Wednesday, May 10

My crackery 2 cents

There's apparently a bit of a dust-up going on over whether or not disliking rap means you're racist. The scapegoat amid the kerfuffle is Stephin Merrit of the Magnetic Fields.

First of all, some full disclosure: I like the Magnetic Fields. However, Merritt does seem like a jerk from the interviews I've read. Some artists are just sniveling assholes. They have to be all dark and brooding and shit in order to let their emotions pool in their cold hearts before the performing the ritual lancing that is songwriting. Or something.

But is it possible that Stephin Merritt is racist? Sure.

Is it possible to determine that Merritt is racist based only on his musical preferences?

Unless he's totally into Prussian Blue, I gotta go with a big no on this one.

Couple of reasons.

For one, you have to believe that rap is Blackness Defined in order to believe that disliking it equals disliking black people. I doubt highly that contemporary rap defines Blackness in any real meaningful way. I don't think you can make that case for any music form at any point in history. Country music does not define Whiteness. Neither does polka. Neither does indie rock. That's not what music does or is about. Music is part of the complex culture soup -- the broth that provides the soundtrack to the floating bits and pieces of meaning and revelation, the ever-present liquid that every now and again is good enough to be the main course; assigning any one music form to represent an entire race is dubious and impossible. (The concept of race itself is fairly dubious anyway.)

To posit that disliking rap is disliking black people, you have to ignore that rap, which may have started out as an authentic, grassroots expression of black experience, is now -- as are other once-authentic types of music -- a commodified hunk of pop culture, twisted and perverted by the pop music money-making machine, put through the spin cycle of imitation and replicated thousands of times by wanna-be stars. The violence and the sexism and the hyperconsumerism sell an image of power, not truth. It's about being the biggest badass in the jailhouse. That's false power in the face of the real institutionalized racism of our society.

Does anyone seriously believe that liking rap equals liking black people? I take it Sasha Frere-Jones and Jessica Hopper have never visited rural America, where young Klan members-in-training grow up pumping their fists to rap and hip-hop, all while employing the n-word and all its accompanying hatred in casual conversation without any irony or self-consciousness.

To be clear, I don't listen to rap. I'm just not that into it. I have a mild aesthetic objection (I prefer more melodious music) and a substantial philosophical difference with the values espoused by much of popular contemporary rap. It's mostly the rampant hyperconsumerism and sexism many rappers employ that turns me off. The quest for bling and bitches speaks to others, perhaps, but not to me.

So what?

I'll admit, as a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of critic, that I'm not what you'd call qualified to talk about the nuances of rap because I haven't studied the genre intensively. I haven't sought out artists who challenge my theory that modern popular rap is all about sexism and hyperconsumerism and pimping an image of false power.

Therefore, as with every other thing I say, take it with a grain of salt. I could be totally full of shit. Feel free to tell me so. In fact, you could make a compelling argument that my white privelege is fueling my argument that much of what's communicated in rap is anti-progressive. I don't understand rap or its historical necessity, you could argue; that I actively dismiss it as mostly offensive drivel is inherently objectionable because I am not trying to understand why it speaks to people of color. My white privelege allows me to think it's OK to criticize something I don't really even try to understand.

Fair enough.

But does that make me racist? Or just some random white woman who doesn't care for rap?

The people who posit the Musical Theory of Racist Detection should scour their music collections for evidence of inclusion of ALL existing races in order to square their words with their actions. Don't see any Chinese or Indian or Native American music among your MP3 stockpile? You might be a racist.

(HT: TCP, where this discussion has been raging for a whole day now.)


Anonymous Ifama Jackson said...

I don't think your racist because you don't like rap. I am a Black woman and I don't like what rap has degenerated to. Does that make me not like Black people as well. Sometimes, folks just need to grow up or simply look around. I have never been a listener of rap music, perhaps it's my age (53) but like you I prefer smoother music. So no, darlin, you aren't a racist because you don't like rap music.

Wed May 24, 04:01:00 PM  

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