Really necessary piece of writing by Neil at FUNK. I really wish he was still writing as many essays on big ideas as he used to when he first started the above blog.
I think Neil's ideas about the perceived mental ineptitude of "the wrong sort of fans" are especially valuable and valid.
I love, for instance, the album Gentleman by the Afghan Whigs and am quite aware that the lyrics can either be interpreted as misogynistic or as violently self-lacerating against the male ego (I and most critics tend to defer to the latter). That Kanye's perceived misogyny will rarely be regarded as having the same self-awareness that precedes self-criticism does reek of prejudice, especially when combined with the idea that somehow the fans might not be able to achieve that sense of distance, either from themselves or the music they love.
White rock musicians get a pass, I think, mostly because they are seen as aberrant in relation to their, especially lately, comfortable upbringings. This would be fine if it weren't for the unstated inference, that Kanye or others, are, well, not aberrant. Their "misogyny" becomes "natural" and not a purposeful transgression or exploration of preceding values. We're steps away from non-whites as "animalistic" and all that. Only with "proper" language.
What's tragi-funny too is, of course, how could white middle-class rockers and their "(un-)ironic" racism, sexism, whatever, be aberrant when it's really, you know, those type of people that have held the reigns for so long. Those of us who think of our societies as racist or sexist don't think of them as such because Luther Campbell has been dictator for seventy years...
I had a bit of an epiphany lately. I was listening to an old Malcom X speech (well, that word "old" is sadly, an entirely redundant word in this sentence). I love listening to him because of his confidence, because the truth, the Truth, is so self-evident and obvious to him that the idea of compromise seems ludicrous. Racism itself is, basically, really fucking stupid isn't it, a practically cosmological outlook that is even more dated than, say, pantheism (dated is an odd word here, but somehow, if we assume a linear narrative of progress, it should have been harder to disavow the notion that trees are not gods than to disavow the notion that black people are intrinsically inferior). While Malcolm takes the effects of racism seriously (obviously!), his impatience to move beyond it, to discredit it, to get to the future, NOW, it's so energizing. And, while I digress, what a witty man he was. Does anyone ever really talk about that? Fiery, intemperate, blah blah blah. Fucking boring. The archetype preceding and all of that. Malcolm X the wit, like, I dunno Oscar Wilde? Someday, someone else will get it (or maybe they have and I haven't read the right books)!
I digress no longer. But I do warn you, some essentialism to follow and to precede. Just for the sake of expediency.
As if any culture is so homogenous.
I'm certainly not an expert on the history of black thought in America. But, at least for a while, as far as I can tell, the big question seemed to be: to assimilate or not? And that question really reveals the pervasiveness of racism, doesn't it? I don't generally think people discuss that question in that way. It's a question, really, about what black people should do. But the unspoken part. What should black people do in relation to white society. White society is subconsciously instantiated as that which is presumed, the thing that will not or can not or should not or may not change. It's a sad thought (really, why should black people have to do anything at all, you know?). And I probably came to it from another one, which is more topical given that I am here to respond to Neil's piece. The discourse around racism, when it comes not to what black people think black people should do (in relation to white society), but when it comes to what white people think white people should do, is that, again, it is what is to be done in relation to white society. When white people discuss racism, they are really just talking about themselves, aren't they?
(I wish I could be smarter about that last sentence, more academic. Longtime readers may have noticed my prose started off perhaps a bit more studied, haughty, even, and now, well, insouciant is not quite the right word, because I am not indifferent, well, not indifferent to the subject matter; I am indifferent to writing properly.)
I'm just going to say what I said before again and I want to to take this small idea and then look at everything again and then maybe you will realize it is a big idea and that it applies so universally that it's easy to miss.
When white people discuss racism, they are really just talking about themselves.
(And just for the record, yes, in that I benefit from white privilege, I am white, but, for fuck's sake, I've heard so many fucking nasty comments about Jewish people, especially here in New England, that, well, fuck you crackers, I'm a fucking kike, I'm not one of you, fuck off.)
When white people discuss racism, they are really just talking about themselves. If you start to think from this perspective, it all makes sense.
Here I am in a liberal, tolerant university town that is even more disgustingly segregated than my hometown in Virginia. A place where "Black Lives Matter" signs hang in the windows of shops whose owners are so glad that downtown was cleaned up so that they could operate in safety. Exactly what, or, really, who, was removed from downtown just so that VINTAGE tchotchkes could be sold in shops no young black teenager would ever dare enter for fear of a nervous glance?
Coke signs from the 1950s! Such a great decade. Coke signs and housing discrimination are not related exactly and yet maybe you should consider for a moment why there are some people who might not have the same relationship to the past you do.
And really this vintage thing has been going on too long hasn't it.
The fetish for the rare and the obscure is (necessarily) the prerogative of those who can easily get their hands on everything else.
Wealth is more deeply implicated in its rejection than its celebration.
The exact same idea can be utilized in a seemingly different context:
There's nothing that proves privilege more than the opportunity to disavow it. Yes I know that means me too.
Most of what passes for anti-racism amongst whites is really a class-based prejudice against other whites.
Read that one again!
I'm not a great writer because I can't explain to you something that we both know is true, even if my idea is not one that had occurred to you before you read me write it.
Damn. No column on Salon for me.
What I lack as a writer is authority. You need to be sure you are getting your ideas from the right people. If you repeat any of this at a party you'll have to say where you got it from. Your friends won't be impressed.
The appeal to authority is a fallacy in formal logic.
You will only grow as a person amongst those more intelligent than you.
Therefore, you need new friends.
I love Kanye by the way, though I don't love his music as much as I want to, especially lately. I guess it's just my ears and years of listening to electronic music. That last album, it could have been so much more. So close to the edge of epiphany without quite.
People seem to hate his arrogance. I mean, hasn't he said that he is the only person worth discussing? Or something like that? Well, isn't he right? Who else shouldn't have played Glastonbury? And would your answer be a matter of taste or something more?
I feel like I have a guess at Kanye's "attitude".
There is a great interview that The Wire published years and years ago. The interviewee was Juan Atkins, and Mr. Atkins basically stated that black people can be considered and accepted easily as entertainers but still, not really, as artists. Artist Artists, even. I think it's still true. Really. There's always an asterisk isn't there. Kanye is the only person worth discussing on his level. And yet. Will what he did ever be considered momentous? And if not, whose fault is it? His? No.
You can't change the world without the world.