I’d like to think we’re past all this, but we’re not.
Racial issues are still a prevalent part of our society. Take, for example, the recent case in Florida where 28 year-old George Zimmerman shot and killed 17 year-old Trayvon Martin and is claiming self-defense. Because Trayvon is black (and Zimmerman is not) this case has garnered national attention on the premise that Zimmerman slayed Trayvon in cold blood because he was black. I’m not going to argue the case either way, but I would like to point out that Zimmerman is not white, like much of the media has unfortunately labeled him – he is, technically, Latino (much of the media uses “half-latino”, but how often to you hear Obama referred to as “hafl-black”) or, as his father put it, Zimmerman is from a “multiracial family” . But therein lies the problem – we’re constantly labeling things, and when we label people by nationality or skin color, racial tension grows.
Why am I bringing this up? I just (finished) reading “White Noise: Race and Erasure in the Cultural Avant Garde” by Lloyd Whitesell (that is one ironic name – ‘White’ ‘Sell’) published in American Music, Vol. 19 No. 2 (Summer 2001). From what I gathered from the article, Whitesell is arguing that white and empty are one and the same and that the identity of White Culture has become absent. To me, this reading is laden with undertones of White Supremacy, and is White Power propaganda in the guise of academic intellectualism. Aside from Toni Morrison, I believe all of Whitesell’s sources are also white.
The trouble is, there is no “White Culture” just as there is no “Black Culture.” Culture does not come from the color of one’s skin. Culture is created in your neighborhood, city, or country and often has its identity defined by art, politics, religion, etc, and, in its most primal forms, are a way for people to join together and celebrate or commiserate together in harmony. The Maya were a culture, not because they had tanned skin, but because they believed as a people in certain ideas and traditions that were collectively celebrated and performed. Defining culture as a color becomes incredibly dangerous and is one of the leading pitfalls of race relations. The Irogois and Arapaho were two separate cultures. Chinatown in New York has a cultural identity (which, although similar in tradition, is unique from other Asian cultures).
Drawing lines of color can only lead to problems – partly because of sensitivity created by a troubling historical precedent; partly because of ignorant racists that, though diminishing in numbers, are still walking this earth. I think of the groups of peoples that are constantly being discriminated against in the present age: Muslims, homosexuals, women, Germans, blacks, little people, Communists, Native Americans. *Sigh* What happened to “All Men Are Created Equal”? “All Men Are Created Equal” unless you happen to be gay or German or short or [ ]. I propose to rewrite it as “All People are Created Equal”, but someone would be bound to argue that we’re now being biased towards goats or lions… as Santorum argues that if we allow gay marriage, we might as well allow “man on child, man on dog, or whatever” . Yes, bigotry is alive and well.
I argue against the notion that music belongs to any one race, culture, or skin color, or whatever dividing lines you may be inclined to draw. Just because Jazz music evolved out of slavery and the people associated with it, does that mean no one but a black slave can play or enjoy it? Of course not! Some dead old white guy wrote a symphony in 1806 – does a young Chinese girl not get to enjoy it? Let’s stop this bullshit of boxing everything into categories. Let’s stop being so sensitive to things. Stop talking about what makes us all different and start sharing what brings us together.
Spread peace. Spread joy. Share happiness.