I once made a comment on social media about my conflict with February consistently being my busiest month of the year. I had two consecutive years where I played 20+ college shows in one month (maybe about five or so the rest of the year). Those two years left an imprint on me, an unsettled feeling that has never left. “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, Joy. Appreciate the fact that 40% of your income comes from a month with the least amount of days. Don’t get annoyed with the fact that these campuses are only booking you b/c it’s Black History Month. You’re black.”
We live in a country of contradictions. We spend so much time putting laws into place — bills that are thousands of pages long, fine print that explains the terms of agreement, detailed instructions on how to file a claim if you’ve been unjustly treated…. We love our laws. We love our order. We love all the things we’ve written down to prove that we are just and fair. We especially love our political correctness.
We live in an era where we think we’ve done something because we made a post.
But I’m gonna use a word nobody likes to talk about: Sin. We exist in a country that doesn’t believe it’s real, that doesn’t care to acknowledge evil unless it’s being done by someone else somewhere else. And usually that someone else is a non-white person in a non-white neighborhood or country.
Consider Enron’s accounting fraud that later led to its bankruptcy; or the economic crash of 2008 also caused by fraud, mismanagement, and blatant disregard for integrity. Men touting degrees from America’s finest institutions. Men with so much responsibility yet holding so little respect for those they were responsible for…given generously brief prison sentences while ruining the lives of so many.
Here’s the thing friends, it’s not that we don’t know what’s right, it’s that we don’t care enough. The problem isn’t that our laws are flawed (even though they are). The problem is that, even with our laws and even though we wear our political correctness like a badge of honor, we care only to the degree that it won’t be an inconvenience or mess with our comfort…or even worse, our narratives. This is our problem.
I’ve been pretty unsettled with the social media dialogue this past week. The black community desperately wants the white community to speak up, to carry the load, to become an ally. White friend makes a post on social media. Black friend comments and says “thanks for saying that. It means a whole lot to me.” White friend probably feels a little less guilty knowing they’ve proved their allegiance and solidarity, thus proving that “nobody is racist.”
Black Lives Matter signs are everywhere in more yards than they were in a week ago. Random people I haven’t heard from in ages are reaching out to me to ask me how I’m doing, what I need, if I’m okay, how I feel. If I need to talk it out. I appreciate it, I really do. And I don’t have any doubts that these people care — especially the friends I talk to regularly.
So then what’s the problem?
We live in an era where we think we’ve done something because we’ve made a post, changed our profile picture, or gone “dark for a day.” We think we’ve made a difference because we’ve succumbed to the peer pressure and did what our favorite famous person told us to do. The powers that be say you’ve made a difference because you wrote a few sentences expressing anger even though maybe you just felt bullied to do it because if you didn’t people might start to think you’re “some kind of racist.”
I am concerned because we live in a country where we create the problem, fix the problem and then make ourselves the hero when we’re actually the villain.
Please leave your political correctness at the door.
A few years ago I was partnering closely with a nonprofit organization that was (and is still) doing amazing work around the world. (I hope you’re still tracking with me. I’ll tie this all together soon.) This group’s focus was hunger. My role as an artist advocate was to ask my fans to support the children and families who benefited from their work by sponsoring a child through a monthly commitment. After four years of partnering with said organization, I could not shake the feeling in me that something was wrong. Something just didn’t feel right. How could I go on stage every weekend, asking people to give money to end world hunger, while watching the same people eat only half the food on their plates. This is something that has always troubled me, but it struck a new nerve. Given that we live in a country that throws away 40% of its food each day, I could not reconcile my nightly appeals from the stage to “end world hunger” knowing full well that we already have enough food and resources in the world to do just that…and knowing that there are specific laws that are strategically put in place to prevent food equity. Was I helping the cause or was I helping people massage their egos — giving them a reason to feel better about solving the problem we were actually responsible for creating…or ignoring. Ignoring…hmmm.
What does any of this have to do with George Floyd?
Here we are in 2020 talking about the greatest contradiction of all time: a free country founded on the absence of freedom. A Memorial Day honoring military men who have died in battle for their country — a holiday specifically created in the settled dust of the Civil War. Meanwhile a new martyr emerges giving the term “Civil War” a whole new meaning…giving the term “died in battle” a whole new meaning. This is a full circle moment y’all.
I am concerned.
I am concerned because we live in a country where we create the problem, fix the problem and then make ourselves the hero when we’re actually the villain. We are literally living in a sick cycle. A war that began on Day 1 of this country and an ideology that is embedded in the very soil we stand on. Watered with blood. Our lies are layered…tightly wound, just like our egos.
