The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'blackness'
The makers of Stuff White People Like bring us two more slightly uncomfortable satirical glimpses into race and class in today's America: firstly, Stuff White Trash People Like (including the likes of "boxed wine", "NASCAR", and "High School Sweethearts"):
#1: AmericaAnd then there's Stuff Educated Black People Like (like "Getting Dressed Up", "Conferences" and "Poetry Slams" and "Moving To Atlanta").
Budweiser, fake tits, the V8, Little Debbies, the Fourth of July, all you can eat buffets, Viagra, yeah, America invented all that shit. Not enough for you? Tell you what, every other country that’s been to the moon raise your hand.
That’s what we thought.
If America’s not the best country ever, then why did Jesus invent it? See, you can’t argue with that logic.
Slate's John Cook looks at the issue of whether disliking hip-hop makes one a racist, and specifically, whether allegations of racism against Stephin Merritt, who has made statements about his dislike of hip-hop, are justified:
[N]o less an influential music critic than The New Yorker's Sasha Frere-Jones has used that word —"cracker"—to describe him. Frere-Jones has also called him "Stephin 'Southern Strategy' Merritt," presumably in reference to Richard Nixon's race-baiting attempt to crush the Democratic Party. These are heady words, part of a two-year online campaign of sorts by Frere-Jones (also a former Slate music critic) and the Chicago Reader music contributor Jessica Hopper to brand Merritt a racist. The charge: He doesn't like hip-hop, and on those occasions when he's publicly discussed his personal music tastes, he has criticized black artists.The Slate article concludes that the charges are, if you'll excuse the pun, without merit:
If black artists are underrepresented in my CD collection relative to the frequency with which black people are found in the general population, does that make me a racist? To even begin to believe that it does, you have to first maintain that racial preferences somehow logically relate to music preferences; that racists avoid music made by black people, and that people who aren't racist don't pay attention to the race of the artist when evaluating music. Both propositions are ludicrous. Anybody who has been to a frat party knows that people can simultaneously a) entertain racist attitudes and b) enjoy listening to hip-hop music created by black people. (In fact, Merritt's argument is that the latter tends to reinforce the former.)
The closest thing to a coherent argument that can be gleaned from what Frere-Jones and Hopper are saying is that a genuine respect for our common dignity and humanity requires that we enjoy listening to hip-hop, and that we bend our intuitive aesthetic judgments about music to a political will—like eating our vegetables and avoiding dessert. "Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah" may be catchy and delightfully mindless, but an understanding of its context requires you to reject its charms. And Beyoncé may be trite and boring, but your subtle racist ideology provokes that reaction, so you must find a way to appreciate her music.
And if you can't? Try harder, cracker.Of course, it depends whether on one's definition of "racist". If one defines racism as any deviation (outside a margin of sampling error) from the ratios in which racial/ethnic/cultural groups are represented in the cultural marketplace, then disproportionately liking "white" or "black" music would be racist; as would, for example, being more attracted to members of one ethnic group than another. However, such a definition of racism would damn almost the entire human race, and do little towards defining more meaningful definitions. And then there's the question (which Merritt himself raised) of whether some present hip-hop, which presents stereotypical images of black criminality for the consumption of predominantly suburban white teenagers, is problematic. Which suggests that this issue is not entirely cut and dried.
(Note the quotes around "black" and "white" music. The definition is a slippery one. Is expensively produced, extensively market-researched R&B, which would not exist in its present form without major-record-label investment and a huge market not limited to any one ethnic group, authentic "black" music? What if you replace R. Kelly with Justin Timberlake? Is Jennifer Lopez (who once considered herself entitled to use the N-word in lyrics) an honorary black person for the purposes of musical consumption? Is rock'n'roll (which is based on the blues) "white" music. And then there's Elvis Presley, Al Jolson and so on. In some ways, what gets classified as "black" music is that whose sound hasn't yet melted into the lexicon of the mainstream. The Spice Girls' first single, "Wannabe" (which, at the time, sounded closer to Salt'n'Pepa than the white manufactured all-girl pop groups from PWL and their ilk), could be said to sound more "black" than much of Prince's 1980s output (which, today, sounds more "1980s" than anything racially or ethnically specific.) And rock'n'roll, once seen as dangerously swarthy by pillars of (white) communities everywhere, is now the very definition of "whitebread", almost as much so as country music.
And in this discussion thread, Steve Albini weighs in on the issue:
Having had a distaste for hip hop since its earliest days, I have run afoul of this mentality for twenty-odd years. If you are involved in contemporary music, it is presumed that you appreciate hip-hop, or are at least deferential toward it as an arm of black culture.
I have equivalent genre distaste for almost all heavy metal (hip hop's culture-mirror equivalent), pastiche production pop music like Brintey Spears, Beyonce, Avril Lavigne et al, the REM-U2-Radiohead axis of millionaire dabbling, trash auteurs like Outkast, Beck and the Beastie Boys, teenager fake punk, and melismatic divas like Celine Dion. This is less in service of elitism than in making it possible for me to walk directly to the part of the record store where the good records are. I know what kinds of music speak to me the least, so I don't spend my energy combing through them looking for exceptions.
