Tag Archives: race

Quite proud of this

And you can be, too (well, of having read it).  An excerpt from my piece on Sleepy Hollow and diversity at the great Den of Geek: “What separates Sleepy Hollow from other shows? It doesn’t completely disavow the ethnic backgrounds of characters played by people of colour – and not in the Seth McFarlane way, where without different backgrounds and the general existence of women there would be no one to say ‘Ha ha, you’re ______’ about, thus eliminating a good percentage of the show’s comedic material…”


Difranco as human ‘hipster’ paradigm?

Beyond what’s already been said about Ani Difranco’s reaction to finding out that a former plantation was the planned locale for her company’s retreat, I think there’s something to discern from it about so called “hipsters” — a quality of which seems to be priding one’s self as being enlightened when it comes to issues surrounding race and class, though one’s background frequently leads to a life separate from the majority of those who have historically lacked much in the way of privilege.

Criticism about hipsters is, of course, rife throughout all of blogdom — but it’s often frivolous stuff about the way they dress (I would not include the wearing of clothes that mock someone else’s culture in this arena).  Also, people seem to pick up on a self-righteousness that comes with defining one’s self as thoroughly counter-culture while being obsessed with culture-as-a-lifestyle.  But most of the people doing the criticizing — and certainly the ones whose criticisms are on the noteworthy venues that, inherently, cater to the at least somewhat privileged  — are perhaps finding fault with those trying to live a romanticized version of their own upwardly mobile lives.  In short, they’re a scapegoat for people who don’t know how to come to terms with the fact that they systematically have more stock than others.

These others are people that hipsters and the upwardly mobile can’t generally seem to connect with — sure, they can do so with people of color whom are associated with the coolness that acts as cultural currency among hipsters, and also occasionally people of color whom they can be self-righteous about (an idea of) equality with.  With the upwardly mobile more generally, they seem to connect more easily with people of color who’d prefer to disassociate with that color — with with what can make you less than not so old-fashioned notions of what a normal guy or gal looks like.  So there you have a fine melting pot,  just not with anyone who really challenges people’s notions of themselves in hierarchies.

Away from that, there’s criticism about hipster re-emergence into the urban world where they frequently define areas in the cultural zeitgeist that had been defined as being “bad (but culturally rich) neighborhoods.” You know — all of those cities, with all of their scary people of color; these were the places fine upstanding people didn’t have to live — not when there’s a perfectly good suburb you can drive comfortably to.

Difranco wrote a song about an element of this.  It’s called “Subdivision,” and it starts with the line, “White people are so scared of black people . . .”   It’s a good song, and much more in the vein of Bob Dylan’s song about Rubin “Hurricane” Carter than “Ebony and Ivory.”  I learned from a documentary that Dylan’s song is one that the great Sam Cooke respected on one level, but on another Cooke seemed to lament that someone who hadn’t experienced racism firsthand hadn’t come out with that song first.   I empathize with the feeling because the simple politics of the music business — certainly even more so during Cooke’s heyday — was such that a black artist couldn’t speak his or her truth forthrightly.

Difranco’s initial response to finding out about the plantation as a setting for a retreat noted that she didn’t pick it as a venue, but, once she she knew, it seems she thought it could be an opportunity for healing.  I have a lot of respect for Difranco as a writer and musician, but I could never listen to her sing about race at length without feeling like it was nice enough — and not hollow, but just on some other planet where people leave their suburbs, or mini-suburbs, to go on things like retreats.

You see, frequently hipsters may live in urban areas, but they’re areas that have been turned into mini-suburbs that cater to them — this is the general downside of a place becoming what we generally think of as being livable.  You can live in a place that’s associated with being some great urban place where people of color managed to get by in hard times, but really it’s separate from the heart of that — the part that knows about what the pain of being in the “less than” part of town added up to.

I’m not someone who thinks Difranco should be demonized (there’s a component of her detractors who salivate over this sort of thing and have no personal regard for black pain otherwise), but it’s worth noting that maybe knowing about subdivisions doesn’t make one as aware of the pain of being “less than” as some people might like to think.

different notes

musicalnoteWhat I saw in the video for “Wake Me Up” by Avicii: A young woman walks around in a small, possibly southern town — she’s apparently supposed to be an outsider; all the drably dressed townspeople, including a black woman, give her and her sister the stink eye (yay for diversity).  The young woman wears a fashionable variation of a Union jacket.  She walks alone by herself one morning when, in what I imagine tourist advertisements for tropical islands also include, a man with dreads reaches out for her hand and his small group whisks her away to the smiley, safely diverse crowd at some concert (yay for diversity).  Aside from hippie-ish attire, they’re also distinguished by tattoos.  After said concert, she gets her sister and rides a horse to a more urban land of slightly multicultural goodness.

Music videos generally seem like a made-by-corporate-committee affair.  There’s lots of stuff to superficially and profitably appeal to a specific demographic.  Anything with a more singular vision, skewed or not, stands out a little.  The music video for the Black Key’s “Lonely Boy,” featuring the dancing of Derrick Tuggle to the rhythm and blues-drenched tune was a big hit. It wasn’t due on any intentional part of the Black Keys, but I always thought there was generally an undertone of amusement at how Tuggle seemed a bit square and yet his dancing was unbridled — this is mostly due to the way that rock is perceived now, as opposed to when it was rhythm and blues and performed by mostly black musicians whose cool affectations continue to be milked by rockers today.

