Willful Ignorance


For a long time, I have suffered from willful ignorance.

When the film Straight Outta Compton was released a few years ago, I rolled my eyes. With my whole body. I was positive the last thing the world needed was the glorification of thug cop killers. I just knew this movie was going to justify the hatred, violence and disrespect criminals felt toward law enforcement. And I was not going to have any part of it.

I knew this, because it’s what I had been told about hip-hop and gangster rap my whole life. It’s what I’d been told because I had never, in my whole life, ever listened to one single secular rap song. While NWA, Tupac and Dr. Dre were hitting the charts, I was jamming out to Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith because that’s what Jesus would have done and I had the WWJD bracelet to back me up.

I was 16 years old when the LA riots occurred. At the time, I believed those riots happened because the people living in that area of LA had no respect for the police. I believed those riots happened because Rodney King didn’t do as he was told. I believed those riots happened because large groups of people protesting always become violent. I believed those riots happened because of the hate incited by gangster rap and the criminal element in the ghettos. I knew this because this is what I had been told, both explicitly through media and overheard conversations and implicitly by the lack of voices from People of Color in my world.

The LA riots terrified me and became my bedrock understanding of the consequences of protest and outrage. It confirmed to me what I had already suspected: protesting leads to unnecessary anger and violence. Protesting was, somehow in my mind, sinful and rebellious and should be avoided and condemned. Full stop.

Then, several years ago, doubts about much of what I had been taught, began to creep in. It began with realizing that Louis Riel was not a rebel, as I had been taught, but a leader of government and a defender of Metis rights. Then I covertly picked up Sarah Bessey’s book, Jesus Feminist, and read those wild and terrifying words about a Jesus who valued women and made way for their voice in the world. This rocked my world and propelled me to reexamine what other “biblical truths” might not be as true as I had once been taught. And all of this began an avalanche of questioning, discovering and listening to words I had never heard before.

I began to seek out voices I never knew existed on topics that had always intrigued, and yet, terrified me. Google became my guide on this journey of rediscovery. I consumed documentaries and articles at a rapid rate and one topic led into the next with an unexpected fluidity. Indigenous land rights led to the suffragette movement which led to the second wave feminists which led to anti-war protests which led to the Civil Rights movement which led to the Black Panthers which led me right to the front door of gangster rap.

Pump the breaks.

As I edged from the Civil Rights movement into the Black Panthers, I felt the decline of The Slippery Slope under my feet. I felt dangerous and rebellious, but I couldn’t stop. I was consuming the truth with an insatiable appetite and instead of being satisfied with what I was learning, I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with so much of what I had been taught. But was I brave enough to open my mind to the Why behind rap and the movements it had fueled?

I reluctantly sat down with my sister one afternoon to watch Straight Outta Compton. I don’t think I took a single breath for the entire two hours and 47 minutes of the film. I cried and I raged and I grieved. My self-righteous ignorance was a shameful weight around my neck as I watched the story unfold. For weeks afterward, I became obsessed with discovering more truth. I watched one documentary after another about rap icons, protests within the black community and the words that captured the struggle.

In the middle of all of this, what I now know to be true is this: we see many angry protestors when we refuse to listen to a single voice of truth. The anger we see is because of the hate we give. Hold up now, don’t tell me you don’t hate. Don’t get defensive when I say racism is rampant. You may not be a racist, but we operate within racist systems. You may not be an intentional oppressor, but we function within an oppressive society. Furthermore, willful ignorance is what keeps these systems operational. My willful ignorance sustained my passive racism and propelled my own acts of unintentional oppression. And, Sweetheart, so does yours.

I have a long row to hoe, but I’m working at it. I refuse to be complacent in my own ignorance any longer. I’ll choose discomfort over self-righteousness any day and if you catch me out, I give you permission to call me out. Because this, this holy difficult work of understanding and honoring, is exactly what Jesus did do. And I’m here for that.