Racism is a system. Meaning the problems this country has created will not be fixed by an angry post, or a well-intentioned text to your black friend about an isolated incident telling them that you feel guilty or embarrassed on behalf of white America.
In the paraphrased words of Robin DiAngelo: We celebrate the fact that Jackie Robinson is the first African American pro baseball player, but we don’t ask the question, “Why should that matter? Why was it a big deal in the first place?” Because white people finally said he could play with them? Because he was finally “allowed” into the club?
Robin DiAngelo, who authored the book White Fragility, says, “Racism is not an event. It is a system.”
Racism is not just something that happens when a woman calls the cops on a man watching birds in the park. It’s not just something that happens when a guy goes for a run and gets shot dead by suspicious neighbors. And it’s not just when a cop mercilessly smothers the life out of a helpless man, with no visible remorse while the whole world watches.
Racism is a system. Meaning the problems this country has created (or even worse, ignored) will not be fixed by an angry post, or even a well-intentioned text to your black friend about an isolated incident telling them that you feel guilty or embarrassed on behalf of white America.
“Racism is not an event. It is a system.”
Those words have rung so painfully true this week, each time I open my inbox. Email upon email from venues and online music magazines declaring “Black Lives Matter” in their subject lines. But for years I have played a “game” with myself called “How many artists of color are headlining a show at [insert venue name]?” and “How many artists of color are reviewed/interviewed in this week’s edition of [insert magazine name]?” And in all the years I have opened those same newsletters in my inbox, the answer has been disheartening. The percentages are terrible, trust me. I hate this game, but I do it b/c I’m curious. And if you think I’ve had longstanding suspicions that this “system” affects my own ability to get into certain venues, you’d be right. But that’s another conversation for another time — one that is kind of not enjoyable for me to talk about.
Racism is a system.
We lower the hurdles and tear down our walls and then commend ourselves for how generous we are when those walls should never have been up in the first place. We love our philanthropic spirit — the way we give to the “needy” then pat ourselves on the back for ascribing worth to someone while failing to see their intrinsic worth that was never in need of our approval in the first place — just a level playing field.
This is the system. We give because we take. We are on a hamster wheel, everyone.
Nevermind the media — the very machine responsible for perpetuating the white supremacists’ narrative — that statistically (and disproportionately) won’t cast African Americans in lead movie roles unless the movie is specifically about a “black issue.” This is sloooowly changing. Or the media that (through decades of bad reporting) has perpetuated the narrative that black people are dangerous and unruly. Black America said, “Okay, so we like to televise things, huh? Okay, I guess I’ll pull out my phone and broadcast the truth…and maybe then something will change.” Alas, the nightly news has obliged and decided it’s worth their time to tell the truth — thus working to repair the false narrative they created. Full circles.
The problem isn’t that white people don’t know what black people are saying. The problem is that White America does not want to listen and that the longstanding leadership does NOT want this to change.
Nevermind the Evangelical Church that has historically used the Bible to support a false hierarchy — the Church that has comfortably remained divided on Sunday mornings — remaining silent on issues that make its patrons antsy…or even “worse” issues that scare congregants out of the pews. The Gospel that was falsely weaponized is finally being used for its original purpose — reconciliation. Full circle.
You guys, racism is a system.
We literally can’t get any more politically correct as a country, my friends. But we love our words. We love our intellect. And the more we talk about it the better we feel about ourselves because “now we’re ‘woke.'” But the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough conversations, forums, summits. The problem isn’t that white people don’t know what black people are saying. The problem is that White America does not want to listen and that the longstanding leadership does NOT want this to change. And make no mistake, this is not a 4-year-old Donald Trump problem so please don’t make this about political parties. Racism is not four years old. It’s so much easier to point the finger away from yourself. And sidebar: The media is still playing its cards well, politicizing an issue that, at its very core, has nothing to do with politics.
So what now?
Would we ever just admit that we know what to do but don’t want to do it? Would we ever admit that maybe we don’t know what to do but are too afraid to ask b/c it puts us in a vulnerable position…because it makes us uncomfortable? Would we ever admit the sin in our hearts that prioritizes our own comfort over others’ pain? And justifies it in roundabout ways? Would we ever admit that it’s waaay easier to give money to a cause we “care” about than to actually roll up our sleeves and physically insert ourselves into the solution? Would you ever admit that you don’t actually have black friends that you do life with, invite over for dinner, spend time with. And if you did, would they be proof that you’re not racist, or would they just be your friends?
I do not enjoy the culture of proof we are currently existing in right now.
When [insert name] Magazine’s “Anti-racism Resource Guide” arrived in my inbox this week, I hesitated to open it and cringed when I did. An extensive lists of things to read, protest protocol, organizations and businesses to give money to, and petitions to sign. But not one comment about doing life with someone who looks different than you. Nothing like “Hey, why don’t you just have an honest, vulnerable conversation with a black person and hear about life from their perspective instead of watching this YouTube video because it safe and non-confrontational?” Nothing about relationship.
