If a young Jesus could have been transported from ancient Galilee to the Compton, California, of the late 1980s, I don’t believe he would have been dealing drugs with Eric “Eazy-E” Wright or spitting rhymes on a track like “F*** Tha Police” with O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson. And he might not have been among the hundreds of bobbing heads in the audiences that made their rap group N.W.A. one of hip-hop’s most notorious and influential groups.
But I do think that a young Jesus could have connected to the frustrations chronicled in their music and young, black lives, captured in the blistering blockbuster film “Straight Outta Compton.” I believe this because scholars say that Nazareth, Jesus’s hometown, was so small and rural that it didn’t get much respect from the urbane citizens of Jerusalem. Expectations for young men from Nazareth likely were low; stereotyping likely was high.
Which means Jesus probably knew what it felt like to be poor and an outcast from an early age. He probably knew what it felt like to feel the projection of a society’s fears and prejudices because of the way he talked, walked, dressed, looked or where he was from.
One of the most chilling scenes in “Straight Outta Compton” takes place outside of a recording studio in Torrance — less than 30 minutes from Compton by car but much further away culturally and socio-economically. Police officers pull up in force, and make the members of N.W.A. lie face-down on the sidewalk while berating them with profanities and pejoratives. The reason? They assumed that a group of young black men dressed as they were must be gang-bangers who belonged in Compton, not Torrance.
Today’s Compton is much less crime-ridden than the one depicted in the film. But young black men there and in cities across this nation still face many of the same challenges. The Washington Post recently reported that unarmed black men are seven times more likely to be killed by police than unarmed white men. And yes, black-on-black crime remains an issue too. Too many families have been broken and dreams crushed by both of these assaults on young black lives.
If we believe the Bible, then we have to believe a young Jesus — straight outta Nazareth — would have empathized with N.W.A.’s hurts, fears, frustration and rage. Would he have approved of their coping methods — misogynistic, profane rhymes that demeaned women and outraged police? No, but I also don’t think he would have responded the way the police and F.B.I. do today when confronted by the new black rage.
Click here to read more.