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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

and in the winter, extra blankets for the cold

Nalo and Hal and Ben (in the comments of Hal's blog post) between them pretty much sum up what seems to me a practical and balanced series of approaches and definitions to the cultural appropriation issue. Somewhere in here the thing that's been bugging me about the whole issue is put into words and made clear--that the issue is not that people-in-power must be limited to art deriving only from their own cultural traditions--and that's a straw man, something so obviously foolish that it can be immediately dismissed--but that: (to quote Hal)

Like, the issues involved in *how* white artists write about black characters (representation) gets swallowed up into this (completely different) argument about whether white artists have the *right* to use black aesthetic forms (appropriation); the confusion of representation-is-appropriation shifts the question onto whether white artists have the *right* to write about black characters; this can be dismissed as an absurdity, and *hey presto!*, anything goes.

It seems to me like there's two problems here and that -- from both sides of the argument -- the whole question of whether non-X have a right to represent X becomes a way of not engaging with either of them.

So my point here is really to say, wait a minute, if we confuse the map with the territory and argue about whether an outsider has a right to make the map, whether the people who don't own the territory have any right to map it, then we're missing the real issues: is the territory being snatched here(appropriation)? and is the map accurate or inaccurate (representation)?

And to quote Nalo:

People need to be free to make art about whatever they wish, in whatever mode they wish. I do it; why shouldn't other people?

What worries me, though, is that whenever someone avows that, it results in a deafening chorus of privileged culture white folks yelling, "fuckn' 'A,' man! See? I *don't* have to think about this shit after all! M/i/g/h/t/, er ART makes right!" Now, you don't seem to be saying this at all. Let me be clear about that. Yet a whopping bunch of people who don't want to think of themselves as relatively privileged will cherry-pick from your comment the bits they like.

And then there's the Paul Simon vs. Single Gun Theory example, which I think sums up the issue nicely.

Yes. That. That thing. *points at it.* That's the thing I have been fumbling around, flailing at, trying to find a way to say, and failing utterly.

But Hal and Nalo are both smarter than I am, so it's no surprise.


Thanks very much for posting about that. It's a very interesting conversation, on a topic I wrestle with daily.
So if Paul Simon is evi-el for using African Musicians, (and paying them Union scale and giving them song writing credit), are Black Bluesmen evil for appropriating Spanish Guitars, German Harmonicas, Hawaiian Slides, Russian Guitar tunings, The English Language, and European rhyme schemes?... The world is round... and flat. And all this rehacking and deconstruction is a fine occupation for people who dont have to play a song *right now* for a bunch of drunks *right here* to pay the rent *or live out in a tent*

This is the whole point of the book i'm working on now, so i expect a lot of grief on this quest.. And it's not something tattoooed on my ass, it's a good chunk of my life. I think i will dedicate it to Kathleen Battle.
Actually, if you read on in comments, it's pointed out that Simon did it rather the right way, and it's contrasted with a Single Gun Theory album where, some opine, they did not.

And I should say that all the people engaged in the conversation I linked are working artists, and ain't none of us wealthy.
perhaps, i went off half cocked.. or arsed... one of the first things i ever had published was a defense of paul simon from an attack by Martin Carthy.. Carthy lead the attack on "Graceland". He also claimed that Simon had stolen his "Parsley Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" arrangement.. It also turns out that Simon had stolen Carthy's girlfriend too.. I suspect, that that may be the woman in the Simon song "We drank all the Orange Juice that we could hold" "I did it for your love"?

In any case, Simon's career did not depend on "Parsely Sage" or even "Graceland"...Reguardless of the people who think that Garfunkle was the talented one.

So i am Scots-Irish, duch, english and Ukrainian, and i play the blues.. I view this appropriation stuff as a way of accomadation, of building a global culture. Was Joan Baez not supposed to sing Childe Ballads, because her father was Spanish?.

You want to see the logical end of all this, and the reason that all this stuff pisses me off so bad, read this.. http://www.postfun.com/racetraitor/features/blues.html


"Who are these people for whom race doesn't matter? Not the average white blues artist. In fact, many white blues performers who, we are told, bring their own "authenticity" to their craft, display a mad craving for approval from black listeners and black artists, (not to mention black-oriented blues magazines like Living Blues). Whenever the battle is enjoined, in person or in the letters and editorial columns of LIVING BLUES, GUITAR PLAYER, or BLUES REVUE QUARTERLY, a white blues performer writes a pseudo- palliative "brotherhood" letter and just happens to mention all the black artists with whom he's performed, with the plain intention of proving that he must be acceptable or all of these obviously authentic artists wouldn't have welcomed his company. In itself this attitude embodies the entire contradiction of the existence of white blues. If white blues is autonomous and self-authenticating, why is black approval needed? If it is not autonomous and self- authenticating, and the craving for black approval seems to suggest this, why is it not the weak and imitative form its detractors claim? This question remains with us."

