A funny thing happened at the Middle East show on Thursday night. A funny, sad thing. I met an unbearably ignorant person. Some people are capable of passing off abject stupidity as one of the hilarious flaws of the world. I recognize the funny things that ignorant people say and do, but the very thought of people living in bubbles of closed-mindedness depresses me to no end. The story:
It’s after the show. Indef-Art’s best show ever, if the crowd response was any indication. Ordinary K dug it. Kastro (aka Slim Pickens) dug it. 33Hz didn’t talk to anyone, so we couldn’t tell whether or not they dug it. We’re all still basking in the afterglow of a performance and crowd turnout that should vastly improve our standing in the Boston music scene. We go outside to cool off, smoke cigarettes (not me), and talk to a kid named Ian who has contacted us about replacing Blake as our bassist. What follows are snippets of our conversation mingled with my running inner commentary.
Evan: We would love to have you in to rehearse. Just learn the songs on the website and we’ll go through those and see how we vibe.
Ian: Do I have to learn “Love Hip-Hop?”
Me: [Thinking Ian is joking]. Not really. It’s like 2 notes.
Ian: …because that song is wack.
[Okay, right off the bat, fuck you, kid. Thanks for coming out. I wrote that song. But, we’re going to see where he takes this.]
Me: [diplomatic] It’s not our best song…
Ian: I mean, it’s your band, so I’ll play it, but I won’t like it.
[Thanks. Good to see you won’t be taking complete control of the group. That’s a relief. This isn’t ignorance yet, just a complete lack of tact. Just wait…]
blah blah blah…
Ian: Yeah, you guys are all right, but I can’t stand it when you go into that white boy funk where you sound like “Dispatch.”
Me: We are white.
[So are you. Also, fuck you.]
Ian: Hip-hop is something that is really close to my heart, and I have a really fixed idea about what it should be. I’ll give you a CD of my old band that had a black MC and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
[Okay, here we go. First of all, the statement that any music is “really close to my heart” is trite to the point that it’s almost a self-parody. Of course it is. So continue. Oh, and you have a CD of your old band to give us to tell us how to improve our band? Your old band that doesn’t exist anymore, hence your desire to join our band? We should be like them? Right now I’m imagining that they were so good that they just had to break up.
Up to now this is all just poor interview skills. This kid couldn’t get a job at McDonald’s if an interview were involved: “Yeah, I mean it’s your restaurant, and I’ll make the Big Macs if you want, but I won’t like it.”]
Time passes… Our jaws drop lower and lower toward the sidewalk.
Ian: Yeah, so I was talking to your old bassist, and I agreed with him that you guys don’t have a lot of credibility because you don’t have a black MC.
[Thump. There it is.
Quick review on the race-based comments that came from Ian: we play “white boy funk;” his old, good band had a black MC, in stark contrast to our band, which he inexplicably still seems to want to join; our band lacks credibility because I fail to possess the skill to change my skin color.
Let me tell you why this is not only ignorance, but out-and-out racism.
The word that my argument is resting on is the word “credibility.” What are we talking about here? Are we talking about skills? Is that it? In the case of what Ian said, we are not. He said that a black MC has more credibility. We’re going to give Ian a little bit of credit and assume that he doesn’t think that every black MC in the world has more skills than me. If this were the case, I would have quit long ago and no one would be coming to my shows.
So if not, skills, what is “credibility?” My interpretation is that “credibility,” in Ian’s mind, is based on his perception of the persona of the black hip-hop male as a tougher, more street-wise, hyper-masculine caricature whose roots in the American imagination reach back to the time of slavery. I had a linemate in junior hockey that spent 3 months in jail for beating someone with a tire iron. Another teammate of mine served a season-long suspension for spearing someone in the face. Would these tough guys raised in the cornfields of southern Ontatio have “credibility” as MCs in Ian’s mind? I think not. They lack the one value upon which our prospective bassist was basing his judgment. Would a black prep schooler (say, Pappa Doc from 8 Mile)? I think so. To blindly assign “credibility” due to race in any profession is a racist agenda. To do so in hip-hop is damaging to the genre.
The very notion of “credibility” in hip-hop music hides behind a thin veil of racism that cuts in all directions. Expectations that black rappers have “credibility” simply perpetuate the harmful stereotype of the black male as an aggressive, tough, street-educated threat to white America. Someone who grants instant credibility to black rappers takes away their right to create their persona from the ground up and harms hip-hop to no end.
Since I started with Indef-Art, the band has run up against more than a few people who vocally and adamantly oppose our approach to hip-hop. More often than not, these people are white people who claim that our music is not “true,” or “real,” or whatever the term du jour is for status quo underground music. I am going to call these people “self-hating white people.” Self-hating white people are all around. More likely than not, they are attracted to historically black forms of music simply because it is good, yet fail to get past their own prejudices and feelings of guilt about “stealing” art forms when they try to play the music. Instead they resort to engaging in competitions to be less white than the next white artist who is attempting to play historically black music. Ian’s scathing comment that we played “white boy funk” contained the implicit statement that he could play funk that was less white than ours. Such a comment is ridiculous. All white people play “white boy funk.” That’s all we can play. Unless we’re talking about a white female, of course, who would play “white girl funk.”
Now, I identify as a self-hating white person in many respects. I feel immense guilt that I have openly racist relatives and friends from back home and that more likely than not my ancestors were involved in the oppression of not only black Americans, but all non-white races. As such, I am a self-hating white person.
But where I diverge from Ian is that I will not apologize for my music and steadfastly refuse to subject it to a sliding scale of whiteness. My music is white because I am white. I cannot change that. I am also intelligent, Harvard educated, and a goddamned good MC, and I do not anticipate having to apologize for any of those things at any time during my musical career. My band is similarly unapologetic. Those who don’t like it just can’t keep up. Those who can’t keep up get dusted.