An interview with a rapper on the radio the other day made me think about something in an entirely new way. He was discussing some of the more common themes found in rap songs that have been used- and criticized- over the years. You hear a rapper sing of something- and you naturally think the rapper is telling his own story- especially if it is an African-American singer.
Well, this particular rapper made the statement:
When people hear Johnny Cash sing "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die [from Folsom Prison Blues] no one really believes that Johnny Cash really did that. If I [the black rapper] sang those words they would think I really did it.Whoa!
How true is that! He would also be condemned and told he was corrupting youth and encouraging a Black culture that was violent. But Johnny Cash made millions from that song. And, on the most famous version, Live at Folsom Prison, the audience cheers (!!!) when he sings that line.
This is what many of us mean when we talk about "white privilege" and "systemic racism." We don't even notice the racism. Myself included.
No one questions Johnny Cash's deep and abiding Christian faith. No one challenges his glorifying a violent "white" culture. He doesn't even have to justify it. He actually wrote the song when he was young, in the military, and unknown.
It was just a song.
Well, as I said, this brought me up short and as so often happens, made me think more about my own wrestling with the ongoing demons of racism. Systemic racism, white privilege is NOT the result of people being racist. It is built into the system and we don't even notice it. We have a long way to go.