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Christians in Hip Hop Response to Ferguson

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The following is a guest post, written by Travis Harris, a long time Wade-O Radio supporter. Harris’ bio information can be found at the bottom of this post. If you’re interested in guest blogging, please contact our managing editor, Mikaela.

Social Justice and Social Media: Christians in Hip Hop Response to Ferguson

I am writing this with the hope of starting the conversation around the purpose of social media for Christians in Hip Hop. African Americans have endured close to 400 years of oppression in the United States. Most recently, police officers have acted has judge, jury and executioner of Blacks. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Antoine Crawford and Renisha McBride are just a few who have received media attention. One report indicates that one Black male is killed every 28 hours. In light of these circumstances, Christians in America in general and Christians in Hip Hop in particular are challenged to respond.

Who am I? I am a Christian and I am Hip Hop. Since I was a teenager, I was listening to Gospel Gangsters and Cross Movement. Secondly, I am a part of the academic community. I am currently a PhD student at William and Mary’s American Studies graduate program. I began my scholarship on Hip Hop in seminary. My Master’s Thesis is entitled “Listen Up, Why the Church and Academia should Study and Embrace Holy Hip Hop.” Following my thesis, I published in a peer-review journal, the Journal of Hip Hop Studies, “Refocusing and Redefining Hip Hop: An Analysis of Lecrae’s Contribution to Hip Hop.” My goal, has always been to give Christians in Hip Hop attention due to the inadequate attention we were receiving. I am reaching out because I am concerned that what we are displaying does not effectively address the social issues African Americans are experiencing, particularly when it comes to Ferguson.

Based on my research, this is what I have been able to find on our involvement with Ferguson. Thi’sl lives in St. Louis and was on the frontline when Brown was first shot. He then had a town hall meeting the next weekend. Sho Baraka did a video discussion with JP about it. Flame put on Hope For Ferguson at Forestwood Park. DJ Wade O had Thi’sl, Pastor Michael McBride and Black Canseco on his show. Propaganda tweeted about it when it first happened. After talking with him, I discovered he has also been speaking out against social injustice at colleges around the country. Lecrae tweeted about it, posted for consistency within Hip Hop and responded to some interview questions. Reconcile also discussed it in a radio interview. Other than that, I am not aware of anything else that has been done.

My understanding is that, many artists feel that social media is not the most appropriate avenue to address these issues. I have drawn this conclusion based on the comments that follow after something is posted. Many of the comments turn into fighting and bickering. When this occurs, I can completely understand the hesitancy of some to post. My issue is that what is consistently posted are selfies, concert invitations, or boxing with a dummy. Just recently, as a result of the social media campaign #LecraeforEleck Lecrae posted a picture for a 17 year old White male who had just died in a car accident. Lecrae, however, did not post something similar for Brown.

The reason why I am bringing this up is because to the Black community, this lack of social media presence communicates that artists are out of touch and don’t care about what we are experiencing. It was disappointing to see such attention given to a White teenage male that was not given to a Black teenage male. Further, posting pictures of selfies in which the artist are wearing nice clothes and having a good time doesn’t express solidarity with those who are suffering.

Primarily, I write this in love. I care about the marginalized of society and I care about the emcees who are Christians. I went to Ferguson and experienced firsthand what is going on. The police are ruthless. The people have been oppressed for too long. A core group of protestors have been protesting everyday because they saw their friend “a dead Black body lay down in the street four and half hours…” They are not unorganized savages rather they are organized and militant. They are leading a movement that has the world’s attention. If they didn’t capture raw footage, gather together and protest, Brown’s death would have gone unnoticed. Based on their relentless efforts, on October 10 – 13 was Ferguson October in which thousands of protesters from around the country came together in St. Louis. During this weekend, on Sunday was the “Hip Hop and Resistance” event. I genuinely desired to see one of our Christian emcees on the list and then on the stage. I did not. I saw Tef Poe, who has also been out on the front lines protesting.

Further, the work of these young people have ignited the dull flame of African American resistance and inspired the nation to get back on track in fighting institutional racism and White Supremacy. I believe that we have the potential to do the same thing! I am bringing up social media because while these young people and others are gathered in Ferguson protesting the oppressive system, while scholars and activist from all over the United States are speaking out, while Black Lives Matter are organizing to fight and primarily using social media as a tool, I see Christians having a good time.

Where do we go from here? We have two opposing forces, massive resistance by people on the ground in St. Louis and those united oversocial media on one side against the string of degrading comments that follows when someone posts on Facebook. My hope is that the situation is similar to Propaganda’s in that we are doing the work but not publicizing it over social media. If we are not doing the work, we need to step up and get on board. Also, while we can disagree on whether or not social media should be used as a tool to fight social injustice, can we be more cognizant of what we do post? Hopefully this will get the conversation started and impact how we use social media. My prayer is that we will respond according to the way the prophet Micah encouraged us to “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

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Travis’ research examines the intersection of race, religion and Hip Hop. In seminary, his Master’s Thesis was entitled “Listen Up: Why the Church and Academia Should Study and Embrace Holy Hip Hop.” Travis argues for the academic community to pay more attention to Christians within Hip Hop. He also articulates the church’s need to go beyond its misconceptions of Hip Hop and realize the evangelical potential that embracing Hip Hop offers. Travis plans to further investigate race, religion and Hip Hop focusing on the marginalized of American society.

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