The day after the 2016 election I attended a prayer meeting via phone conference call.
We gathered for the purpose of naming both our grief and some semblance of hope that we could see in the uncertainty of the next four years.
Each pastor on the call took turns praying. I cannot remember a word of my prayer, or the other prayers said that evening, save for the one offered by Joshua DuBois.
He used the refrain from a Kendrick Lamar song “Alright,” reminding us that we were “gon’ be alright.”
With every lament, he named where he saw hope – more women and progressives winning in local elections? We gon’ be alright. People of faith mobilizing in record numbers in response to hate? We gon’ be alright.
The operative word in the refrain being “we.”
I found God in the prophetic lyrics of Kendrick Lamar and continue to over five years later.
DuBois’ words were a reminder that it has to be “we” in order to be alright. The work – whatever it looks like in the coming days, weeks, months and years – has to be in community. And to be in community means unlearning the individualism of the white American culture.
The next five years was an education in justice work and how even the most well-intentioned allies and organizations had to face and work through their roots of white supremacy before doing this work and doing it well.
It’s a mess if you think about it. Wanting to move to action now but being told to hold on just a minute and asked to understand why those actions needed to be rooted in antiracism. This work is never-ending, which is all the more reason to reach for a more hope-filled world.
A Catholic priest in Arizona resigned on Feb. 1 after learning he misspoke the words of baptism. As a result, thousands of baptisms are now invalid in the eyes of the Catholic church because of his one-word error; the priest had been saying, “we baptize you” rather than, “I baptize you.”
This story reminded me of how many times I jumbled the words of institution or blessing. Sure, a small few might have noticed, but did the sentiment change merely because a word or two was left out or swapped?
It is easy to read this story and pass judgment, but it is also a sobering reminder of the power words have – and their restrictions. I versus we, vulgarity versus prophetic.
If you are online at all, you might have noticed a litany of takes on the Super Bowl 56 halftime show.
Older generations might have called it a loss of true American culture or a vulgar display of reverse racism, while Gen Xers yet again tried co-opting an entire genre of music, claiming the performance was for them and them alone.
Perhaps you’re like me, a first wave millennial who is still processing the fact that music from high school is now considered a throwback.
As I sipped my gin and juice cocktail during the halftime show, mouthing words to songs I burned onto CDs and recorded straight from the radio onto cassette tapes, I screamed like a youth at a Beatles concert each time a new artist appeared on stage.
When Kendrick Lamar appeared on the field, it was no different. He began with “Alright” – the song from which the refrain we “gon’ be alright” comes.
Mouthing the words took me back to the prayer meeting, a time of deep grief now held alongside a moment of singing and dancing to songs filled with sobering truths and Black joy. Songs that many called vulgar without pausing to consider their prophetic message.
While singing along, I noticed Lamar censored the line about the police but left the next line: “Wanna kill us dead in the street for sure, / I’m at the preacher’s door.”
This was intentional, I’m sure, as censorship boards are concerned about comments on lyrics about police brutality in this “climate,” by which I mean, sensitivity to pushback on systems historically unjust to the Black community.
Yet, Dr. Dre included the “still not loving police” line in his song, “Still D.R.E.” Props to him for going against the request and naming his truth despite censorship.
Words have power; and it seems one or two words, either in a sacramental rite or unsaid in a halftime show, have power until we decide they’re not enough. We cannot ignore and put down the prophetic words that are censored, and then turn around and dismiss the need for reform when “asked nicely.”
Whether it was the priest using “we” or Kendrick Lamar leaving out his line, the policing of language tends to come at the expense of anyone who is restricted by that language.
True justice work, true community cannot happen without saying the hard truths about systems that keep some in and others out.
Only when we stop censoring the hard truths and the words they come by, do I think we “gon’ truly be alright.”