Inadvertent racism?

Dave Therault
Wed Jun 10 13:46:22 EDT 1998

In a message dated 6/10/98 6:24:55 AM, ISTS024@UABDPO.DPO.UAB.EDU wrote:

>On Wed, 10 Jun 1998 09:10:47 -0400 P.W. Fenton said:
>>On the other hand, the racism in your post was intentional, and fit the
>>definition just fine.  It was based on the belief that Blues performed by
>>African Americans is inherently superior to Blues performed by White
>>Americans.  That IS racism.
>I don't think of that as racism. I think if we are talking ALL artists,
>and dead then it's 100% true. If we are talking modern musicians then I would
>not agree. There is nothing wrong with saying one race does something better
>than the other. In my experience white people just can't dance as well. Is
>that a racist statement..?
>Would somebody post the 'blues-l hall of fame' list, you can count the white
>artists on one finger (maybe NONE !) is that racist...? We voted on it and if
>you look at the results you will see a HUGE slant toward one race. Which also
>refutes the ignoramus that started this thread.

How Y'uns Doin?

Movement away from racism in society has traditionally been pioneered by
musicians and artists. So, I look to the day that we can completely eradicate
it among ourselves, as being the sign of its demise in the world proper.
Imagine my disappointment, here, today.

Here's from my dictionary:


rac*ism (noun)

First appeared 1936

 1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and
capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a
particular race.


Is that a good thing?

I wonder who is insulted more by such racist statements, the white artists who
would have to believe they will never achieve the pinnacle of greatness, no
matter their love and dedication to the music, or the black ones who have to
accept that their greatness has nothing to do with any personal
accomplishment, but is inherent in their race.

These ideas were most prevalent when the south was at its racist worst. The
white supremist has to have some way of explaining the skill of the black,
without acknowledging or attributing virtue. In response, the black supremist
has to have a way of declaring an absolute cap on white abilities in
territories of performance more historically cultured among blacks, in the
case under consideration, the black-originated non-formal musics of blues and
jazz. (I'm not accusing ~anyone~ on this list of anything.)

White people can't dance as well? Fred Astaire, anyone? Now, it may not be
~your~ idea of dancing, but doesn't that have to do with cultural preference,
rather than racial advantage? I was playing a club, primarily patronized by
blacks, and most of the crowded dance floor was filled with black dancers. One
of the patrons, new in the club that night, was a white soldier from the local
base. This fellow exhibited an "enthusiastic cultural pride" (for lack of a
better euphemism) when he got up and said, "Someone ought to show these folks
how to dance." He got up and moved his body in a way, that appeared to embody
centuries of Celtic power, completely captivating the attention of everyone.
He was, clearly the best dancer there. I had a black roomate, who was also a
talented dancer, do the same thing in an old white hangout, C/W bar.

I think a good deal of what we are appreciating when we prefer the blues of a
great black artist, is cultural preference. The culture of blues changes, over
time, as it becomes relevant to a more international, interracial audience. It
has to. Some people prefer the blues and jazz of modernists, many of whom are

In jazz, look a the predominance of white musicians in the 50's school of cool
jazz, and the its contempory black-dominated hard bop. The audience for each,
also reflected similar differences as the music of each school reflected
different racial experiences. Similarly, who can deny the importance of the
emergence of Hollywood Fats, for example, and his descendents on modern blues?
To say that he was first influenced by T-Bone, Johnny Watson and the Myers
brothers, among others, in no way minimizes his contribution to a whole school
of West Coast modern blues. Today, the stylistic mantel in blues and jazz,
both having their origins in black experience, is passed back and forth
between artists of different races.

Have you ever been surprised on finding out that a singer was white? It
happened to me with Dan Penn. It happened again when I first heard Paul Oscher
sing, and Madison Slim. It's a result of misidentifying culture with race. And
as the cultures mix and change in blues expression, we can expect the
identities of black and white blues sound to become increasingly more of an
amalgam of cultural experience.

Is that a bad thing?

-Dave Therault

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