So it was nice to see Tuggle in the video for Pharrell’s “Happy,” lip-synching on a music video with a kind of diversity not from some “hip” dream-reality.  There’s a swath of different people in there, all looking like they’re having a genuinely happy moment.  I haven’t followed his work too much, but it was the least cool thing I’ve seen Pharrell associated with and maybe it’s the better for it.  The music video for Bruno Mars’ “Treasure,” in which the woman of a crooner’s dreams is black (and not mixed) and portrayed with all the sentimentality and admiration that comes with that, is also not in line with the most superficial notion of cool.


• From Rocker Zine’s interview with JJ Burnell of the Stranglers:

JJ: We wouldn’t be doing what we call “rock and roll” if it wasn’t for America.  So from what I recall as a kid was that there was black music – which white America didn’t know anything about – and British bands picked up on it, churned it out, digested it and churned it back out to white America.  And in that way white America discovered their black music.

Rocker:  Well, Elvis might have beat you to that a little bit.

JJ: Elvis was definitely there, and he was in direct contact with it, definitely, I won’t deny that. Anyway, I don’t want to be disingenuous, we all owe a huge debt to North America, we discovered this incredible music, the blues and subsequently rock and roll.

• Brett of Magic Mulatto wrote a great short story that speaks to human nature and various divides. Find the whole thing here and an excerpt below:


Every few weeks they’d have some friends from church over and Randall would make one of his gourmet dishes featuring some kind of roasted or braised meat he learned to cook while they were living in London.  They attended the Living Vine Church located behind the grocery store up the street. The Living Vine aspired to be a mega church, a liberal-leaning evangelical operation that attracted mostly (but not exclusively) White college graduates from the suburbs who still hadn’t found their niche in the new economy.  They’re a friendly and charitable lot, kind to strangers, friendly with neighbors, but only really friends with fellow congregants.

On this night, Chris and her boyfriend Jeff were over. Jason, who played bass in the church band, was maybe going to swing by after he broke down the sound equipment. They were gathered around the Goodwill-bought dining room table, rubbing their bellies, as Janey told them about the guy in the window out back. Jeff was sitting right by the window and couldn’t help himself. “I wonder if he’s out there now” he said, then smoothed back his ponytail, swung his arm over the back of his chair, and peeped through the closed blinds.  He bobbed his head a few times, closed one eye, then let the blinds snap back and swung around laughing, “Oh my god! He’s out there!”’

Rarely laughed with

The following is a short excerpt from Aisha Harris’ ‘The Troubling Trend of the “Hilarious” Black Neighbor‘ — an interesting piece on Slate.  The latest black person mocked via social media (auto-tune and such) for the way he or she speaks on news footage seems to be Charles Ramsey, the man who helped Amanda Berry and two other women get free of a decade of captivity.  Regarding the interview Ramsey did, Harris writes about an instance that’s a little harder to make use of for this trend:

‘Describing the rescue of Amanda Berry and her fellow captives, he says, “I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway!”’

The candid statement seems to catch the reporter off guard; he ends the interview shortly afterward.’

Coolness, Elvis and all that jazz

I did this for an interesting blog that delves into race.  Check out the whole post (and that blog) at the link after the excerpt:

Every now and then in your average mainstream comedy the jokes skew toward making fun of black culture.  Someone will say something that overreaches from the constant and  (relatively) subtler uses of black slang and colloquialisms to what is practically pantomime.  Before that overspill, though, you’re just watching characters whom the audience accepts as being in tune with some kind of coolness.  Often these characters are people who want to be cool; they wish they were more like that guy or gal who’d sneer at them on a line to get into a club.  Alternately, they’re either pathetic for not being cool enough, or, in your less empty sitcoms, their humanity is juxtaposed with the emptiness of coolness.

Coolness, Elvis and all that jazz

‘Some people just don’t want to work hard.’

People in urban areas that get buried under snow know them well: guys, usually old and black, who look like the ones that always hang out on corners in small groups.  A foot of snow on the ground and they’re mobile, with a shovel on their backs as they ask people (usually anyone who looks like they can pay for such a thing) if they want their walkways or whatever shoveled.  Most of these areas used to have a strong factory component; there were jobs that didn’t require the kind of networks that help plug one into the jobs of the future.  Those networks have never really been a local specialty–not like those old jobs displaced so that they could be underpaid in some country with an even flimsier concept of minimum wage.

When people say that the reason black people, still generally regarded in society as part of the perennial underclass, haven’t succeeded in the way other groups have is because they don’t want to work hard (not unrelated, see this NY Times opinion piece: “The Persistence of Racial Resentment”), I suppose, on the older side of the spectrum, such men are whom they’re picturing.  These guys, who used to get be able to get by at the very least, and maybe even build something–these men, who’ll spend all day walking around trying to shovel what, on a relatively good one, could be a thousand pounds of snow.  Whatever you think of them, whatever their very real issues may or may not be, that is hard work.