Gospel Backlash or Blacklash – is there a choice?

As I thought about writing this article, for some reason these two words came to me. In fact, although I had heard of the word ‘backlash’, I had never heard of Blacklash. I had to look it up!

Some ask: “Why write about something you don’t know anything about?” Well, let me write on the same premise as what they used to say to me, when I first started working as a researcher on gospel music programmes at the BBC: “Juliet, it can be quite useful to have a producer who doesn’t believe in God (like you do) because they come unfettered and neutral to the table. They can often see things from a different perspective to make the programme more accessible to people who don’t believe.”


At the time I didn’t see the point, because making a definitive programme about gospel music, sung by people who believe what they are singing from the experience and impact on their personal lives, in my view didn’t need ‘another perspective’. Let’s take, for example, People Get Ready (PGR) – the TV series of the 1980s that changed the face of British Gospel in and beyond a generation. It was co-hosted by (the now Bishop) John Francis and (now award-winning educator, author and publisher) Juliet Coley, and was authentic, with no compromise. Melanie Miller, who is fondly remembered for one of the many iconic performances of the series, singing ‘Blessed Assurance’, brought herself and the studio audience to tears with her powerfully moving rendition. There was nothing a non-believing producer could add to that. All a good producer can do is give technical and production quality that enables and empowers the very best to be displayed as naturally as possible. Therefore, understanding motives is an important part of deciding whether you BLACKLASH or BACKLASH. 

However, let me make a confession before writing further: I didn’t even know there was a word like Blacklash in existence. I just decided to see if it was a real word, and found it only seems to be used in America. They use it in two main ways: 

1. The Black community reacting negatively against someone who says something disrespectful against someone in the Black community

2. The White community reacting negatively against something the Black community has done to express itself

To be honest, I had my own reason for writing about BLACKLASH and BACKLASH, although I wasn’t exactly clear on what I wanted to say. So this is a bit of exploratory thought: I think I had concerns about all the happenings since George Floyd’s evil murder, and thinking about Windrush Day 2021. There is a connection in my mind, because of all the stories – both positive and negative – that have emerged about the Black British community, the Church and its music. Some of these feelings have been very intense and sensitive.

As a Christian community in Britain, consisting of Black, White and other ethnic groupings, it is our responsibility to respond in a Christ-like way when offence comes. But is it about ‘turning the other cheek’ as our Lord advises? Was He referring to a literal experience or a principle of behaviour?

In 2018, we marked 70 years of a modern British society, inclusive of Commonwealth citizens – particularly Caribbeans, who (in my opinion) undoubtedly are the bedrock of the Black community and Black Church movement. The music of our churches was a salve; we used music as a healing and for protection to our souls. When we sang ‘BlessedJesus, Hold My Hand’ at the ‘Spirit Of Windrush’ National Service of Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey, for many of us (at least those I spoke to afterwards) who were children and young people during those early days, we could easily see the deep-rooted meaning that song held for the elders present – namely, the often arduous journey that was in one sense literal in social movement, but which emphasised the non-tangible emotional impact.

There has been such a build-up from then until now, and I have listened to different conversations, and have joined in different discussions, debates and other exchanges that have varied between 

A. White Christians making inappropriate remarks and statements about the Black Christian experience and its music (backlash)

B. Black Christians making challenging statements towards White Christians, who were either passive or silent, and Black Christians, who have reacted with no sense of responsibility in positions where they could or should bring about change (Blacklash)

We can’t get away from JESUS’ directive to not carry out lashing back, whether to each other or to those around us. So I am focusing on what the ‘other cheek’ can do. What can ‘the other cheek’ do, people? What can ‘the other cheek’ do?

There are many of us who have successfully turned ‘the other cheek’ into a powerful, sustainable response of change. One of my ‘forever heroes’ is Rev Carmel Jones. Originally a musician of the early churches, he was in the group founded by Pastor La Touché: The Travelling Harmonizers, which featured Lavine Hudson, Pastor Douglas Wallace and, I believe, Evangelist Icilida Cameron. 

I haven’t fully finished thinking about this question. When you turn ‘the other cheek’, we have to believe we bring an environment or atmosphere for change. One of the keys of change is to bring together the various components of our history, our legacy. There is so much more out there than we think. It’s a time of great opportunity. Let’s not trap ourselves in an enclave. Let’s push for more, because we have more. We need to have more people willing to take up the mantle of looking after and creating the articles, components, and memorabilia as we go – not waiting years before we look back, but celebrating as we go more than ever before. 

And let’s not Blacklash or backlash ourselves! 

Written by: Juliet Fletcher

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