DISCLAIMER: Explicit Content
Unarmed and Black (Intro)
America has never been, nor will it ever be a safe place for black persons.
Michael Brown is yet another indicator of this reality. Sadly, his name is one on a long list of black lives that have been extinguished too soon. This tragedy is perhaps magnified in lieu of police barbarity so casually displayed by the New York Police officers who ended Eric Garner’s life by putting him in a chokehold. And, lest we forget, it has been just a little over a year now since Trayvon Martin was tried from the grave and found guilty—guilty of being too black to be in the neighborhood in which he was shot and killed.
All three individuals were unarmed at the time of their murders.
Many Americans reject this thesis. Yet to do so requires that one look at American history from an ahistorical perspective. Racialization runs deep in America. Or, perhaps we should rest easy upon hearing that there are more African Americans under correctional control today then there were slaves in 1850. And it is not simply these persons “poor choices” that have landed them in correctional facilities, rather, a burgeoning amount of evidence shows that the justice system in the U.S. preys on poor persons; it is no small matter that these poor persons also happen to be minorities.
The murder of Michael Brown—as appalling as it is—serves as a tangible reminder that “liberty and justice for all” is in actuality “liberty and justice for some.” Racism has not disappeared, but has simply reinvented itself—mutating—so as to exists beyond the naked eye. As it often goes with things that are hidden or repressed, it takes some chaotic event(s) to expose what has been hidden in the shadows all along.
What Do Ya Know About ‘Pac’s Socioreligious Theory?
However, there are people who possess the unique ability to shed light on the shadows without resorting to violence. An individual who possessed this unique ability, to creatively act as both a social and religious critic of America, was hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur. ‘Pac’s genius lies in his ability to criticize power through artistic expression. His rhymes specifically speak into the chaos we currently find ourselves in,
“Cops give a damn about negro
Pull the trigga kill a nigga he’s a hero.”
This is undoubtedly the angst being felt, not only in Ferguson, MO, but across the nation as we have recently seen police brutality at its worse. Police brutality was a theme weaved into the very fabric of Tupac’s lyrics as it was a reality that he, and others like him, dealt with daily. In his track Trapped, ‘Pac laments that the police,
“never talk peace in the black community
All we know is violence, do the job in silence
Walk the city streets like a rat pack of tyrants
Too many brothers daily heading for the big penn
Niggas commin’ out worse off than when they went in.”
Tupac’s disdain and suspicion for power figures is evident in his pop-theology as he begins to ask existential questions. These questions are most powerfully felt on his album The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. Particularly insightful is his cut Blasphemy, where Tupac wonders aloud,
“Is God just another cop
waitin’ to beat my ass if I don’t go pop?”
For Tupac, sociological observations have led him to ask a theodical question. That is to say that Tupac is acutely aware that injustice finds an ally in abusive social structures. Because of this, ‘Pac is left to wonder, why is it that God permits black people to suffer so?
There are a good many Christians who would beg to differ with Tupac’s socioreligious observations. Of course, these Christians usually come from a specific pedigree. White middle-to-upper-class Christians ignore, or avoid altogether, the role of societal structures when discussing the problem of evil.
For them, Michael Brown’s death was simply “an accident” or, worse yet, an anomaly—a grave miscarriage of American justice. Here ensues the psycho-theologizing: “Everything happens for a reason,” “It’s all part of God’s plan,” or “God works in mysterious ways.”
Theologian J. Kameron Carter undoubtedly speaks for many disenfranchised people as he demands that privileged Christians in America acknowledge the ways in which their advantages perpetuate unjust suffering on the vulnerable of society. Carter suggests that the tragic often times carries with it “certain social, cultural, and political factors.” While written in the wake of the Haitian earthquake in 2010, Carter’s observations about the question of evil remain timely and apt. Carter argues that for privileged, American Christians to callously and calmly avoid taking social factors into consideration in the aftermath of a tragedy, like Michael Brown’s death, is to remain “above the fray” or “disincarnate” from the reality of those whom YHWH most identifies with.
Killed by the Authorities (Outro)
Many white-middle-to-upper class congregations around America this Sunday will forgo mentioning Michael Brown’s name at all. For those that do, his name will be quickly followed by a caveat wherein the pastor spends more time condemning the rioters—rather than focusing on the event that initiated the chaos in the first place.
How is it, that this Sunday, these congregations will join together to worship Jesus Christ who himself was unjustly killed by the authorities, but they will fail to recognize the murder of Michael Brown? It no doubt has to do with these Christians becoming disincarnate from the dejected of society. Indeed, these are the same Christians who reject altogether that the U.S.’s modus operandi still largely relies on the oppression of minorities.
In general, for U.S. citizens to deny that systemic injustice still exists in this nation is both counter productive and asinine. But for white American Christians to reject this dictum demonstrates just how far removed they are from those in society Christ related to the most. Or, to be more explicit, by refusing to denounce the murder of Michael Brown, privileged Christians across America place themselves in opposition to Christ. It is, quite simply, a sin for white American Christians to continue ignoring the gross atrocities that perpetually plague dark persons existence here in the United States.
To repent simply starts with an admission that privilege and comfort have gotten in the way of justice and mercy. I am not suggesting here that substantial change can only occur if white middle-to-upper-class Christians finally “see the light.” This mentality fosters a spirit of paternalism and dependency. Rather, I am suggesting that these Christians engage in the tough task of reimagining who Jesus Christ is in light of this recent catastrophe. In so doing, they will undoubtedly encounter a savior who demands that his followers show preferential option to the poor. And, perhaps, this will even cause some to deny their privilege, pick up their crosses and embrace this opportunity to stand in solidarity with those on the margins of society.
While both Michael Brown and Jesus’ death should be interpreted as ultimate calamities, these events simultaneously provide invitations to join hands with the marginalized in an effort to make every crooked path straight, and every rocky place smooth.
In memory of Michael Brown
 For more on Tupac and theology, see Daniel White Hodge’s work in his Heaven Has A Ghetto: The Missiological Gospel and Theology of Tupac Amaru Shakur. (Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, 2010) and also The Soul of Hip Hop: Rims, Timbs and a Cultural Theology. (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2010).
 I have recently received much undue criticism for so cavalierly using the phrase “white middle-to-upper-class Christians” or some variation thereof (i.e. white American Christians, White Christians, etc). However, I maintain that I am not talking about white persons monolithically (as this sort of thinking goes against the entirety of my work) but I am rather talking about a specific group that has emerged through various sociological analyses. For a better picture of this group, see Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith’s groundbreaking work Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). For a more recent study, see Christena Cleveland’s Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart. 9.3.2013 edition. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2013).
 J. Kameron Carter, “Why Lord? Haiti and the God-Question.” The Other Journal.
 I Sam 2:8; Jer. 22:15-16; Micah 3:8-12; Lk 1: 51-53, 4:18-19, 6:20-21, 16:19-31; Phil 2:6-8; James 1:9-11, 5:1-6; I John 3:17.
 Picture of Tupac Amaru Shakur.