Following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement, key figures such as Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson eventually emerged to the forefront. In the same way that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., it was the religious community that propelled religious figures to the front of the civil rights movement by giving them pulpits and creating platforms. It goes without saying that the official prefix of reverend before their name as an ordained minister provided clout that gave such men a voice to address social issues.
Over time, it has become less and less important within the culture to have a minister at the forefront addressing cultural issues. From the perspective of the average secular citizen who doesn’t value gospel centered principles—the reverend prefix is not nearly as valuable as it once was in the past. As America has drifted further away from Jesus, the leaders of such social movements have become more and more secular.
As postmodernity overtook our nation like an angry tsunami, one of the most impactful tools that has continued to be used to indoctrinate many people (especially among the younger demographic) with messages of social justice is the hip-hop genre. At some point, the rapper replaced the reverend in the fight for social justice. While we have a rise of wokeness within evangelicalism, the culture craves a far more progressive message—and this is the problem with the woke movement within the church. In order to remain relevant, your message has to become more and more progressive as the culture changes.
Through the years, hip-hop artists have used their craft to teach progressive messages that resonate with the people. The edgy lyrics within the hip-hop culture have become powerful tools that teach complex ideologies and philosophies with street language slang that flow straight out of Marx, Cone, and Derrida in his work titled Of Grammatology.
In 2015, Public Enemy released a track titled, “Man Plans God Laughs.” One line says, “Do it for the culture, do it for the youth.” The self-proclaimed Prophets of Rage, who once demanded that their audience “Fight the Power” continue to push a social justice agenda.
In 2016, TI, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” speaks about police brutality in a song titled, “We Will Not.” In the opening words, he says, “No, we will not stand here in silence while they take the lives of our brothers and sisters.” This is a common thread that runs through the hip-hop industry—and such raw and confrontational material strikes at the heart of their audience.
In 2017 Vince Staples released a song titled “Bagbak” in which he said, “We need Tamikas and Shaniquas in that Oval Office/Obama ain’t enough for me, we only gettin’ started.” The cultural push for the hip-hop culture to go to the polls and vote is becoming more popular. The Long Beach rapper also addressed gentrification and racial division.
One of the latest editions in the hip-hop tradition of social justice messages comes “White Privilege II” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis—a duo of white rappers from Seattle, Washington. Loaded with profanity and social justice messages, one line says the following:
Hip-hop has always been political, yes
It’s the reason why this music connects
So what the *f___ has happened to my voice if I stay silent when black people are dying
Then I’m trying to be politically correct?
While the rapper remains relevant, the culture continues to become more progressive and looks for additional ways to push social justice politics, ideas, and messages. Today, a new opportunity has arisen. We have moved from reverends to rappers, but now the rich athlete is preparing to become the latest sage in the social justice saga. It was Darrell Harrison who once said, “Rappers want to be NBA players and NBA players want to be rappers.” He was pointing out that there is a close association between the two spheres of hip-hop culture and the NBA. It’s one large blended family.
In the wake of the woke bombshell that has resulted from the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent riots that have rocked our nation, suddenly Colin Kaepernick has been resurrected and turned into a poster child for the new category of social justice warrior: the athlete-activist. As our world has pressed the pause button on professional sports through this COVID-19 pandemic, everyone from the NFL to the NBA and beyond has been making policy adjustments regarding their engagement within the social justice movement. Once upon a time it was popular to have “reverend” or “rapper” as a prefix to your name if you were seeking street credibility as one of the movers and shakers in the social justice movement. Today, it’s the professional athlete who is being turned into a paid activist to push ideas through their social engagement.
Why is this important? Because with millions of followers on social media and millions of dollars in the bank—the athlete-activist is postured to use his or her voice and financial resources to further the agenda. In an NBC Sports series titled, “Race in America: A Candid Conversation”— in a recent episode titled, “Race and Sports in America: Conversations with Steph Curry, Charles Barkley and more,” professional NBA player Stephen Curry talked about how he and other athletes can help push the social justice agenda. He made the following statement:
You’ve got real-life activists who do this for a living, who do this and have been doing this for years. And now, we just need to support them. Send resources. Volunteer your time. Put them on a pedestal, because we don’t know all the answers…knowing the platform we have, knowing what sports has given us in our lives…if you say anything it’s going to be a headline, so why not use it and find those people who have dedicated their lives to this work, that are the real life heroes in these communities doing the Lord’s work? And for us, that’s our job.
With the NBA preparing to reopen for a modified conclusion to its 2020 season, the NBA and Player’s Association came to an agreement on allowing social justice statements to be worn on individual players’ jerseys. Some of the approved statements include the following:
“Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “Vote,” “Justice,” “Stand Up,” “Listen,” “Listen to Us,” “Say Their Names,” “Peace,” “How Many More,” “Education Reform,” “Liberation,” “Equality,” “Freedom,” “Enough,” Si Se Puede,” “Say Her Name,” “Mentor,” “I Am A Man,” “Speak Up,” “Ally,” “Anti-Racist,” “Justice Now,” “Power to the People,” “See Us,” “Hear Us,” “Respect Us,” “Love Us,” and “Group Economics.”
In many ways, the NBA is following a longtime tradition closely aligned with the goal of the hip-hop artists which involves far more than activism. It involves indoctrination. When an NBA player takes the court with “Group Economics” on his jersey, he’s doing more than raising awareness about injustice—he’s indoctrinating people with a specific philosophy. Let’s be honest, this new platform and agenda within the world of athletics will be culturally consequential. It’s crystal clear now that the NBA and the athletes are going far beyond getting involved in social issues or addressing injustice. They want to do more than play basketball, they want to teach ideas and philosophies.
Will fans who are paying exorbitant fees to watch professional athletes play a game want to be lectured about their lack of engagement and perceived complicit participation in everything from white privilege to subtle racism and racial injustice? Will this be popular or unpopular among the fans? Time will tell, but regardless of the popularity of such strategies—look for an ongoing battle for the minds as ideologies continue to rage onward through social media platforms as professional athletes engage in the hashtag war of social justice.
We must never underestimate the use of leaders who possess the ability and have the platform to speak into the heart of the local community. Margaret Sanger used black ministers to push eugenics and was able to successfully position Planned Parenthood as a means to “exterminate the Negro population.” Today the social justicians are using professional athletes as their latest tool to reach the masses and to push their progressive agenda. The ideas that we accept today will shape the world we live in tomorrow.
Our world is not satisfied with one type of social justician. The progressive and fluid movement that we know as social justice is seeking total domination. It’s not that the movement no longer needs reverends or rappers—the movement needs every voice and every platform in all of the spheres to do their part. From reverends in pulpits to rappers on the stage to athletes on the court—this will lead the way to a deconstructed culture and a dominance that produces radical change.
Can you see the little black boy who is growing up in a government project in the inner city without a father? Can you see him sitting on the picnic table adjacent to the basketball court with his earbuds casually listening to his favorite hip-hop artist? Imagine him sitting there waiting on his friends to show up for the afternoon game. As he listens to his choice playlist of hip-hop—he scrolls through social media and reads statements and hashtags on social justice from Steph Curry and LeBron James. As he continues to wait for his friends, he drifts off into a day-dream—it’s a familiar dream that he revisits on a regular basis. The dream involves him moving up in life as he finally makes it as a successful NBA player. His dream world looks different than MLK’s dream because social justice is always progressive.
Those men are his heroes. Those men are his teachers.