Bouncing off the very interesting discussion from Reappropriate, later taken up by El and others….

I wanted to think about a few things here, taking a slow circle around the question put forth by the Sasha Frere Jones/Stephen Merritt fight, and read that against Jenn’s observations.

Is it racist for a white person to not like hip-hop? Is it racist for a white person to like hip-hop?

A lot of the frustration i see from the cultural appropriators in the discussion, especially at Jenn’s place, focuses on this double bind. We’d be racist if we didn’t read anime, drink green tea, etc… All of which elides how this cultural contact takes place, and the conditions of power that exist surrounding that encounter. What’s even more frustrating is that they make such hay over the instances in which Japan copies us. I don’t know that it’s really such a great defense of Western orientalism to point out that a culture that we forced at gunpoint to Westernize did in fact, adapt many facets of Western culture. These latter day Adm. Perrys seem to have little awareness of the framing of their encounter. Always in the bludgeoning first person, where I starts nearly every sentence, the argument goes that personal appreciation of another culture is just that.

Itunes is telling me to get to the point, as Common has come up. How do I relate to black music as a white person working to be anti-racist?

First, it’s not about the music. One of the things that struck me about Jen’s descriptions of her frustration is the way in which Orientalism takes a cultural resource, and removes it to a Western context. It’s beyond silly to claim that extensive appreciation of black music makes a person “not a racist” or gives one any sort of credentialing. I can listen to music all day long, alone. And one thing I’ve noticed is that every room I’m alone in has been entirely segregated.

Anti-racism is active, and relies on community. It’s not about liking the music, drinking the tea, or a cultural practice. It is about sustained and active participation in a culture through interpersonal relationship. It’s about what I can’t do on my own. The risk and the pitfall that so many of these cultural appropriators hit is the subtle suggestion that Whiteness can do it better. Tom Cruise is the Last Samurai…

When Hegel was trying to explain all of history as a Euro-Centric progression towards perfection, he had trouble with the Jews. He can’t insult YHWH, but he has to elevate Christianity to prove his racialized hypothesis. So he states that indeed, the Jews were technically correct, but that they lacked the proper “spirit.” With a quick slight of hand, Hegel introduces and elevates this geist as the sina qua non of freedom, progress, and all things good. It resides in the West, and makes the Europeans the true Sons of Israel. It’s still at work today, making whiteness disappear as a canvas on to which we paint other cultures. Geist and “West does it better” mentalities make cultural appropriation the Promethean gift…where whiteness supposes that it is doing another culture the ultimate favor by paying attention, bringing the precious spirit of Whiteness to complete and perfect. The best other is the White other. Tom Cruise.  $#&*ing “Last Samurai.”

It’s a funny thing. Over this last year, I participated in Yale’s Gospel Choir (I’m pretty sure it’s getting easier to figure me out the longer I write…) It wasn’t about teaching me to soul clap, though I did finally learn. It wasn’t about teaching my ear to recognize and follow the patterns and rhythms that made familiar songs sound strange. Indeed, it would be high folly to suppose any of these things could grant magical access to the experience of blackness in America. Happy Sambo, minstrelry, and a host of racist images were built of the premise that music was the defining cultural trait. Yet, personal taste is not just personal. It is one marker (of many) of exposure and familiarity.

For me, my cultural interaction comes in part through music. I’m a church dork, and a Baptist. If i’m going to relate even with in my denomination, it would be rather difficult if I didn’t have knowledge or appreciation of Gospel. Entering into this doesn’t make me black. And it certainly doesn’t wipe away my white privilege. It is one way in which I try to be a good visitor, one who comes to seek relationship, not entertainment. Other cultures do not exist to alleviate my boredom or alienation. The true meaning of the discontent of urban music is not fully realized in suburban angst. Tom Cruise is not the Last Samurai.

-sly

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