This is the Guy that founded "Living Blues" Magazine

And the question that remains with me, is, "Is this a patriarichal aristocracy where one's parental heritage determines one's possiblities, or can i just play the blues on my banjo like an eneddicated dumbass if i want to?
Exactly. It's a bottomless well of contradictions. :-P
i am beginning to think, as i explore the white/black blues interface, that Minstrel Music, with all its rampant rascism, and obscene streotyping, was actually a more or less unconscoius way of the white culture accomodating itself to the (unplanned) inheritance/raping/accesssion of another culture within itself. This assimilation was something pretty rare in history. I can think of the Roman's aborbsion/merging with the Germanics, and contrastingly, the Germanics' refusal to absorb the Jews for two thousand years..

But America went totally mad over faux-black music for a century, ending only with Al Jolson. Of course today, this is all seen as evi-el incarnate, but i am beginning to see this in a different light.

Needless to say, an explosive topic. But comedy, even comic mockery is better than pogroms. What gave me a clue is all the century-old ethinc wars all over the world that never seem to reach an end. And yet one can see in this country, the end of race as a political identity in a generation or so. Hopefully.
Thanks for the pointer to Hal's post and the ensuing discussion. When I was more active in the online Celtic spirituality and Middle Eastern dance communities, raging battles over cultural appropriation were not uncommon (they probably still go on as furiously as ever; I'm just not part of them anymore). In the first group the problem was usually with those who would claim "This is an ancient Celtic practice/belief" when it patently wasn't. The second group had more wide-ranging issues, starting with what to even call the dance form ("belly dance" is a common misnomer, but can Western women really claim to be Middle Eastern dancers, and in Arabic-speaking countries they call it raqs sharqi, but in Turkey it's oryantal tansi, except lots of ethnic forms are actually specific dances with their own names, and some people prefer the French term "danse orientale" or its English translation, but when most Westerners hear "oriental" they think of China and Japan.... aargh--crazy-making!)

The best I could come away with was to do my best to practice truth in advertising and to acknowledge my sources. Or to just stop dancing and stop working with Celtic deities, and neither of those was an option. :-)
The litmus test for art is its own internal legitimacy, not how authentic it is with respect to an established tradition.

White musicians have always played Jazz, and Blues, and Hip Hop. I do a lot of production work with both black and white hip hop artists, and in that world, it's not who you are, it's what you do. It's a rough meritocracy -- if an artist demonstrates skills and brings something unique to the work, they're recognized as 'heads.' If not, they're wack, no matter who their momma was.

A corollary issue in music is the color of the artist versus the color of the audience. While Hip Hop is indubitably the music of young (and not so young) african americans, the audience for the most prominent artists is more white (and hispanic and asian) than black. The majority of black folks don't listen to Blues or Jazz, though that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of black folks who do know and love the music. To generalize beyond broad demographic trends is ridiculous -- black country music fans are quite common, and they never face the challenge to their authenticity that a white hip hop fan does.

To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you don't engage the cultural and artistic heritage you want, you engage the one you have. I don't begin to think I fully understand the lives of african americans and what their art and music means to them. But, by the same token, african americans are responsible for the musical forms that speak to my condition.

Were they making that music only for other black folks? Of course not -- musicians and artists seek to make a living, and they're not fools. They go, like Willy Sutton, where the money is.

While it is true that there have been white musicians who have exploited the works of black musicians, that has never been the whole story. If you are truly an artist, you are trying to express something much deeper than the color of skin. For a black artist to reject a white audience, or a white artist to purge all reference to black art and culture from their work, is nothing but an artificial and ultimately specious truncation of their art.

And Paul Simon's work ultimately has to stand on it's own merits. If I dislike a lot of what he's done, it's because it seems effete and derivative to me, independent of any argument over cultural imperialism.

can i use this in my book?.. I will need your permission and credit.. wish
You can if you wish. I think perhaps Hal Duncan covers a lot of the same ground mor eloquently, but if you can find a good sound bite in what I wrote, knock yourself out.
thanks... another stone for the mosaic..