I continue to be disappointed by comments I read and hear which compare Dr. Seuss and other elements of pop culture. Particularly, I have been turned off because of the comparison between Dr. Seuss and “rap music.” Growing up in the Church I frequently heard the refrain that “rap music” was in some way wrong. I am a long way from an expert on the genre and would not try to justify the morality of some of the songs which would fit the rather vague definition offered by some, but I want to push back on this comparison.
It is obvious to me the people who are making these comments know little about what they call “rap” beyond what has crossed over into more mainstream radio. I find this to be important because, if I want to condemn a thing I should know something about the thing I speak against. How can people condemn “rap” when they know very little about the genre. Throwing up a generic label “rap music” does not serve any purpose. Am I to cancel artists like Sho Baraka, Lecrae, or Flame because they fall into the category “rap”? Most people who have listened to them would say, “No, of course I didn’t mean them, I’m talking about secular rap.” At this point I would respond so you mean like Tupac’s Changes or City High What Would You Do, which have real discussions about life in the inner city? This is where the conversation gets interesting because many will object to the language used in these songs. I get that I do not want my children exposed to that kind of language. For the last year or so I have regularly listened to these songs, but would not play them in front of my kids (which is why I listen to Sho Baraka & Lecrae because I can listen to them in front of my kids). These songs are important for me, not just as good music, but because they remind me that my situation in life is not the same as everyone else.
But I get the objection that we do not want our kids exposed to mature material. So I respond why “rap” and not “rock” or “country” which have explicit language and sexual and violent references? Honestly, listen to The Mama’s and the Papa’s they talk about drugs and sex frequently. So what’s the difference, why single out “rap”? Even if a person could prove that this genre is the most un-Christian musical genre, that is not why “rap” is singled out. The truly Christian response to would be to make comparisons to the music popular in one’s own world. Jesus calls us to take the board out of our own eye first. That means if the people around me (my community) listen to country music or rock music which is offensive to Christianity, I begin the cleanup there. But of course, if these individuals were truly invested in such an attitude they would be asking, “is there something in Dr. Seuss which is contrary to Christianity.?” Rather than making the comparison.
The truth is many do not think about the comparison they are making, they know there is offensive material in some “rap” albums but little beyond that fact. I do not know if people are equating “rap” with black and brown cultures, though certainly this is the public perception. Perhaps these people are not masking this connection explicitly, but the popular mindset is rap and hip hop being to black and brown cultures. Meaning, as individuals equate Dr. Seuss and “rap” they are equating white culture with black. They fail to consider that essentially they are saying to minorities who feel the sting of racism, “clean up your vulgarity if you want us to take you seriously.” Now, as I think about that comparison I am troubled, precisely because they choose to forget the vulgarity in their own music choices. Christians cannot say to others, “clean up yourself before I will clean up myself.” Or response must be to listen and respond in love, kindness, and generosity.
I think that most of the people I have seen making such comments are genuinely trying to be good Christians; I think what hurts them is the potential that they have participated in a sin such as racism. They react harshly because that is human nature when we feel the conviction of being in the wrong– we lash out. The human tendency is to call out the sins of others rather than to admit our own faults. I get that, I really do, but healing cannot happen if we are lashing out or passing the blame. Rather, I have found it effective to listen to what these individuals would call “rap” music. I have listened to the words and to the emotion expressed, and I have learned and grown. My concern is to hear that pain, to hear the frustration, to hear the grief and to measure how the sin in my life and community has contributed to this pain. I cannot be concerned with the sin of others, rather, I must work on showing Jesus to my world. When the sin in my community is pointed out I must show grace and work to address that sin before I help address the sin of others.