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Sunday, February 23, 2014

On ESPN OTL's N-word special


I just finished watching ESPN Outside the Lines' special program on the N-word. For myself, being 60, I found myself agreeing with the persons of over 40 on the program who expressed the feeling that, due to its insulting nature to those who have been racially black in the United States for the whole of its history, it is never appropriate to be used. In the program, some off camera figure interviewed a number of students at Teaneck (NJ) High School, two of whom were black, one Asian, and one Jewish-surnamed maybe white, maybe mixed race, who expressed significantly less restrictive views, except for one, on the word's use, or attempted to differentiate between its historical racially insulting use and its use in their pop culture.
There is one thought I have about this subject which is so a part of the subculture of followers of Jesus of approximately my age, and almost assuredly an idea foreign to the persons connected with the production of that program, given ESPN/ABC/Disney's secularist bias, that I figure I'd write a few paragraphs.
Within the subculture of believers in Jesus here in North America when I was in my late teens and twentys, that is, the decade of the 1970's, there was a development of certain talented persons using the styles of the popular music of the day to express their faith in Jesus, which was rejected as inappropriate by a significant amount of older leaders in the traditional churches. That was refered to as Jesus Rock, or Jesus Music. Over time, as those leaders retired or passed on and replaced by leaders who were out of that age group, that style of music was accepted within the traditional churches, and the relationship became less adversarial. On the opposite side, there is a degree that the music became more status quo.
The two subjects come together in connection with one song of the early 1970's, Larry Norman's “Right Here in America”. Sitting here forty years later, one can say that, in a sense, what is now called contemporary Christian music comes out of the work of Norman, much like smooth jazz comes out of Chuck Mangoine's “Feels So Good”, or bluegress, at least as a recorded medium, from Ralph Stanley. Norman's work never got much airplay, even as contemporary Christian radio began being a format in the late 1970's, in part due to his tendency to be unpredictable, much like in commercial rock, the refusal to play Tiri Humpherdahl, in that case because he littered his music with the famous seven words that became the George Carlin monologue that eventually spawned a Supreme Court ruling (I actually never heard Humpherdahl's music, but have been told this secondhand).
Many years later, when one of the Christian record companies had other artists do a tribute album, “Right Here in America” was not one of the songs chosen. That would be, in part, due to its being so set as a reflection of what was doing on both in the traditional church, the Jesus Movement, society, and politics. Nonetheless, there was some lines near the end of the song, “I have been in your churches/ And sat in your pews/ And heard sermons about/ How much money you'd need for the year./ And I've heard you make references/ To Mexicans, Chinamen, N-------s, and Jews,/ And I gather you wish that we'd all disappear.” Now, Norman was none of those ethnicities, and was speaking in the voice of the folk singer, or prophet, of God Himself, relating to the “least of these”. He assuredly used the phrase as a shock mechinism, to make us fellow believers aware of the difference between the religious status quo and truly following Jesus.
Yes, that tends to follow the line of reasoning in most of the blogs I write. Somehow, I feel that that may be the one and only time I have heard a Caucasian person use that epithet in a redeeming manner. I've thought, over the years, if I was a singer-musician, which I am so much not, and I was to drag up some of the most powerful songs of years gone by, and I somehow chose that one, would I use that word, or do something distracting that would communicate the same intent, such as stop playing, pause, and say “African-American” in a voice different from how I was singing, and then continue. Since that's not my lot in life, its irrelevant. What isn't irrelevant is how the Holy Spirit moves powerfully for a period of time through something, and then, like the wind, blows where He wills.
On the ESPN program, near the end, one of their commentators, Jamele Hill, made the comment that, as a reporter, she felt uncomfortable, assumably from a from a freedom of speech stance, saying that any word should never be used, but that there were words that are taken differently if someone with the group uses among each other, and taken differently if someone outside the group uses them. She gave examples of blacks, women, and gays. For we believers in Jesus, it is clear that, at least in the media, unbelievers cannot bring themselves to refer to someone saying the Sinner's Prayer, except in a mocking manner. That is understandable, because that touches a sensitive area in a person's being. There may be some other specific points of communication that I'm just not thinking of at this moment.. That's one of the great things about blogs. If one occurs to me, I can add onto this stream of thought later.

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