Picking on a tiny Southern queer for his music tastes and calling him a "cracker" is about as stupid as criticism can get.
Teenagers in Britain are obsessively going to tanning salons in a quest to look like heroes/success symbols like "Posh and Becks".
Real Story features a 13-year-old girl from Liverpool, identified as a blackspot for tanorexics, who has been visiting tanning parlours up to five times a week for the past year. Hayley Barrow, whose grandmother has skin cancer, explained: "If I haven't been on one [a sunbed] for one day I feel white, I feel transparent."
(Interesting that she mentions feeling "white" as a negative consequence of not tanning enough; I wonder whether there is a racial-aspirational dimension to this; with black groups and artists dominating the charts in recent years and (if the BBC's quizzes are to be believed) British kids speaking fluent US Hip-Hop Ebonics amongst themselves, whether having heavily tanned skin makes today's kids feel more "ghetto" or at one with their adopted culture. Judging by young Hayley's photo (she looks more like a white actor from a less politically-correct decade in blackface than a suntanned celebrity), it doesn't seem too far-fetched.)
"They call it the Posh and Becks syndrome," said Andy Carr, organiser of the Elite Teens disco. They want the tans, they want the clothes, they want the money."
Life imitates Virulent Memes: a US TV network is making "Black Eye For The White Guy" (actual title: "Make Me Cool").
Now the next step would be to merge that with American Idol, resulting in a reality-TV show based around the boy-band manufacturing process; find several groups' worth of handsome, moderately musically talented white boys, have some brothers teach them how to act "real" and "from the streets" (i.e., play up Afro-American stereotypes that the consumers will eat up, especially on pretty white boys), and then play them off against each other, with the winners getting indentured servitude to a recording company. For bonus points, take the show overseas, and make it into a search for the most stereotypically "Afro-American" white boys in the non-English-speaking world. Gospel-tinged R&B boy bands from Russia and west-coast-gangsta-rap bands from Belgium, here we come.
It'd be a good idea for near-future fiction, except that it stands a middling-to-good chance of becoming reality before any story would have a chance of being published.
A Yale professor of music claims that African-American gospel music emerged from Scottish traditions, rather than African ones. Professor Willie Ruff, a renowned jazz musician, claims that the style of religious song that grew in black gospel churches in the American south owes more to Presbyterian traditions brought to the South by emigres from Scottish island communities (who worked as overseers on plantations) than the traditions brought from Africa by slaves.
"I have been to Africa many times in search of my cultural identity, but it was in the Highlands that I found the cultural roots of black America.
"When I finally met Donald, we sat down and I played him music. It was like a wonderful blind test. First I played him some psalms by white congregations, and then by a black one. He then leapt to his feet and shouted: `That's us!' "When I heard Donald and his congregation sing in Stornoway I was in no doubt there was a connection."
I'm not entirely sure how much credence to give this story (on one hand, it seems a bit like the thing about curry being a mediæval English invention; on the other hand, the arguments look superficially very plausible), though it's certainly intriguing. Though if it's true, it may explain the uncanny popularity of gospel-influenced soul music in northern Britain. (via 1.0)
The pendulum swings both ways: while the teen-rebellion industry fuses rap into hard-rock, a new generation of black musicians in America, disappointed with the limited scope for expression in hip-hop and so-called "R&B" are picking up guitars and turning to rock.
Their sound is most often a deeply soul-inflected rock reminiscent of the mellower moments of Jimi Hendrix, Prince and Parliament Funkadelic rather than the full-on guitar assault of Fishbone or Living Colour. Much of this rock is difficult to distinguish from soul music, but the musicians use the word rock to distance themselves, they say, from the overly produced treacle that passes for modern soul.
(Meanwhile, commercial R&B producers such as Babyface have recently been knocking off '90s alternative-rock sounds for some of their projects (such as the very aptly named Pink).)
"Vulnerability doesn't work at all in hip-hop," Mr. Luther said. "You don't want to expose a weakness in that arena. Rock 'n' roll has no boundaries. You can talk about your dreams, fears, all kinds of things."
Though the black-rock movement faces serious barriers in the formulaic world of American radio/TV, not fitting into either black/"urban" formats or the predominantly white world of rock/alternative music. I.e., Clear Channel probably won't play it; though maybe it'll flourish in the MP3 underground.
Rock, they say, gives them the freedom to express their own ideas. Santi White of Stiffed said: "There's a Smiths song that I love that says, `Hang the D.J. because the music he constantly plays says nothing to me about my life.' And that's how I felt. So I said, `Fine, I'm going to find some music that does say something about my life.' "
Funny that they should mention that, as that quote is sometimes cited as an argument for Morrissey being racist. Though what would that make the equation of skin darkness with dance/club music? (via FmH)