” in how I communicate? If you are a white evangelical with little experience with other cultures, do you have a baseline for relationship education? I mean step into a barber shop or attend a black family reunion for crying out loud. I affectionately argue and debate with some of my closest friends. We passionately and loudly disagree on some things. We still love each other the same.
If we return to the NWA song at the beginning of the article, I’d ask that you set aside the tone of the song. If you just take the message at face value, the music’s local context, and the age of the artists, ask yourself—is there any merit to the tone?
Is it impossible to conclude that perhaps the contextual clues inform the tone? Why do you think they sound so angry? What environmental circumstance has contributed to their language? How have they been treated by law enforcement? Why is their neighborhood so poor?
I’ve made a ton of assumptions about white evangelicals. If you are not one of those people who checked out, I thank you. If you are a white evangelical who is working hard to deny your first instinct to deflect and tone-police people of color, I thank you. If you are a white evangelical who feels offended by the content, I’d invite you to some introspection. I want to encourage you—don’t deflect, don’t pick up your ball and go home, don’t check out.
I do not lack love because I speak loudly and directly. I am not ruled by my anger because I get angry at constant injustice. I do not lack grace because I get frustrated at the constant disregard shown by many white people in gospel-preaching places.
My problem is that I believe the gospel too much. I believe that somehow Jesus was able to overcome the ultimate cross-contextualization (yes this is a double entendre) by causing heaven to invade earth in tangible reality. He overcame being misunderstood and rejected with not only a humility to serve but a love that superseded his mistreatment. He held back his power to destroy everyone around him and subjected himself to shame.
Still, every now and then he spoke to audiences with an authority he didn’t apologize for. He offended the religious leaders of the day with sharp words and direct language that caused audiences to shudder. He bypassed decorum to inspire awe and wonder in hearers because he knew who he was, and he wouldn’t let anyone take it away from him.
That’s my Savior. In him, I am wonderfully saved. I don’t find any verses recorded in the gospels that give me a sense of his tone, only his intent. We all must check our hearts and season our motives with grace, but no people group is an authority on what that sounds like. Let’s learn from one another about who we are, not police each other based on our own definitions.
Admittedly sacrificing a forceful imperative, I’d like to offer an edited rendition to the song that I hope can illustrate the entire point: “De-commission the tone police.”