African American Culture
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While listening to some very early blues players music on youtube a while ago I had an inspirational thought that made me feel even more connected to the music because of the rough history my people have had in this country. I thought about the vileness of slavery, the hell of Jim Crow, the rough journey we’ve taken from being sold as slaves to where we are now… a free people with full constitutional rights. While listening to Arthur Crudup literally inventing a new genre of music it makes that journey seem even more remarkable to me. A very small number of oppressed black people 1 generation removed from slavery creating new art-forms that have become wildly popular all over the world. Blues, rock, jazz, R&B, etc all created in a country that officially amended our constitution counting black people as 1/5th of a person. Just that thought alone inspired me. If musical pioneers like Arthur Crudup could achieve so much with so little, it makes me feel that anything is possible regardless of your current circumstances. Unfortunately someone read my inspirational comment and got offended by it. This person read it and thought what I wrote was racist. It literally makes no sense so I decided to do a print-screen and share the exchange with everyone. Here’s the full conversation so you can decide for yourself. I didn’t edit anything out or add anything in. I did blur his name and picture because I thought it was the right thing to do.
Interesting right? I’ve never had anyone tell me I should be thankful for slavery. That is definitely a first. After the last comment above, I informed him that I would love to share our conversation on my blog which lead him to quickly delete his side of the conversation. I figured something like that might happen so I made sure I copied everything just in case. It’s weird how he saw my comment as being racist against whites. History is history. Slavery happened, Jim Crow happened, lynchings happened, the kkk happened. Using those very hard times as a marker for progress shouldn’t upset anyone and it certainly doesn’t make someone a racist for talking about it. Especially when someone talks about it in an inspirational way like I did. Americans shouldn’t be ashamed of the progress we’ve made. We should talk about it more in my opinion. That’s a pretty stark contrast from then to now. That should be celebrated. Even-though we still have inequality within our institutions we can overcome that as well. Just like the abolishment of slavery, just like ending Jim Crow, just like gaining amendments to protect our right to vote. There’s always progress to be made. In my opinion, I think he knew what he was saying wasn’t right. He probably had some time to think about it and that may have lead him to come back, read it again, and delete it. Misunderstandings happen all the time and we’re all imperfect human beings, so I don’t think any of this makes him a bad person. But that’s just my opinion.
After I posted this blog I got another comment from the same person. Apparently I have angered him. He wanted to call me a racial slur but he stopped himself and left hints about the slur he had in mind instead. So here’s the latest:
Here’s the latest developments (2/2/2016). This guy came back and deleted his comment about calling me a racial slur (the one from the 1st update), then tried to pretend he never said anything about a racial slur, and somehow I hallucinated the entire thing. He should have known I was going to screenshot the comment as soon as he posted it. It was only up for 20 seconds but I was quick enough to grab it. Here’s how it went:
After this last comment he decided he had enough and deleted everything again. People don’t know how to react when they are angry and lashing out but you are cool, calm, and rational. They end up looking like the irrational crazy person, which is what they are usually. When you’re smart, confident in your message, and honest about your point of view, there’s no need for anything extra like insults, slurs, and put-downs. Whenever I engage with people who try to attack me personally instead of debating the merits of my ideas, I try to keep that in mind. It’s hard not to call people like him assholes, but I know measured restraint is always the better option.
This blog post started off as a comment I left on a youtube video. I realized halfway through writing my comment that it was way too long to post as a comment so I “appropriated” (lol) my words and took them to my blog. I’m explaining all this because my writing style for this one is more conversational because it was never meant to be a full blog post. Anyway, here it is: It’s amazing to see African American culture influencing the entire world. Especially in music, dance, art, fashion, and sports. Descendants of slaves created almost every new musical genre of the 20th century. Rock, blues, jazz, R&B, soul, doo wap, pop, swing, big band, etc. all came from a very concentrated number of blacks crammed into a handful of southern states in the US. Now the world has taken this gift and created some of the best most innovative music the originators probably couldn’t even fathom. Living on cotton plantations our ancestors used song, dance, and rhythm as a way to feel connected to their homeland, and as a way to communicate important information to each other that only they could understand. Living through the hell of slavery and being treated like cattle is enough to kill the spirit of most men, but they created and sang songs to inspire one another which became just as important as bread or water. I’ve heard people say that the most creative and honest art comes from pain and struggle. If that saying is true then it makes perfect sense that these extraordinary gifts were possessed by slaves and passed on to each subsequent generation as a birthright.
I could argue a pretty convincing case for artistic purity while highlighting the unavoidable negatives that come with any appropriation of culture such as compensation, recognition, and commercialization, but to do that justice I’d have to ignore how much music has become a uniter reaching across borders and oceans like a war averse cultural diplomat. Thinking about the history of my country and the deep dark oppressive history of my people both still dealing with the effects of slavery and only 50 years removed from the horrors of segregation and Jim Crow, I feel such immense pride at the things we have accomplished and created in spite of the adversity. My parents grew up in the south during segregation and Jim Crow. Those weren’t foreign concepts I just read about in textbooks. They had to sit in a back corner of the movie theater where the “colored” section was if they wanted to see a film. While shopping downtown all the bathrooms had “white only” signs on them. Just trying to register to vote could get you fired if your white boss found out, and in some cases you could end up losing your life. Coming from that history feelings of proprietorship are understandable. Our slave ancestors didn’t have wealth to pass on to us, but what they did have was culture. Not being protective of that inheritance would be a gross disrespect to the pain they endured to pass it on.
When I see a Russian hip hop artist, or a Chinese break dance crew, or a French Jazz band, respecting the art and doing it justice, it warms my heart. I think it’s pretty easy to discern the artist who are deferential to the culture from those who mimic the culture primarily for financial gain. I think we should let the universe sort them out and while that process is happening, go buy a concert ticket to see a P-Funk or Earth Wind and Fire concert. Go to itunes and download Biggie’s “Read To Die” and “Life After Death” albums. Find some old clips on youtube of the men who invented Rock & Roll (Arthur Crudup, Goree Carter, and T-Bone Walker). Go to your grandmother’s church and sing along to some old negro spirituals and watch the oldest woman on the mother’s board add 2 more verses to the song that nobody else seems to know. I’m suggesting these things because we can’t be protective and selective of parts of our culture and take it for granted at the same time. If you don’t know who Goree Carter is, then I don’t want to hear your complaint about Iggy, Lorde, or Adele appropriating our culture even if I agree that two of 3 named are doing just that.