Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Black like me?

No, I'm not talking about this, but rather this interesting piece from the Sunday Styles section in today's New York Times. The piece, titled "Truly Indie Fans", deals with the growing sub-culture of black kids drawn to indie rock music. It's an interesting read for a number of reasons, some of which I can identify with. As I write this, I'm listening to my latest musical obsession, a band out of Austin named Voxtrot. I think it would be safe to classify them as an indie act, and a random sampling of my most recent iTunes downloads (Josh Ritter, Cold War Kids, Great Lake Swimmers, minus the two Ghostface Killah songs) would probably classify me as a "blipster", sans the fascination with skateboarding. I also do not own cool glasses, like the guys from TV on the Radio.

I think the real issue touched on in the article is about what is deemed as "acceptable" by the black community in terms of self-expression. To me, this also ties into the long running debate about whether or not black children who attempt to do well in the classroom are acting "white". There's a weird kind of pathos at work that says it is ok for black children to act like thugs and gangsters (which, of course, perpetuates long standing stereotypes), but frowns upon academic advancement or forms of expression that don't adhere to some arbitrary definition of "blackness". Rock, after all, has its roots in black music (yes, I picked that link off of a post from Yglesias), so blacks playing rock shouldn't be considered odd, but, due to the way music is marketed in this country, all black rock bands like Living Colour, majority black rock bands like the aforementioned TV on the Radio*, and rock bands with black lead singers like Bloc Party are considered to be anomalies.

So, having said all that, what to do about it? Frankly, I don't know. Other than continuing to push the now banal sounding idea that embracing diversity can help open doors, break down barriers, and promote understanding, I'm not sure what else can be done as a practical matter. Music, ultimately, is based on deeply personal preferences and it would be ridiculous to expect everyone to like the same thing. For now, I suppose I would consider it progress if a black kid who decided to go to a Killers show didn't get funny looks from the crowd at the concert...or the kids in his neighborhood when he got home.

(*It should be noted that TV on the Radio is the type of band that is hard to get into, regardless of your musical leanings. The music is dense and challenging, and sometimes seems to meander into weird places that might be be understood with the aid of potent, controlled substances).

1 comment:

George said...

Good points, P. Interesting how rock's roots are in black music, but it's "strange" for black folks to be into indie rock which, in many cases, is getting back to a stripped down roots sound. Also interesting how it doesn't work both ways -- white indie kids are seen as cool or legit if they are into "traditionally black" music like blues or rap (see Fat Possum label, or DJ Shadow, etc.)

Just points out that stereotypes are basically ridiculous, but that even the most "progressive" movements fall into stereotyping -- especially in music and especially in SF!