“Religious images destroy the psychology of the Black Man/Who is crucified then vilified” - "Crucified", Professor Griff
Last month, rapper ”The Game” raised eyebrows when he released the cover art for his upcoming CD, Jesus Piece, which featured a thugged-out “Black Jesus” wearin’ a bandana. The controversy was further fueled with the weekly “Sunday Service” pre-release teases that featured songs like “Holy Water” and “Black Jesus”, in which the Game portrays himself as The Ghetto Messiah.
In interviews, The Game has talked about his strong Christian beliefs and how Jesus Piece is about the conflict that arises when you are trying to do good in a world that rewards those who do evil.
I get that.
But the question becomes, is it necessary to Ghetto-rize the Gospel in order to reach the young Black males in the ‘hood? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to give the youth the true image of “Jesus,” instead of tryin’ to make the Prince of Peace an OG?
The Game is not the first to try to make the Bible more appealing to young folks by replacing the King James version with a more King of Rock style.
In 1993, P.K. McCary published the Black Bible Chronicles, in which she tried to make "The Word" more hip. Not to mention the attempts by gospel artists like Kirk Franklin to mix Hip-Hop with their music in order to reach the people in the clubs on Saturday Night who might not make it to service on Sunday morning. Also, a more socially conscious, “Black Jesus” by Tupac and The Outlawz was released in 1999 that begged a more laid back Black Messiah to come save the ‘hood.
But as the scriptures teach us, it is the Truth that is going to make us free. And the truth is that the image of the blue eyed, blond haired Jesus is just as historically inaccurate as The Game's CD cover, and this image has been more destructive to Black children than gangsta rap ever was.
This is the story that must be told.
The idea that the historical Jesus (Yeshua ben Yosef) was Black is not new, and its origins can be traced back as far as Bishop Henry McNeal Turner who, in the 19th century, preached about the importance of Black people embracing a Black deity.
During the early 20th century, this was also echoed by Marcus Garvey of the Universal Negro Improvement League and Archbishop George McGuire of the African Orthodox Church. According to William Mosley in his book, What Color Was Jesus, during the 1924 UNIA Convention, McGuire ordered that “all white pictures of Jesus and Mary" in homes and churches be “torn down and burned.”
The '60s saw the creation of Black Liberation Theology, which was advocated by ministers and theologians such as Rev. Albert Cleage (Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman) author of The Black Messiah, and Dr. James Cone (Black Theology /Black Power). It must be noted that most of the early practitioners of the theology spoke of a “Black Christ” merely in symbolic terms.
However during the late '80s and early '90s, with the coming of the Afrocentric movement, historians such as Dr. Ishakamusa Barashango (Afrikan People and European Holidays) and Dr. John Henrik Clarke (The Boy Who Painted Christ Black) began to give historical proof to challenge traditional Euro-centric image of Yeshua.
According to historian, Dr. Yosef ben Jochannan in his work “Our Black Seminarians and Black Clergy Without a Black Theology”, it was Michelangelo who painted the first pictures of a White Jesus, using his cousin as a model in 1512 at the request of Pope Julius II.
Furthermore, Dr. Barashango pointed out that, contrary to popular belief, Yeshua was actually a revolutionary who was crucified for the crime of stirring up the people against the Roman Empire. This is contrary to the fragile looking White person who only preached about “turning the other cheek” and “loving your enemies.” Neither philosophy is very popular in a community plagued by racism and police brutality.
A few Hip-Hop artists have been bold enough to challenge the image of a Caucasian Christ. One of the first was Professor Griff back in the early '90s with his song “Crucified”. Also on “B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth)", Killah Priest claimed that one of the most popular images of “Jesus” was actually Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI. More recently, in 2004 on the remix of Jadakiss' “Why”, Nas asks the question, “Why is Jesus Christ never played by Black actors?”
However, most rap artists have - skillfully - avoided the issue, parroting the same line that Pastor Johnson gives: “What difference does color make?” While ignoring the obvious, “if it didn’t matter why was he painted white in the first place?”
Even on “Jesus Walks,” although Kanye West rapped about Jesus walking with “drug dealers and even the strippers," when it came to challenging the false European image, he said, ”I’m not here to argue ‘bout his facial features...”
Rappers know which lines not to cross.
What The Game must realize is that the Black-on-Black violence that he talks about on “Black Jesus” can be directly attributed to the lack of kinship that our youth feel with the Creator. And it is easy to kill someone who you believe was not made in the image of God. Also, it's hard to tell people to stand up against racism when they believe that the deity whom they worship condones it.
We must not be afraid to speak the truth to our children who are looking for answers as to why African Americans are suffering disproportionately from long prison sentences, police brutality, unemployment, and other social ills.
Like 'Pac and The Outlawz said:
“We need help out here, so we search for Black Jesus.”
Don’t we all, brothers? Don’t we all...
TRUTH Minista Paul Scott’s weekly column is “This Ain’t Hip Hop,” a column for intelligent Hip Hop headz. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on his website, NoWarningShotsFired.com, or on Twitter (@truthminista).