In and of itself, Christian music is not racist. I am not saying that those involved are expressly racist. I also do not hope to belittle those people of color involved in the Contemporary Christian Music market. However, as a kid who grew up idolizing Christian musicians and found identity in the fandom and scene, I can see how that same scene helped create some subtle views.
Racism is not always overt. Racism is not all KKK and cross burnings. In fact most of it is sly and subtle and sneaks up on you. Most of it comes in microaggressions and in the form of White Privilege. For those like me, heavy on the WASP, we don’t have to notice it. That does not make it better. Whether we see it or not does not remove anything.
As a kid growing up in youth groups and Christian circles I was repeatedly told that “secular” music was sinful. The battle for my soul was being fought on many fronts and my ears and brain were involved. God wanted me to support and rock out to Christian music, and thanks to some indie labels, I could embrace Jesus and punk rock at the same time. Today we still have Christian metal bands, punk bands, emo bands, rock bands, rap artists and more. However, this created something I now see as problematic. It created a very whitewashed world.
The vast majority of bands I listened to were white. The vast majority of people I was told I could safely look up to, listen to and hope to emulate were white. Secular music was of the devil, seeking to scar my soul. And so I didn’t listen to secular rap, jazz, rock and roll, or most of the stuff out there. I didn’t explore the history of rock and roll or modern music, because in the span of a few years one easily slipped back into dangerous ground. Christian music exists in a strange a-historical liminal space of no past. I missed out on the roots music formed by black folks. No blues, no jazz, no blacks.
Now, there were some minorities and some people of color. POD had some latino members and an African-American, and their color stood out. However, nothing was mentioned of their color. They were just Christian. They weren’t celebrated for their culture, at least in our town and church. Their skin tone was washed in the blood just like mine. Race wasn’t talked about. Race wasn’t apart of it. The music was worship. The music was for the soul and nothing else.
While today the situation is a bit better, artists like Mandisa regularly make the charts but I still wonder. When was the last time any of these artists spoke out about race? The only time I hear about it is from TobyMac and his Diverse-City. But he is a white guy. Does CCM allow it’s artists of color to speak about race or do we ask them to sing but not speak?
I’m not entirely sure of the connection here but I do know that for me, and in my upbringing, I missed out on good music from good people. Growing up my heroes were white. Growing up, the voices I heard speaking were like mine, and it reinforced some things. Things I’m now trying to get rid of.