Wednesday, January 9, 2013


"We don’t want for there to be such a thing as outsiders"

"For me, a white person, a rap fan who does in fact enjoy Chief Keef’s album, for musical reasons, much the same as I enjoy Waka Flocka Flame’s music, even as I find the lyrics banal and deplore much of their message—a person who likes to think that I can compartmentalize various elements of artistic expression, and appreciate music without any agenda—it’s worth giving hard thought to what it means that a black person is saying that she can’t. It’s worth ruminating on how deeply and insidiously white privilege and the black lack thereof infect every aspect of life in America—even something as simple as enjoying a good pop song."
—Dave Bry has a very thoughtful essay for The New Republic on "well-meaning" white people and violent rap music.

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This is a subject that I think about a lot, and I'd emphasize what the writer hinted at and some of the other commenters point out. None of us avoid passing moral judgments on art. Our moral and our aesthetic senses are deeply intertwined. Any reasonable person recognizes they, too, have a point where repugnant subject matter would overwhelm their ability to appreciate craft, whether it be a romantic comedy set among the guards at Auschwitz, elegantly filmed child porn, or the casual use of the n-word by white people in a movie that is otherwise thoughtless about race. Everyone's line is different, and art that is taken as worthy by some people can affront others without either of them necessarily being wrong. But what is important is that, should you find yourself able to consume, with pleasure, art that alienates or offends someone else, you should be ready to recognize that this ability more likely comes from a place of privilege than from your superiority as a critic. When Dave Bry listens to Chief Keef, he isn't painfully reminded of the consequences of gun violence, to the extent that it overwhelms his ability to appreciate the music's aesthetics. Other people come at that music from a different place. I don't know that acknowledging this is the only thing necessary for him to responsibility engage with the music, but it's an important first step.


@Kristen - That's really nicely put. I look forward to discussion on this piece, because it's an issue I really wrestle with a lot. It's absurd how much of my time I spend listening to "reprehensible" music - mostly hip-hop, though my tastes tend to mean I listen to music which is more denigrating of women than it is violent (I mean, I listen to a lot of violent hip-hop, but I listen to Pop That so many times this year you'd think I was getting royalties.

Either way, I'm lucky enough to be in a position of privilege. Even if I was touched in a way I didn't like on a dance floor, I don't have even 1% of the issues that go with it that a woman would - I'm a big, bearded six foot tall middle-class white dude, I don't really have to worry, it's something easy for me to brush off.

It makes me, in a lot of ways, a big hypocrite.

If one of my friends gets a number from a woman at a bar, calls her two days later to find it's a fake, and then is like, "Damn, I can't believe that bitch," I'll yell at them for calling this woman none of us will ever see again a bitch, even just used in private - I complain that talking like that perpetuates shitty cultural things, and even though I know they don't *really* think she's a bitch for not liking them, the willingness to say it contributes to inequality.

Usually, I'll say all of this while we're drinking beers and I'm blasting "Shake Ya Ass" or "Back Dat Azz Up". I just don't know how to reconcile that.

Maybe it's like loving action movies (Die Hard is my favorite Christmas movie) while also wanting really, really strict gun control - just, a distance afforded me by my place in society. Die Hard probably wouldn't be as entertaining if I'd ever been held hostage by German terrorists.

When I express to most of my female friends thoughts like those about the use of "bitch" in hip-hop, a lot of them say "Look, we deal with a lot of shit born of sexism. The use of a shitty word in a really fun song is easy to just get past." Which, I get from a functional point of view, but just seems awful.

This is a million words too long, and something I've asked before in these comments. I just don't know. I've taken to think that maybe, it's just that we afford "offensive content" of music, within certain boundaries, the same kind of position in our minds as something like "dirty talk" in bed. Two consenting adults (who are both into it, of course) can engage in discourse (and depending on their proclivities, potentially actions) during sex which would be completely reprehensible out of that context. I'm not 100% sure where I'm going with this idea, but it seems...I dunno, maybe there's something there? Music certainly is the most intimate of all art to me, and definitely the one where I put up w/ the most stuff I'd otherwise be turned off by.

Ugh sorry that's so many words.


@Kristen Very well put. I think it's hard for me to remember that sometimes, and to remember the fault lines in American culture. I think that we can find ourselves straddling them sometimes and we can *think* we're straddling them other times, when in reality we're looking at somebody else's experience with a telescope and insisting that we're seeing things clearly. Well, sure, it's a lot easier to see a situation "clearly" when you are removed from the physical and emotional realities of it ("clearly" in quotes because I don't think it is actually clearer, it just seems that way to the observer).

Anyways, you said what I've been struggling to understand and you said it well. Thanks.


@leon s I feel like there's something there with your "dirty talk" analogy. And I would go a step further to say that we allow it more in music than in any other art medium, perhaps because of the more carnal side to music - we all know when we hear a song and it inspires a physical response, from goosebumps to adrenaline rushes. What do you think?


Probably the greatest post ever!@j


mannn. I'm interested to see where this conversation goes. As a 24 year old black woman, stuff like this is in my head a fair bit. I feel like that's always in the back of your mind. Like, I love Ying Yang Twins more than is reasonable, but it's always there, the "what ideas are people forming about black people, and about me because I'm a fan." And I think it tends to put you, or at least me, in this weird place, because it almost seems like you shouldn't enjoy that music.

And as someone who has gone to a mostly white high school, an overwhelmingly white college, and has mostly white friends - I find that I have to play both sides of the field on rap music. When the dude bros. talk about loving hip-hop but the only thing they listen to is Li'l Wayne, or the other dudes only like "conscious rap" so they bump Common (but only his earlier stuff)


I feel really strange about my love of hip hop since I am a middle class/white/feminist lady. The way I've learned to reconcile my musical tastes with my feminism is by realizing that not everything I do in life has to be a feminist act and I'm allowed to listen to some damn music every once in a while. (Plus, no matter what genre you listen to, you're going to find some vile misogynistic shit if there are lyrics.)

I'm just really worried about being appropriative and one of those "hipster racists." I realize that people think it's funny that I (a nerdy-looking white girl) listen to hip hop, but I try not to play the whole "isn't it aDORKable that I, a nice white girl listen to rap muzik?!" bit.

But I always wonder-- when I go to a rap show, am I just feeling entitled to a space that doesn't belong to me? Is that what my love of hip hop is? Claiming something that doesn't belong to me?


@klemay This is pretty much me, too. I wanted to comment on this, but even doing that was daunting because I didn't want to come off like "I'm a slight white woman of middle class, but I love hardcore rap music! aren't I so interesting?" I realize people (like you said) find it funny, so I'm pretty conscious of trying NOT to play it up. But, at the same time, I genuinely love listening to it.


@klemay Loving hip-hop is not NOT a feminist act.


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Dear Nicole,

Just wanted to thank you for everything. Have an amazing day.

Your friend

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