Recently, post-punk.com published an article called “Goth So White?” The article discussed the representation of people in goth, punk and alternative bands. In an age when most people are somewhat used to the idea of diversity, why does this question still exist?
Current implication: Who can like rock and country music?
The question posed at post-punk.com remains relevant unfortunately because society is still affected by divisive forces. On this season of “The Voice,” black country singer Keisha Renee had to defend herself against online hatred from people who didn’t appreciate her singing country music. Even when the detractors are also black, the problem exists. There is an idea that only people who share demographics with performers “may” like genres outside of those heavily represented by blacks. Thus, it is easier for people to accept a black person who likes rap, r&b, soul, and jazz, than say, heavy metal or country music.
Logical people are thinking, “Anyone can like whatever they wish.” And that is true. But post-punk.com isn’t the only place questions of racial representation in rock music exist. In an online forum, someone posted the question, “Can black people be goth?” One responder said, “No, because they’re black.” Another just laughed at the idea.
The issue of racial representation in rock and country music is still a problem. Not all Americans are okay with the idea of black people having representation outside of so-called acceptable genres.
Still, there are exceptions in rock and country music
While there are fewer black representations in country music, exceptions do exist. Charlie Pride and Darius Rucker are two names that come to mind easily. I have no knowledge of other country performers of color, but I am sure they exist.
Rock music, however, is a different story. When considering rock music, the timeframe to use is post-civil rights. Any form of music (or performer for that matter) that didn’t support the movement was anti-black. Therefore, Jimi Hendrix is a great example of a successful rock performer, but because he was seen as part of white culture, the free concert he tried to play in Harlem was a disaster.
Aside from Hendrix, there was also The Chamber Brothers. Their famous “Time Has Come Today,” from 1968, is contemporaneous with Hendrix. In the 1970s, Phil Lynott, bass player and lead singer of Irish hard rock band, Thin Lizzy challenged the stereotype. In the late 1980s, Living Colour challenged the black rock stereotype successfully. Multi-racial groups like the Doobie Brothers also found success. Newer bands like The Main Squeeze are also multiracial and rock-oriented. Still, the idea that there are such things as white music and black music persist.
The article at post-punk.com lists a number of black punk and alternative performers. Despite bands like Dead and Bad Brains who were at the forefront of the development of American punk and hardcore scenes, the antiquated idea remains of separate music for different races of people.
A question of culture
What most people understand about music is that audiences cannot get “into” music that doesn’t speak to them. It is rare that people seek to assimilate through music in their native country. But that is one argument made against black people listening to rock music, that those listeners are attempting to be white.
Still, especially for people of color born after the Civil Rights Movement, there is a different life experience, one that is more middle-class and sometimes suburban than some people realize. And as a result, the same (or similar) disaffection in music that appeals to white listeners, can also appeal to black listeners. And that applies to rock subgenres, as well.
It is particularly telling that few people exist who would deprive white rappers of their careers because it’s not “their” music. Where are the black rock performers who are allowed to gain a substantial following? They are difficult to name in modern times.
Further, it is rather sad that The Black Rock Coalition still exists. The group was founded in 1985 to support black performers of rock music. The idea is to counteract the music industry idea that black people didn’t want to perform rock music.
When I was sent a copy of the article at post-punk.com, I was disheartened. I was sure we all knew that stereotypes were exactly that. It is difficult enough to find music to love without consideration of its racial appropriateness.