Editor's note: This is the final part of a two-part interview with rapper, pastor, and author Trip Lee about his latest projects, his thoughts on U.S. Christianity, his new church plant, and his perspectives on race as a black man in America. Read part one here: Rapper Trip Lee, Self-Described 'Boring' Guy, Talks Finding Inspiration in Malcolm Gladwell, CS Lewis, and Jay-Z.
It is an "irresponsible argument" for critics of the claim that police officers are biased in their targeting of and interactions with black men to point to so-called black-on-black crime, according to Christian rapper, pastor, author, and thought leader Trip Lee. That only deflects from the real issue, he said in a recent interview in which he comments on race, the church, and how he identifies with Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
"I think what that shows is often an unwillingness to talk about this issue," Lee explained in a Jan. 14 phone interview with The Christian Post. "We'll do anything to avoid talking about this issue. How can I deflect? How can I blame-shift? How can I act like this isn't an issue itself? If I just point out the fact that black people hurt each other, too, then we can ignore the fact that other people harm black people. I think it's an irresponsible argument."
Lee, born William Lee Barefield III, was rattled by the racially-tinged events involving unarmed black men and law enforcement officials, and the responses to those cases that played out for months on television screens and in online social spaces.
There were images of unarmed,18-year-old Michael Brown's bloodied corpse lying on a street in Ferguson, Missouri, for four hours after being shot to death by police officer Darrren Wilson. There was the video of married father Eric Garner pleading to breathe on a Staten Island sidewalk after being placed in a chokehold by police officer Daniel Pantaleo that proved fatal. Brown and Garner were black, while the two officers are white.
Though Garner's death came in July, a month before Brown met his demise before several eyewitnesses with conflicting accounts, it was the black youth's deadly confrontation with Wilson that seemed to spark, almost immediately, marches against police brutality and excessive use of force. While the activism encompassing Brown's, Garner's, and myriad other similar cases have given rise to chants and Twitter hashtags like "Black Lives Matter" and "I Cant' Breathe," it didn't take Lee long to conclude, "It could've been me."
So the 27-year-old father, who has previously addressed being married to a white woman, recorded a track entitled "Coulda Been Me" to express where his heart, head, and hope were in relation to these two cases, and dozens of others, and what they say about race and racism in America.
Lee raps at one point:
Don't nobody wanna hear our pain
That's how I'm feeling when I'm flipping through them Twitter comments, all I feel is rain
They telling me get over it's old
That stuff don't exist no more
But that don't ring true when I look in these streets
So it's real when I feel like it coulda been me
"With the song, I really wanted people to walk away thinking, 'well, this is why it matters so much' and 'how can I empathize and put myself in the shoes of others?'" Lee explained to CP. "And really, part of how it made me feel is that, man, that could have been me. As a black man who doesn't know another black man who hasn't had strange run-ins with police officers, it's impossible for us not to think about whether that could have been us — based on our country, based on our culture, based on our past experiences."
Lee, of course, wasn't the only Christian to respond. In fact, there have been several forums organized for Christian discussion and activism on what some perceive as the ongoing symptoms and presence of racism in America.
Lee expounds on his personal views on the matter further in the following transcript of his interview with CP. In addition to his thoughts on race, the former Capitol Hill Baptist Church elder and current Atlanta church planter, comments on what he thinks is an inspiring element of the activism and movements of the past and today.
CP: You tweeted about trying to catch Lecrae's second appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." Did it ever happen? And what did you think about him being invited back for a full performance, in this case to sing his song "Welcome to America?"
Trip: I did get to watch it online later and I thought he did a wonderful job. I love that song. I think it's a powerful song, provocative. I knew when he first did it (accompanied The Roots houseband on "Fallon") that there was a possibility that he'd get to come back and do a full song. So I'm excited he got to go. I thought he did a great job. I'm really grateful that the Lord is opening doors for him to do what he does in that space, and praying that those opportunities keep coming because he handles it well.
CP: Lecrae's "Welcome to America" speaks to some of the discussions about race that some people are having now due to Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York. You even wrote about their cases in a song entitled "Coulda Been Me." Why did you write that song and what's the takeaway for folks?
Trip: I wrote it in part because I think there was a lot of talking past each other with the situation. I was seeing that some white Christians were confused about why this particular issue would capture the heart of so many of their black friends or black [people] they follow on social media. Because to them it seemed like, "You don't really know exactly what happened. I don't know why you're so up in arms." Or, "Why this is even a race issue." So one of the things I want to do was a song that explained, at least for me, why situations like these so captured my heart in a way that this makes many black folks feel to see situations like these. But if a situation like this happened in a context of a country that has very deep and complex racial issues… So if it happened in a vacuum, then maybe we could say, "Don't think about it in that way." But when it happens in the context of a country with the history that we have, I think it's impossible not to ask those questions and impossible not to think about in the context of our country.
I just saw Selma a few days ago, a very relevant movie obviously about a very unique time, the civil rights struggle, but man there are so many things that are relevant to right now. I'm grateful for the timing of when it came out. Excellent film that I recommend people see, and that I think will even shed light on some of that cultural context.