A few weeks ago, a mom driving her children to school was appalled when she heard the song “Norf Norf” by Vince Staples come on the radio. She was so disgusted with the song being played on the radio that she uploaded a webcam video to Facebook of her now viral rant about the song. “Norf Norf” details Staples’ experience growing up in a dangerous neighborhood in Long Beach, California. The song is gritty and true to reality—talking about Staples experiences with drugs, sex and murder growing up.
The mother takes offense at many parts of the song but especially to the line where Staples raps, “I ain’t never ran from nothin’ but the police.” Discussing the line, the mother complains, “Let’s just encourage kids to run from the police, because that’s ok, right? We wonder why this society is so messed up. Listen to the music.”
One of the main themes of the song is police violence. That line is Staples explaining how, even though he is not afraid of gang violence, he is afraid of being unjustly shot by the police. Amongst all of the racial tensions since Ferguson, it is incredible that the woman speaking in the video is so disconnected from racial strife that she can’t recognize a song about it.
A large part of understanding a culture is taking the time to engage in their art—whether that be visual art, literature or music. Engaging in art is beneficial for the producer because they feel like they are being taken seriously and the consumer because they learn something more about the culture they are interacting with. Covenant College students, who are generally white, middle class Christians, have a culture. We glory in our patron saints: Lewis, Tolkien, Mumford & Sons, and Ben Rector.
It is fine to have our favorites, and it is fine when we have certain genres or artists that we dislike. The problem comes when we try to turn it into a moralism. The things Christian culture embraces are mostly free of vulgarity, darkness, and sex. This is not the rest of the world’s experience, or our experience, so why are we shocked when art has these qualities?
I am especially disturbed at Christians’ reaction towards art created by the black and LGBT community. Take rap for example. Rap tends to be marked by more profanity, violence and sex. It is easy for us to dismiss this music as sinful—some of it is sinful. But before we make a snap judgement about a song, let’s think about the background of the artist we are talking about.
Others have come from different cultures, have experienced life differently and therefore have different things to say and different ways to say it. Most of us grew up in households where swearing was taboo. Many people who grew up in different cultures have different views about swearing and what is acceptable.
The same can be said of art produced by the LGBT community. I have heard much LGBT music and literature dismissed simply because the creator was “living in sin.” This might be true, but guess what—many of us have sins that we struggle with and are unrepentant for.
Christians, especially white evangelicals, have injured their witness toward the black and LGBT communities through both silent and vocal judgment of individuals made in the image of God bearing their souls through art. Consuming art is a great way to build bridges with members of communities that are different from us.