There is a fascination among Asian American (going back to Asian) youth for hip-hop culture, music, and style. If you were to stop and listen to Asians here or across the pond in terms of contemporary music, there is definitely something that we are strongly drawn to in terms of song and expression that draws from R&B and soul.
Some time ago, in preparation for an Easter praise service, a worship leader friend of mine had picked a few songs to stretch the praise team and selected a gospel song, one that really required that signature "black gospel choir" sound. From what I understand, they were having problems really getting that energy, that timbre, that certain something. Apparently, it got to the point that one of the singers evidently was frustrated enough to say, "You know why we can't sing these songs? We're not black!"
Of course, while there are few things more funny than screaming the obvious facts in exasperation, I think there is more to this scenario. There has to be — I mean, not being black didn't stop Asians from trying to dance hip-hop, or incorporate R&B style into our pop music, or even in our dress. There is some element that we haven't yet uncovered to sing gospel. You see, it begs the question, how did African-Americans begin singing like that to begin with? Answer – collective suffering, collective worship, collective identity.
This is, I believe, a dimension that is very hard for us to grasp as Asian American Christians. In terms of finding unique cultural expressions of worship, African-Americans definitely have their form of praise, worship, and teaching that contributes directly toward their sense of identity. Asians, on the other hand, lack that commonality. Now, I'm not discounting things like Korean passion for prayer or zeal for missions or notions of Han or the like, but we simply do not have those collectively at any level. Our experience remains comparatively tame, with each culture having their own tragedies, and each culture's churches responding in isolated ways. We cannot sing gospel for more than the reason we're not black, it's also for the reason that our faith has only begun to contribute to our culture in ways that allow us to express ourselves in Asian and Christian ways.
That's why we can't sing gospel. We've never had to. Oh yeah, and we're not black.