Ed: Let’s talk about some of the trauma that you walk through in and around systemic racism.
Lecrae: I often have to allow people to understand some of the historical narrative when people struggle with the idea: “You’re successful, you have Grammys, you have financial stability. How can you be traumatized by any type of racism? Get over it, move past it. How is it still affecting you today?”
I explain by using something as simple as education in my own life. My three times great grandmother was brought here from Africa. She was nine years old, kidnapped and trafficked. She was not allowed to get an education. After slavery ended, she was given the opportunity either to be free—which meant she’d be homeless and have to wander the streets—or to work on the plantation continuously for food.
So, my great grandmother, who followed in her footsteps, also had no opportunity for education. She just sharecropped from childhood forward to my grandmother, who said, “I want to get away from this place.” And she ran away or left home at 13 to try to find a better life. But she ran into discrimination and the inability to receive a quality education as well. And so it gets to my mother, who grew up in the civil rights era and who recognized that she was also prohibited from getting the same quality education as some of the white people in her city at the time.
For her, education was paramount. She wanted it so bad. Now you come to somebody like myself, who now has to carry all of that weight, all of that pressure of breaking through this cycle of my family not being able to get the same quality of education. But I’ve been able to get the same opportunities. That wears on your psyche. You’re thinking about that consistently. And when you’re blocked from some particular thing, or when you’re treated as less than you should be, that whole historical narrative plays into every move you make and every emotion you have.
That’s just one kind of example of how racism has played into my own narrative in my own life. That makes me passionate about making sure that people have equal opportunities for something as simple as education.
Ed: One of the things that we have found, which you and I both find disappointing, is that people push back on the idea of systemic racism, using someone successful like you as the reason. People ask why we need to talk about systemic racism when we’ve had a black president and Lecrae’s successful.
Lecrae: What is normative across white America is now, “Look at what you have.” It shouldn’t be the reality that 50 years ago, my mother couldn’t have the same rights that I have. But beyond that, it means recognizing that there are systems and infrastructures in place that are a lot more invisible.
It’s like state lines; you don’t see them, they’re imaginary lines, but they are there. That’s what has happened over time with racism in our society. In the same way that generational wealth passes down to some, so does that same lack of access and opportunity pass down to others.
You wonder why scores of black and Hispanic people live in particular parts of town. Historical racism put people in these positions. I think oftentimes when we use terms like white supremacy, there’s this picture in people’s heads of the Ku Klux Klan members wearing hoods, burning a cross, when in reality we’re really just talking about the power structure in our country. Like recognizing a white church that is very prominent with few, if any, leaders of diverse ethnic backgrounds. That’s a picture of supremacy in terms of who controls things and who makes the decisions. We’re trying to get people to awaken to issues in our society and in our world.
Ed: An important distinction when you’re describing white supremacy is to note you’re not talking about extreme organizations that advocate for white people to have control of the power of society. You’re not talking about the Klan, though they would fit the description.
There are historical realities that project into the present. For example, I live in Illinois, my kids go to a highly ranked school district. The property value appreciates in our school district. And yet, James Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist, is in the city. He is a student in our grad program and a trustee at Moody Bible Institute. He points out that property in his community doesn’t appreciate. That means the tax rates don’t support good public schools. Is that not a systemic issue? I think most reasonable people will say, yes, there is a systemic issue. So, how should white Christians like me and others respond and address these issues?
Lecrae: What I want people to acknowledge is that racism is a bedrock aspect to our country. But when we say black and white, we’re not talking about color specifically, we’re talking about infrastructures and power structures. A prime example: I started a record label, Reach Records, and we’ve attained success. We’ve gained an audience and there’s power there. But there’s a Latin community of Christians who don’t have infrastructure behind them to get their music out. I can either say, “Well, too bad for you. I hate that for you.” Or I can leverage my abilities to say, “How can I serve you in order to make sure that this music reaches the people that it needs to reach because I have the power to do so?”
It’s more about trying to find an individual opportunity for yourself, before you start thinking about this collective opportunity. What can you personally do to leverage some of the power? I mean, that’s what God does. He tells us to glean the fields. He told the Jews to glean the fields and make sure that there was extra for those who are less fortunate to pick up. I think it’s us looking for those opportunities, for my white brothers and sisters to look at that and say, okay, here’s an opportunity for me to leverage some power and privilege for someone who does not have this
Ed: You, Louie Giglio, and Dan Cathy were together. Louie was trying to explain there really is white privilege, but when he tried to use other language to articulate it, it didn’t go particularly well. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but there are structures that benefit me today in ways that don’t benefit you today as a person of color. Louie made an attempt at having a conversation. So how could it go better? How should pastors have this conversation?
Lecrae: First, we need private conversations before there are public conversations. It’s important for my white brothers and sisters to have people of color that they need. If you don’t have relationships with people of color that you need in your life, then there’s no need to depend on them for insight or wisdom. If I lived in Utah, there’s no way I could function without needing white people. But where are white people in a position where they need someone from another ethnicity? That changes the narrative because when you need someone, they can help you figure out what is offensive, for instance.
If you don’t have that need, then there’s no priority for you. When you have genuine relationships and you’re saying, these are my friends and I need them, and I want to meet with them consistently, it opens the door for genuine conversations where you have to talk about some of these things and become educated. We have to be careful not to simply practice virtue signaling, which is having these public conversations so that we look as if we’re in close proximity and close relationship with people from other ethnicities, but we’re not really. We have to make sure that we have these relationships off the public platform so that when we do get on the public platform, it’s genuine. Then there’s real learning and listening and processing going on.