Monday, March 8, 2010

White privilege strikes yet New Orleans

In June 2006, then 16 year-old, Colorado High School jazz saxophonist, Daniel Weidlein, (Wait!  Let me say that again - 16 years old!!)  placed fourth in a National History Day contest for creating the following short, documentary film detailing the making of  Billie Holiday's, "Strange Fruit" - and the horrific acts of racism upon which it was based.  I needed to begin this post with it, to help organize my thoughts because...

...while the young, should-be-about-20-now, Mr. Weidlein apparently GETS the song's "full-scale musical protest against racism," ending his film with the words:
"Even in today's American culture, "Strange Fruit" is relevant to our struggle for racial equality.  Although lynchings are almost unheard of, we have not eliminated racism.  It is important that we recognize the work of Abel Meeropol and Billie Holiday as an integral part of our American past.  And it is equally important, that we carry their music and its ideas with us now, and into our future..." (emphasis his)
...the all-white staff of OffBeat - the self-described magazine of "Louisiana music and culture" - CLEARLY do not.

When I sat down at the laptop Saturday morning to see what was going on, I came across this Jordan Flaherty piece over at The Huffington Post:  Lynching Reference on Cover of New Orleans Music Magazine Brings Anger and Outrage. 

I looked at the smiling faces of white, young men hanging from monkey bars (Jungle-gym if you prefer.  Either way, not good - given it's implications) with the title, "Strange Fruit" emblazoned across their bodies, followed by a sub-title proclaiming, "MyNameIsJohnMichael is waiting to get picked" and my first response was a visceral, "These stupid-ass white people  have lost their damned minds!" (That I'd stayed up late Friday night watching the History Channel's -  "The Ku Klux Klan: A Secret History" - certainly didn't help.) 

I was at once, disgusted and insulted, that they'd actually thought their little co-option was cute - and in Louisiana no less!  Then I read the short piece which included the standard, laundry list of bullshit, half-assed mea culpas I've come to expect from privileged white folk, when they freely exercise their racism (cuz they can), but never really own it when somebody calls them on it.

I just had to post it - along with two other equally, follow-the-pattern comments which even further belie the "getting-it sincerity" of the "apology."  Kindly indulge my interposed comments on the age-old pattern (trust me, the pattern never changes).

First, came the standard-knee-jerk, even-toned, not-owning-a-damned-thing bullshit apology:
We've heard from many of you about our cover text for the March issue, and if we had the chance to do it again, we'd go in a different direction. In retrospect, it was ill-chosen and we apologize to those who are offended by it...We didn't realize the phrase "strange fruit" has the same power in 2010 that it did when lynching was a more contemporary threat...

We profoundly regret our thoughtlessness and insensitivity, but we believe our history of coverage demonstrates our concern for race-related issues and we are saddened by those who would extrapolate this to speak to our character. The context of the cover text next to an indie rock band suggests that we're not using the phrase in a threatening way, and we believe our mission covering music borne out of slavery suggests that we don't take the issues connected with it--including hate crimes--lightly. We believed that in 2010, the phrase "strange fruit" could be used without automatically evoking the Billie Holiday song and its subject matter. This was an error in judgment for which we apologize. (emphasis mine)
Jesus!  Don't talk about you would have gone in another direction - if you had the chance!  It's your damned magazine!  You always had the chance!  But your obviously, deeply embedded, white privilege allowed you to - brazenly and/or stupidly - run that cover.  Hell, you laud yourselves as a magazine about "Louisiana music and culture" when it's obvious, you know absolutely nothing about either - except how to make money off of them, of course.  The White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy (WSCP) always knows about that.

"In retrospect...we apologize to those who were offended by it?"   So you admit, the thought never crossed your damn minds.  It was an after-thought.  Must be nice.  "Those?"  Hell,  YOU should have been damn offended (talkin' 'bout "those").  You didn't "realize" THAT title still had the same power - because it's 2010!?  Really??  You either bought that "post-racial" bullshit -which is ludicrous on its face given what 's going on in that city (Do you even read the local newspaper?), OR - it didn't matter to you in the first place.   

