Christian Music can reinforce white privilege.

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.

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4 Comments

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  1. I am not sure I really get the point of this. I don’t think I have ever heard a Christian song that talks about or celebrates being white or black. Because that is not what any of those songs are even about. I feel like by what you are saying you are simply stirring a pot of trouble. People are people. Skin color is just a color. Christian musicians are singing their praises unto God and singing about their personal experiences and troubles in their Christian walk. Not about whether we are black or white. It is not a racial issue ….and then someone thinks it should be.

    • Amanda,
      I’m assuming based on your profile picture that you are white. While in some respects skin color is just a color, it is much, MUCH easier for us white folk to ignore the many places where it is not. When you go to shop or turn on the TV, the world looks like you. The “nude” bandaids are the color of your skin. Have you ever walked down the aisle of dolls and looked at the skin color? It can be incredibly difficult to find more than one that isn’t white. And while we can say that it is only color, can you imagine how you would feel if the world around you seemed not to ignore that people that look like you exist? This is, of course, only one small example of the micro-aggressions mentioned above.

      The thing is, the way we see ourselves in the world, the way we go about our daily lives, the things we are exposed to impact even our Christian faith. Talking about race is important in a Christian sphere because people of color matter to God—because racism still exists in our world, sometimes (oftentimes) hidden under our very noses. But Jesus said the second command is to love others as we love ourselves. And to do that, we need to hear the voices of people who don’t look like us. So if something labeled “Christian culture” is only representative of white culture or middle class culture, then perhaps we need to reexamine whether or not it is fulfilling what Christ calls us to.

  2. I must be missing something here. The Christian music we listen to should have much to do with our relationship with Christ. It has nothing to do with our skin color. I am overweight. Should I be upset because there are not many overweight Christian music artists? No. I think to say that Christian music can reinforce white privilege is creating a new pot to stir. The music is about God, not skin color.

    • Amanda, Sorry for the long delay and thanks for your thoughts. What I am referring to is the industry and not the values of the art form. I agree that music speaks to the soul but the industry creates things beyond that (and reinforces capitalism, sales, and stereotypes that sell). Hence, the very attractive people and the propensity towards whiteness. HOWEVER, I think that the “Christian” music industry is merely echoing the systemic racism and white privilege of its customers and participants (American Christians). “Christian” music is merely a symptom of the large disease of American/American-Christian racism.

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