Saturday, July 25, 2009

Striking a New Chord for Race

Afro-Punk suggests that many of the divisions between punk rock and hip hop are largely artificial. In a certain sense, hip hop could be looked at as little more than punk rock for African Americans.

As numerous cultural theorists have suggested -- and often demonstrated -- music is a key ideological tool for the socialization of youth. Youths are sent key messages about who they are culturally by the kind of music they are expected to listen to.

Music has often proven to be racially segregated. Country music has long been a bastion of the southern and midwestern United States. Rock n' roll was considered offensive within these particular portions of the US because it incorporated elements of soul and blues -- otherwise considered to be "black" music.

Of course those who abhorred rock n' roll for its ethnic roots failed to anticipate what would eventually become known as the "Elvis affect". Elvis Presley would eventually help coopt this music and turn it effectively "white", and in the imaginations of many its ethnic roots would be forgotten.

African American artists who would attempt to break the colour barrier in music genres such as country music would find it extremely difficult. Although extremely talented, Charley Pride spent his career relegated as a fringe performer despite the excellence of his music. When Muzik Mafia member Cowboy Troy attempted to incorporate hip hop stylings into country music, the response from more traditional country music listeners bordered on threatening violence.

Clearly, race was very much a factor in this response. Despite the fact that Tobey Keith had previously tried -- with disastrous results -- to incorporate rapping within some of his songs, and Detroit-area rapper-cum-rocker-cum-country crooner Kid Rock had been embraced within country music circles, the image of a rapping black cowboy proved to be a little too much for many country music listeners.

On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, an intriguing element of the metamorphosis of musical genres has long taken shape.

In Japan, country music is mostly enjoyed by wealthy members of the upper class.

Even more interesting however, is a burgeoning Japanese hip hop scene. The subject of race -- omnipresent in hip hop -- is turned on its ear in Japan by conflating traditional Japanese caste systems into de facto races.

Whatever one may have to say about the effective racial segregation of music, it is clearly declining. White rappers like Eminem and Canada's own Swollen Members continue to have increasing successes, and the continuing success of white and black artists alike in R&B are clearly demonstrating a de-racialization of many musical genres.

There is one other key point of interest in regards to the increasing desegregation of genre music, and that is the increasing prevalence of interracial dating, mating and breeding.

It's interesting to note that, as Jane Junn notes, ever since the United States began allowing citizens to be recorded as multi-racial in its annual census, this has been the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States.

The ethnic desegregation of music has built many bridges between people of different races, and so has certainly been a factor in this.

This, of course, begs an important question: if the racial desegregation of music continues to break down these barriers, one has to wonder how people may think of race fifty years from today. Perhaps one should fully expect that modern notions of race and racism will be obsolete within the lifetimes of many people alive today.

Whatever notions of race and racism may predominate in the future, one can only hope that they will be a significant improvement on the racial ideas of today, which in turn are a significant improvement on the racial ideas of 50 years ago.

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