The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'whiteness'
Australian comedian-journalist John Safran (think of him as a gonzo Australian version of Jon Ronson, if you will) has started writing for VICE Magazine's web site, covering, as he does, readers' “racial, religious and ethical quandaries”. His first column investigates (apparently at the behest of a Greek-Australian correspondent wondering if he could get away with attending a neo-Nazi music festival) the complex dilemmas facing today's white supremacists when faced with the question of whom to hate:
During Australia’s 2005 Cronulla riots, shirtless boys circled not a brawl, but a debate. A Croatian had turned up to fight. He thought he was one of the whites. He’d come to punch up Lebs. But the "whites" thought, as a Croatian, he was a wog, which is pretty much the same as a Leb. The Croatian couldn’t believe it. He looked really hurt.
The tangle for pro-white Aussies is this. For the global white nationalist movement Greek culture is seen as the cradle of white civilization. It’s what the movement uses to argue its case. Look at that marble Parthenon built in 438 BC! Compare it to the shithole huts the Africans came up with! And what about the philosophers, the statues, the art? Doesn’t it say it all about the races? However in Australia, Greeks were the non-whites, the wogs, the thick eyebrow’d folks who floated over in boats after World War II.
Homegrown white nationalist group Australia First Party is run by Dr. James Saleam. He was thrown in jail for orchestrating a shotgun attack on an African National Congress representative in Australia. Jim is Greek. But it gets better. There are rumors Jim’s faking he’s Greek to cover up his true lineage—Lebanese.
In India, where light-coloured skin is seen as a sign of status, Vaseline (who sell skin-lightening cremes) have published a Facebook app which lightens complexions in photos.
The technology, of course, has other applications. Anyone want to bet how long until the UK/Europe see an app for tanning photographs?
Christian lander, author of the Stuff White People Like blog (and book) visits Melbourne, pronounces it to be "white":
'MELBOURNE is definitely whiter than Sydney," says Christian Lander, before taking a sip of organic Fair Trade coffee. "In Sydney, most people seem to spend their days jogging around large bodies of water," he adds. "Melbourne is more chilled. If I lived in Australia, I'd live here."And the "whitest" part of Melbourne is apparently North Fitzroy, my old 'hood:
We're in North Fitzroy, huddled over a small table in a trendy cafe-slash-grocer. It's the sort of place that sells organic vegetables, bio-dynamic meat and expensive pots of jam. On weekends, it's overrun by couples with babies on their chests and The Age under their arms. It's the perfect place to begin our search for Melbourne's Whitest Spot.
We leave the cafe and wander down Scotchmer Street and St Georges Road. "This place ticks all the boxes," Lander says excitedly. "Organic bakery! Cafe with retro furniture! Vintage clothing store! Authentic Thai restaurant! And old-school pub! Another organic bakery!"
But then we encounter a pub with — oh no! — pokies. "Everything about this place is problematic. It's definitely not white. But, paradoxically, it makes this suburb even whiter because it reminds everyone that working-class people still live here, which makes it more authentic."Lander has some other observation on the "whiteness" of Melbourne:
We hop on a tram and spend the next three hours strolling around Brunswick and Fitzroy. Lander asserts that Smith Street's grungy vibe makes it slightly whiter than Brunswick Street. But Gertrude Street, with its record shops, handmade toy retailers and natural cosmetics stores, is the whitest of the lot. It is here his wife Jess buys a funky koala doll for a friend's baby. "That koala was made by someone who lives in Fitzroy," the assistant tells her. Big white tick.(Smith St. is "whiter" than Brunswick St.? I'm guessing that he hasn't encountered its significant Aboriginal community. Or is Brunswick Street by now gentrified and suburbanised and changed to a different colour (perhaps pink, after the SubGenius usage)?)
Of course, by "white", he undoubtedly means "creative class" or "bourgeois bohemian" or somesuch, with an undertone of opprobrium, a hint of latent racism or sharply wielded and insufficiently atoned-for privilege. Note: merely having the privilege of not having been oppressed for one's skin colour doesn't seem to qualify one as "white"; otherwise, why is having a preference for organic food, vintage clothing and authenticity any more "white" than, say, NASCAR racing or country music, or the default option of honestly vegetating in front of a suburban plasma screen with a bucket of KFC? Lander seems to be identifying whiteness as the hypocrisy of pretending that one is something other than an oppressor whilst maintaining privileges derived from oppression. At least people who drink instant coffee, listen to commercial radio and get their clothes from K-Mart are honest, he seems to say.
Landers doesn't put the case directly in this fashion, and doesn't actually level a serious accusation. Instead, he asserts that "white people" here are "hipsters". Which brings us to the question of what is a hipster. Originally it meant a jazz enthusiast in the 1950s (and, coincidentally, Norman Mailer described the hipster as "the White Negro", in reference to their embrace/appropriation of African-American culture). Now it seems the word is used in several ways. It is used by people of low cultural engagement saying "those people are weird, I don't get them, heh heh", sometimes in a pejorative sense. On the other hand, you often get people who are engaged in creative cultures self-describing as "hipsters", in quotes, because it saves having to explain themselves, and in the next breath using the word pejoratively for superficial fashion victims (or perhaps those whose subculture they don't get).
When the word hipster is used in the pejorative sense, at its harshest it becomes synonymous with pejorative uses of the word "gay"; an aggressive assertion of the metaphorical homosexuality of the subject.
Incidentally, this is not the only parallel between hipsterism and homosexuality. Richard Florida, author of The Rise Of The Creative Class, pointed out a correlation between locales with gay scenes and locales with creative activity. As such, Lander's "whiteness" could be a repackaged form of "gayness", and if one can argue that being a "hipster" is latent racism, one could also argue that hipster-bashing is latent homophobia.
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.
Stuff White People Like ("white people" here meaning "white upper-middle-class Americans"). Includes entries for things like "sushi", "indie music" (and "standing still at concerts"), "Wes Anderson", "Michel Gondry", "Apple products" "not having a TV", "irony", "travelling", "coffee" and "tea", all delivered with a good dose of sarcasm:
So when white people go to concerts at smaller venues, what to do they do? They stand still! This is an important part of white concert going as it enables you to focus on the music, and it will prevent drawing excess attention to you. Remember, at a concert everyone is watching you just waiting for you to try to start dancing. Then they will make fun of you. The result is Belle and Sebastian concerts that essentially looks more like a disorganized line of people than a music event.
White people love to be near a body of water so they can read a book, while sitting nearby. The process of reading is somehow heightened through the process of doing it near some water. Extreme reading!
White people cannot get enough of 80s music, partially out of nostalgia, and partially since it was the last time that pop music wasn’t infused with hip-hop or R n’ B stylings. Artists like Joy Division, New Order and Elvis Costello were all pretty well respected and had solid runs at the charts. Also, less respected artists like Wham, Rick Astley and Cameo are still easy for white people to dance to.
If you find yourself in a situation with a white person, acceptable things to say include “I’m really into tea right now,” or “my favorite thing is to get a nice cup of tea and curl up in a chair with a good book.” But do not remind them about the role of colonialism in tea, it will make them feel sad.
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)