In 2000, as the capstone to my undergraduate degree (Bachelor of Arts, History), I wrote a thesis about funk music and Black identity in the 1970s. It was one of the most powerful, challenging, and joyful learning experiences of my life — despite some pretty overwrought language and ironically achieved by this white, suburban kid at a small, liberal-arts, homogenous-but-trying college in Maine.
As a course of study, it went beyond the culmination of an academic and experiential deep-dive into African-American and African history and culture. As a “life moment,” it went beyond the joining together of consciously and unconsciously impactful experiences I had had to-date (my father’s love of jazz and doo-wop; my aunt’s social activism and commitment to racial and social justice; my other aunt’s love of Lionel Richie; my innate sensitivity to and awareness of unfairness and other perspectives from my own; Whitney. Fucking. Houston).
That thesis and that entire period of my life was an admittedly overdue awakening to 1) American history that is intentionally kept hidden, 2) the white privilege I possess, 3) the white dominant culture and systems that operate every moment of our American lives, and 4) the tradition and experience of African and Black American music that I have forever loved, aesthetically, and that has taught me about the world as it truly is.
Or, as my fellow music nut @albumoperator (Instagram) wrote in a post:
“I am eternally grateful to this lineage of black American music and the transformative education it has given me, shaping how I see the world and teaching me about my role in this seemingly eternal American struggle.“
Instagram @albumoperator, May 31, 2020, https://www.instagram.com/p/CA3ayOapXrn/
Or, as noted ethnomusicoloigsts Portia K. Maultsby and Mellonee V. Burnim have written:
“Through musical expression, Afro-Americans are able to affirm their cultural identify in a way that supplies positive reinforcement in the midst of an imposing dominant culture.”
“From Backwoods to City Streets: The Afro-American Musical Journey,” in Expressively Black: The Cultural Basis of Ethnic Identity ed. Geneva Gay and Willie L. Barber (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1987), 134.
Or, as Q-Tip spits:
“The world is kinda cold and the rhythm is my blanket / Wrap yourself up in it / If you love it, then you’ll thank it.”
“Verses from the Abstract,” The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest, 1991.
Later today, a new post.
This morning, solidarity.
And, a call for all those who love blues, jazz, gospel, rock-and-roll, R&B, soul, funk, rap, hip-hop, neo-soul, or modern pop but who are not connecting the dots between that music and the current protests and calls for racial justice — to listen harder.