There is little in the field of White worship (church) music that I can listen to anymore. Fred Hammond, Israel Houghton & New Breed, Kirk Franklin, Mavis and the Staples (tell me “Carry This Load” isn’t worship) is more along my lines. But I rather like Gungor. Their hit song “God Is Love” definitely declares that God is not a White man, that God is in fact not a man. That’s something that my eight year old daughter appreciates. I also appreciate a recent falling out with conservative Christians over Gungor’s open objection to the idea of eternal torture.
So I was a bit disappointed when I found the lyrics to a new song after someone brought up what they felt was some #AllLivesMatter erasure or derailing. And so I and a number of others asked some questions out loud.
I tweeted at Gungor not to gain notoriety or to punish the band or hurt their sales (if you think I can do that, thank you for having so much confidence in me I guess?), but because they are people who I believe will listen and whom I have faith in. During the course of our morning-long discussion on Twitter, I promised to write my thoughts out more coherently in a blog form[i]. The following is partly a reaction, but also contains many thoughts about White allyship of Black struggles and the problems of co-opting in efforts to assist that extend beyond this one song and this one group.
“We Belong Together” – Gungor
We are better together
We are the day and night
Together we are stronger
We are stronger
We are better together
There is no real divide
The winter and the summer
We are stronger
Every black life matters
Every woman matters
Every soldier matters
All the unborn matter
Every gay life matters
Here’s to life and all its branches
All together we are stronger
We belong together
I believe Gungor created this song as an attempt of solidarity – to show that they stand with and even personalize the Black Lives Matter movement and what it says and does. Solidarity is an action where diverse people join together around a common cause, specifically of liberation for an oppressed/marginalized/exploited people group (workers/strikers, indigenous people in the Philippines or Mexico, black Nigerian mothers and children).
Solidarity works best:
- when we recognize both the commonality of all as well as the individuality and uniqueness of each;
- when we are not flattened – when we don’t minimize what the represented group is going through as if we all were in the same boat;
- when we can see the beauty of the person but also the particular ways that racism, misogyny, transmisogyny, classism, homoantagonism, bi-antagonism, ableism, ageism, etc, impact us on various spots and in various ways (ie, a white woman will experience sexism differently than a black woman who will experience it differently than a First Nations woman who will experience it differently than a Filipina transwoman).
Solidarity, then, understands the distinctions between real live experiences and their struggles and thus does not attempt to flatten them.
Towards the end of his blog explaining this song, Michael argues he didn’t want to wash away Black Lives Matter but wanted to add to it in order to expand sympathy for the movement. But yet, that is what effectively happened.
The unborn are not oppressed in ways similar to black people. In fact, even with “every woman matters”, adding “all the unborn matter” turns the song into a political declaration, one particularly anti-abortion. This then arguably comes at odds and undercuts the line before it where “every woman matters”. Anti-abortion rhetoric compares women who have abortions to murderers and justifies their harassment and even murder. A presidential candidate, Ben Carson, also a medical doctor, just likened abortion-seekers to slave-holders.
Fundamentalists as a class, in fact, tend to oppress children, women, and sexual minorities within their domains, and if can be, within their reach (Kim Davis, anybody??). They certainly oppress gay as well as lesbian, bi, trans, and queer people. So what is the point of putting them on the same list and saying that their lives matter the same if fundamentalist parents and churches are meting out (at times lethal) violence to LGBTQ people, as well as women+ seeking medical care for their bodies.
Herein lies the problem with the framing of the Otherization argument that Gungor tries to tackle in this song. They named groups they felt were Other-ized. But the problem is not one of feeling that the named group (whether it be fundamentalists or black people) are made fun of or not understood. That was never the intent behind #BlackLivesMatter, nor of solidarity. It is that specific people are harmed, are not allowed to live, are infantilized, are not given bodily autonomy, are hunted in the streets and at home, are incarcerated as a way of life.
That’s quite a different thing that thinking that a certain group of harassers is weird and mean.
To say that there is no real division between fundamentalists and the LGBTQ people they oppress is to say that the body does not matter. But Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ-freedom movement are specifically about the importance of the body: incarceration, sex, gender, rights, brutality, murder, hostility, acceptance for whom they are. To make the argument merely metaphysical is to remove it from an earthly, embodied plane of existence – to wait upon God or the cosmos or The Force to make things right.
Under faux solidarity, or forced teaming, we are not allowed to make things right right now because then we will be harming our fellow travelers. This is what this logic teaches. That by asserting rights to live and to be liberated from oppression, the oppressed cause divisions and that division harm us all. True liberation comes from the oppressors in the right time, this logic says.
This is not joining in the struggle, it is not aiding the oppressed. It is telling them that they must wait. And that does not work. It has never worked. Oppression does not relent out of the goodness of its heart.
Fauxlidarity is a philosophy and theology for and by slavers, bankers, and the heteronormative patriarchy. We need instead a praxis that focuses on the theology for and by the enslaved. A God that liberates her people and draws them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Not a God who merely promises land with milk and honey and warns against rebellion.
Black Lives Matter is a political, social, theological, and philosophical statement of moral resistance to the political epicenter of anti-black violence of a nation state that rests in and prospers on the blood and bodies of black and brown people. To rephrase it as a personalized philosophical statement is to ignore its power in the collective imagination. This imagination, already in action, is vital to build up a mass movement of people across divides who are willing to create polity changes that respect black life, that effectively takes swipe against the racist incarceration system and against agents of the state that seek to snuff out black life at the slightest provocation.
While it is a nice thought that:
Oceans from drops of rain
Everybody made the same
White folks, we need to talk about solidarity with the oppressed on their terms. We need to talk about intersectionality, for sure, and how we identify, and how power (politics) works within that field. We need to talk about how ideas are spread through theology, philosophy, music, social media, to imbalance or rebalance those power differentials, to work towards justice or injustice or a bit of both.
The issues facing Black people in the United States, however, are distinct from the problems facing White or second-generation LatinXs in the States. They are distinct from Desi people, Afghanis, Central Africans, let alone from fundamentalists.
And at the very least, it’s time for White pro-life Christians to stop comparing Black people to the unborn.
How to show that Black Lives Matters:
Trust them. Get involved locally in funding black communities (equitable, living wage jobs, investing fully in public education from K-Terminal Degrees, building health and mental health community centers, allowing property within communities of color to flow back to those communities) and defunding institutions that detain and defraud them (such as jails; militarized, unaccountable police; payday loan centers and banks with usury fees; for-profit education). If your community does not have a plethora of black voices, your state likely has several. If you’re in one of those states with few black people, recognize your state’s wealth is tied to theft from black and native peoples nonetheless.
But mostly, recognize that Black and Brown people are beautiful, full of life, intellect, will, survival, and love.
- Post-Post Note:
Also worth noting is Dianna Anderson’s post on this song.
[i] I’m over a month late in this response btw