What are we doing?
You can’t know a person by reading about them. You can’t know a person by giving them your money. You can’t even know a person by having similar opinions. All these things are great, but you can only really know someone when you’re in relationship with them.
Guess what guys, the things you can’t see are more real than reality. So when I talk about sin and love, and the heart, I am telling you that THIS is our country’s problem.
Here’s the deal (substituting “you” for “I”):
If [you] gave everything [you] have to the poor and even sacrificed [your] body, [you] could boast about it; but if [you] didn’t love others, [you] would have gained nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice over injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 1 Corinthians 13:3-7
We do not talk about the heart in public discourse. We only talk about the facts, the things you can prove with logic — with your brain. Guess what guys, the things you can’t see are more real than reality. So when I talk about sin and love, and the heart, I am telling you that THIS is our country’s problem. We are selfish. We are proud. Laws, rules, regulations are not the problem. The problem is our pride.
I just cannot subscribe to the idea that popular opinion that humans can “save themselves.” Because every chance we get we mess it up. Whether it’s racism, classism, tribalism…we just keep getting it wrong. I say this after a lengthy conversation with my mom who shared about how tribalism is literally splitting Nigeria in half. She is grieved for her friends and family back home. Talking about the division happening in her village back in Nigeria and how it’s playing out tribally in light of Corona. Humans and our hierarchies. We keep getting it wrong b/c we don’t care. Because we don’t want to pay the ultimate price — sacrifice.
This whole thing has me looking at “sin” with fresh eyes. I’m reminded of a Bible verse where Jesus says, “If you think it in your heart, it’s as if you’ve already committed the offense.” I’ve always glossed over that idea, but now I get it. While Jesus was specifically talking about men who look at women disrespectfully, the heart of the message is that what we think and dwell on reflects who we become. And guess what guys: What goes in eventually comes out. And sometimes, before it comes out it incubates and grows. That’s the only way a man can kill another man publicly in slow motion while the whole world watches, and not bat an eye.
So what next?
To all my white friends:
To my white friends who have asked me “What can I do?”: Don’t keep your distance. Speak up if you feel compelled to but not to assuage your guilt. More importantly, enter in. Befriend someone who does not look like you. Again, not to make yourself feel better, but to learn, to grow. Ask yourself an honest question: “Why don’t I have any black friends in my life? Like really IN my life?” And don’t allow yourself to give the easy answer: “There aren’t any in my neighborhood, at my church, at my job, anywhere.” Black people are not hard to find. We are everywhere.
Secondly, allow yourself to be uncomfortable. Don’t consistently look for the easy out — the one that gets you out of a conversation b/c you “don’t know what to say” or because you’re “offended or don’t feel ‘safe.'” Guess what, your black friends 9 times out of 10 don’t feel safe talking to you about this stuff either. It’s gonna take some humility and a whole lot of discomfort.
If you don’t know what to say, just listen. And if you don’t know what you don’t know, just ask. But don’t enter into the conversation with preconceived notions that you don’t plan to change. Don’t engage if you’re not prepared for your perspective to be challenged.
To my black friends:
Don’t shame a white person because they don’t ask the “right” question in the “right” way. If someone is asking it’s because they want to know. Either they don’t know, or they don’t know that they don’t know. If someone puts themselves on the line to ask a question, be gracious and answer the question in love even if you think it’s silly. Remember they’re coming from a completely different perspective and they need you to respond to them in love. Love is the only thing that breaks down walls and brings the change we hope to see. Also use your discernment. If someone’s just trying to start drama, don’t give that person the time of day. Save your energy for someone who cares.
To both my black and white friends, and everyone else:
Jesus. Jesus came for your heart, not your good intentions. Get to know Jesus. Not religious Jesus, not historical Jesus, not televangelist Jesus. Not Christmas Jesus. Not “sweet baby Jesus.” Real Jesus. The Jesus that cared more about transformed hearts than being right. The Jesus that saw evil and simply said “go and sin no more.” What an example to follow.
Last but not least:
Do not look for the ties that break apart. Look for the ties that bind. We have always only been as strong as our weakest link — and our weakest link is not Corona and its effect on capitalism and the inevitable recession. It’s not even the media’s strategic attempts to polarize our country. Our weakest link is and has always been racism. We MUST repair that link. That would be a beautiful full circle moment.
Here is my musical contribution to the above. The song “Walk” is roughly six years old but feels more timely than ever.
“Full Circle” is reposted with permission from Joy Ike’s blog.