A black and white lens frames the music video for “Señorita”, a sobering look into the vision of Vince Staples, whose critically acclaimed debut album offers unflinching assessment of contemporary America’s black and white race relations. A parade of poor caricatures inhabit a ravaged suburb. Various stereotypes of poverty—mostly urban, with a rural barbequing duo making an appearance—occupy the sparse neighborhood like players on a stage. African Americans and Latinos comprise the majority of characters; some are homeless, some tattooed, some solemn, some boisterous. A silent march proceeds down the street, led by a man raising a holy book to the skies.

As a hip hop fan, do I consume the music of rappers like Staples with an interest in crossing that wall, or am I merely observing from a safe distance like the family in the video?

Bodies fall randomly and mysteriously, until armored towers in the distance are shown to have the hoodrats, druggies, and gang bangers in their sights. A few flashes of agency from the characters appear, none inspiring. A smirking drug dealer opens his jacket to reveal a black hole, and a nervous police officer in riot gear slips some cash to Staples, who raps on the bed of an El Camino. The rest of the players move mechanically until a handful of survivors reach a pane of glass, pressing their unseemly faces and bodies against it. The final shot reveals that the hyper-stylized action was in fact an exhibit of sorts, with a stereotypical upper class white family watching the exhibit safely behind a glass.

The video represents Staples’ somewhat hopeless paradigm. He sees artistic windows into the black experience—hip hop the most common—as ineffective means of bridging the gap for white Americans of a completely different background. Rather than building empathy and real-world progress, they function more as zoo-like diversions or exploitations: “You get these people sitting outside the glass and it’s cool to point at the lion,” he told HipHopDX. But if these black subjects encounter their white spectators in the flesh, not filtered through media? “Then you’re a wild animal.”

The news and social media cycle has increasingly spun around incidences of police killings affecting black citizens. The value and purity of mass protests and the meaning of violent outbursts surrounding these incidences is debated and scrutinized endlessly. The sparring of hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter has made it into both the Republican and Democratic presidential election campaigns. Books, blogs, and podcasts concerning our racial climate are churned out, and despite the intensity of the moment, Staples is less than optimistic that the “national conversation” will be productive. “When someone dies, and you’re looking in the face of a white person and saying, ‘They just killed a black man,’ and you expect them to relate to that, that’s a problem,” he told NPR. “‘Cause they don’t know what it’s like to be a black man. They never will. They can’t. They can pretend they do. ‘Oh, that’s wrong.’ You don’t know what that feels like.”

Staples’ lyrics reinforce this thought. He acknowledge that he’s one of many hip hop artists with a significant white segment in his fan base. But he finds Caucasian support to be hollow, rapping in “Lift Me Up”: “All these white folks chanting when I asked ’em where my n***s at? . . . Wonder if they know, I know they won’t go where we kick it at.”

The interconnectedness that our age of globalization, mass pop culture, and social media promises hasn’t proven to be a cure. We have hip hop. We have “Blackish”. We have so-called “Black Twitter”. We have memes. In the other direction, we have Taylor Swift, I guess, along with the vast majority of content that comes from a white viewpoint. I could list a hundred more pop touchpoints, and maybe a longer list would seem less underwhelming, but the truth is that Staples is mostly right. Insofar as media is primarily for spectators, it is powerless to “interconnect” any actual human beings.

In a comment about “Señorita”, Staples says, “I don’t feel like I need to go too deeply into explaining my lyrics. People don’t care about what’s happening in Long Beach, or Compton, or Watts . . . When they look at these areas, and look at these people, they don’t see themselves. Until people really see themselves within other people, they can’t genuinely care for their betterment. It’s hard to understand and respect things that are different than us. We need to start looking at each other eye-to-eye.”

Why, decades after the Civil Rights movement, and a century and a half after the Civil War, does this disconnect remain? Churches are severely segregated. White respondents for a recent APS survey believed that anti-white bias was more prevalent than anti-black bias. Black respondents rated anti-black bias at three times the rate of anti-white bias. 72% of African-Americans view the confederate flag as a symbol of racism, while only 25% of whites see it that way.

There is an invisible wall. Your own Facebook wall probably resembles it at times. Some believe it is a deeply hostile barrier, and some believe it is tragic to frame it in those terms. Either way, it’s there.

While he doesn’t have (or even seek) a solution to the divide, Staples does say that a truly post-racial society would be ideal: “If we strip all these things and let all these things die off as far as the labeling and the miscommunication and we all start in the sense that we’re all people—and this is my perspective on the life that we all live—we’d be in a much better space.”

What should Christians make of the invisible wall of dissonance between neighbors of different ethnicities? Staples could pick from competing secular explanations (systemic injustice and inequality, broken communal and familial networks, polarizing media, so called “race-baiting” from politicians, etc.) or even their spiritual counterparts (evil principalities and powers, deteriorating Christian influence, earthly diversions, etc.). He has apparently found them all lacking.

While some, perhaps many, of the gaps in perspective between black and white flesh are impossible to reconcile, the gospel ought to be sufficient to break down the wall of hostility. “The ground is level at the foot of the cross” is a cliché, but one worth pressing. A fundamental Christian belief in our fallen flesh is a starting point.

To return to the song behind the video, “Señorita” is a look at the fatalistic choice that many make in desperate communities. The narrator chooses a 9mm pistol as his “mamacita” and doubles down on a life of violent crime: “That’s somebody’s son but a war to be won / Baby either go hunt or be hunted.” The voice of the gun serenades the rapper to close the track, one song after his girlfriend tried to break through to him and win his affection over the path of destruction.

King Solomon was able to poetically empathize with the criminal temptations and plight of the poor:

“Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:8b-9.

Can the white church take this application of one of orthodoxy’s core doctrines to heart when it comes to race? Does the “there” in “there but for the grace of God go I” include the alleys of Long Beach, Compton, or Watts? Staples doesn’t think it has.

Beyond Christians generally acknowledging their mean estate as sinful, hurting people on a fallen planet, can they answer Staples’ charge in the specific? What part do we play in the dividing wall? As a hip hop fan, do I consume the music of rappers like Staples with an interest in crossing that wall, or am I merely observing from a safe distance like the family in the video? Do Christians—whether viewers or not—feed the stereotypes in their head with their perception of shows like “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”?

It’s nearly impossible to look away, which is mostly a good thing. But as media becomes increasingly tailored to individual appetites, the likelihood grows that the only brown faces on a white Christian’s Facebook stream or TV screen are those that reinforce their political or moral judgments. And while there are shows, artists, and writers generally more edifying than others, merely consuming the right media won’t bring down any walls of hostility. Our posture, attitudes, and response are just as important as the content before us.

There is no pop shortcut. Christ used storytelling to address the cultural animosity between Jews and Samaritans, but his immediate hearers didn’t march away, resolved to end centuries of ugliness built on a false view of ethnicity. His parable of the good Samaritan is preached by dumb lips and falls on deaf ears every Sunday. But for those with ears to hear, the message and example of Jesus has bloomed into heartfelt reconciliation throughout history.

Regardless of our slowness or even refusal to embrace it, the promise is always before us, the work already done. Christ’s spilt blood and broken body has already killed the hostility between the alienated, unclean peoples of the world and the chosen, Jewish sons of the promise (Ephesians 2:11-22). The wall is real, and maybe even as daunting as Staples asserts. But thankfully, it can come down.