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Gibb Sahib Are racist, but traditional, songs OK? (377* d) RE: Are racist, but traditional, songs OK? 07 Jun 20


Are any traditional songs NOT racist?

On one side: The architects of the "folk music" concept that held sway through the 20th c. conceived of folk as racial. "Folk" is not "Volk" as "people" as "the majority of ordinary people" but rather as "the people of the ethnic nation, who we deem most purely bred to reflect these (imagined) people." This is why they rejected so-called "popular" music. (And I think we see this rejection, in a form, by the repeated suggestion in this thread that Robeson's song is irrelevant in not being folk song.)

On another side: Other/later contributors to traditional "folk" songs, though they would disavow the racial zealousness of the architects (especially if they are White Anglophone and with respect to White Anglophone ["their own"] stuff) would still fetishize the racial otherness of folk musics, which are consistently attached to ethnic groups as a matter or procedure and, presumable, of importance. They might try to trick you by using the word "culture," but make no mistake that "culture" here is all or entirely contiguous with "ethnic group", which is in turn 1 or 0 degrees of separation from "race"—an essentialized category.

The racism is in one sense entirely "systematic." To tear it from the system is to tear down the very system. And few want that. They enjoy the system. Others don't enjoy the system. The reason why you don't find so many Black people at your English folk club nights is not because somebody once sang "nigger." (*In fact, I believe I could make the argument that if people sang "n-" more, you'd get more Black people there. "N-" is a word of African American "authentic" musical expression far more than it is a word of White English "meta" musical expression.)

My point is, most people who are happy with folk music are happy with its systematic racist nature. You'll get no judgement from me on that, but be honest. I mean, I can say I support the elimination of gender roles -- by which I really mean I am significantly liberal when it comes to gender roles. If gender roles *completely didn't exist* tomorrow though, I'd be lost. There is racism in the system of folk music and you would be lost without it. This is hard to accept.

You may disagree with this entirely. The song is just the song, a neutral thing... until such time a racially derogatory word or idea presents in the lyrics. OK. I'm not interested in going in arguing the systematic racism. I don't hope to convince anyone of this.

I'm more interested in continuing, if you do agree there is some truth in what I'm saying, to see what to do about the "bad words."

I think people who think they have eliminated racism by omitting bad words really don't know folk music. Bless their hearts. I sense a bit of BlackAcornUK's comments in this.

Even if we accept the music is systematically racist -- thus it's not possible to eliminate racism without eliminating folk music -- I don't think it is hypocritical to call for the omission of bad words. Racism is not an all or nothing thing. It makes sense to minimize it. I suspect this is the place of most of us.

Yet if that is the case, if we are in the world of "minimizing" (more or less, while always there) instead of in the world of all/nothing (that which I believe is idealistic and incorrect), we are in an uncomfortable position indeed. We can't decisively scorn the user of bad words if we know the music is racist (to some degree) even *without* those bad words. And we might legitimately wonder whether we might *sometimes* use those bad words since, after all, there are grey areas and the system is already contaminated and the degree of minimizing achieved by omission is pretty intangible. And we don't like that we're even going down these roads but can't help going down them for the sake of intellectual honesty. I think I sense some Steve Shaw in this.

It would be easier if someone could just enforce an ideological code of conduct, right? Ideologues don't have to think so much.

In the meantime, we have songs. We don't have to form them into the molded contructs of "folk" and "traditional." We *can* minimize racism. We *can* query, too, what is the smartest way to combat racism—including questioning a simplistic ideological position that more bad words always means more racism and less bad words always means less racism.

As a case in point, I am confident in saying that the vast majority of chanty genre songs that have been documented with the word "n-" contained that word precisely because they were songs sung by Black people of the Americas. "N-" in song was "Black language." If a non-Black sang it, he was singing Black language, as any White teen mouthing the words to countless current rap songs. In historically surveying chanties, in fact, the presence of the word "n-" -- considered degrading to the *speaker* through its use in the mouth of a white person -- fairly positively identifies the song in question as a song sung by a Black person. To replace that word with "farmer" is to erase the Black voice. And when a non-Black person sang "n-", this was some indication of that person's acculturation to the [conveniently, not exclusively labeled] Black voice -- as in today's hip hop there is a vision (see for example KRS-ONE's articulations) that hip hop is the culture and the voice, and that that culture is potentially muti-racial. Those outside of the hip hop culture will clutch their pearls and attempt to overlay their outsider ideology of whom may say what, but those in the culture have a different view. This is not to say it's not risky though. You'll be outnumbered by outsiders who can't "think" with the logic of your culture, on one hand, while those who share the culture will get great satisfaction from participation.

Has anyone seen the interview between the news agency and (Black American rapper) Lil Wayne? The news interviewers tried to force Lil Wayne into their pedestrian version of Black Lives Matter and he rejected it. They tried to shame him for his bad words. (Echoes of Joe Biden trying to tell his Black interlocutor that he wasn't Black if he didn't vote for Biden!) Lil Wayne is no "Uncle Tom," and I think it's dishonorable to try to dismiss Lil Wayne as ignorant, as a commercial sell out, etc. If we respect Black lives including Lil Wayne's, we have to acknowledge that his position is one engaged with an alternative way of thinking.
https://youtu.be/L6mBZSQdGCE

The question of using bad words in a folk club seems, I think, a simple matter. Don't do it if you value you status in that community. Yet isn't the folk club a bourgeois institution, engaged in much artifice? I think it's rich to say the word "n-" doesn't belong to the White folk song singer in the club, not because I think it does belong to him/her, but because it implies that the song otherwise (with the word omitted) belongs to him/her. I'd question that.
I'm reminded of another interview with film director Tarantino, where the interviewer asked Tarantino, chidingly, why he feels it necessary to put so much violence in his films. Tarantino answered something like, "Because it's so much fun!"
https://youtu.be/7EEpTrPb0-c
The interviewer cannot be expected to understand, and Tarantino concludes by saying he didn't make his movies for her. Likewise the folk club audience cannot be expected to understand, much less accept, bad words in songs. There are others, however, who will, and those people are not more racist than the folk club audience. Quite possibly, those people are even making music in a more exciting space.

Fredrick Douglass hated minstrel music. He thought it was trash. W.E.B. Du Bois, on the other hand, suggested seeing minstrel music as a triumph of African American culture. Douglass' view, I imagine, is easy to understand according to conventional thought, whereas Du Bois' is challenging. Do we dismiss Du Bois as an ignoramus or take up the challenge of understanding his position?—an anti-racism that, paradoxically, embraces something that conventional wisdom sees as plainly racist.

The question of racist-word songs in an English (predominantly White) folk club context, I think, is not very challenging. But an intellectually honest query of racist-word songs *not limited to that assume context* is something I think requires hearing multiple valid perspectives.


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