The "privilege" pattern next requires an additional, what's-supposed-to-look-like-an-apology-but-isn't redux, featuring a big - "BUT," - look what we've done for you!  Followed of course, by an expression of "hurt feelings," then - justification sprinkled with a little history lesson.  But it obviously never occurred to any of you, just how absolutely ignorant of our history and culture you really sound.  Screw context!  Your cover "suggests" exactly the opposite of what you purport, your "mission" to be.  Your, "We believed that in 2010, the phrase "strange fruit" could be used without automatically evoking the Billie Holiday song and its subject matter" shows it.

Moving right along in the pattern, we come to the, getting-a-little-warm marginalization stage - "Okay,  we apologized already.  Damn!  Stop takin' shit so personal!"

And true to form, here's another comment from one of their contributors:
Michael Patrick Welch, a white writer who has contributed to OffBeat and also performs music under the name White Bitch, responded to one local blog that critics are "overreacting," saying "It was a poor choice of song title, but they're just sloppily referring to 'famous jazz song' not 'black lynching.' Come on."
Just a "poor" choice, y'all. Come on!

Finally, privilege has enough of people questioning their right to ah - privilege, and gets full-blown pissed off, yelling, "Get over it dammit!" - as did Offbeat publisher and editor, Jan Ramsey here:
Being accused of being racist is blowing this faux pas so out of proportion, it's ridiculous. I resent OffBeat being labeled as racist by anyone. It's obvious to me that you're getting a big kick out of keeping this bullshit going. Ah, the venality of our public. For 23 years, I've busted my butt trying to create something positive about local music in OffBeat...dismissing what we've done with a quickie label of racism is taking a lot for granted and is just plain stupid when you consider 23 years of work...Our "black eye" (oops, was that racist?) is certainly generating more traffic for your blog, now isn't it? Why don't you let us apologize and get on with your blog?
Jan, Jan, Jan - like my Grandmama used to say - "You can get glad, in the same clothes you got mad in" on this one. Especially since you had the nerve to say you've "busted your butt for 23 years trying to "CREATE" something positive about local music." Now there's some obvious and never-ending white privilege for ya!  Demonize other peoples' shit, then co-opt it.  You DO realize, that, "local music" was there lo-o-o-ong before you came on the scene now don't you?  Doesn't seem like it.  Here's a newsflash - All you "created" was an opportunity for you and yours - on the backs of others not similarly situated.

Here's what you DID do Jan:  You took something that meant more than you'll ever know or understand (not that I think you care about that), belittled it by twisting its meaning and then put it out there as your own - for your benefit (and of course, for the benefit of those six, smiling, white male faces).  Because you could.  Because you didn't care.

I'm tired, so let me just say this Jan - NOBODY believes your self-aggrandizing, privileged bullshit m'kay?  And please, stop frontin' like you know so much about our history and our culture.  It's obvious - you don't know jack.  If you did, that cover would've never run in New Orleans of all places.

Can I give you some advice Jan?  Look up young, Mr. Weidlein.  He obviously made way better use of his short, 16 years on this topic, than you did during your 23-yearlong, "creating" stretch.


ea said...

I have observed that when people's images of themselves are challenged, they tend to lash out and attack rather than take a moment to reflect.

I have a low opinion of homo sapiens in general.

Deb said...

Hey ea...How are you? I think that's true of most of us at some point or other in our lives - earlier on, rather than later on. But damn! After 23 years of "creating something positive out of local music," you'd think the reflection should have at least - started with this publisher/editor.

I'm with you on the homo sapiens these days - and it gets lower with each day I breathe. :smdh:

Cinie said...

Red Dragon used the phrase "lower than ant poo" over at my place, does that fit the description of the human condition?

And, HT referenced your piece in the comment section over there, she's reluctant to comment many places, but expressed her feelings about you and your writing, especially in regard to this post, Deb.

As for me...well, you know. We see eye-to-eye on this one.

Deb said...

Hey Cin...Good to "see" you, Sis (and eye-to-eye too!). I think Red's dead-on with that description. I just don't know what's happening with folk these days!

This woman lost her damn mind for sure. It annoys me to no end when I hear that "Look what I've done for your slack asses" shit.

So shy, that HT! (except at your place) :-) I'll be over shortly.

Cinie said...

Good read here:

I look forward to your take.

soupcity said...

Great post Deb, had to jump over here from Cinie's to see what you all were commenting about. Not a lick of common sense or common decency in any of these morons.

Strange Fruit should, and always will, evoke the emotions and revulsion and imagery that was intended. To play with it in this way is soul-less.

Anonymous said...

Deb, it's been a real trial for me to even express myself and my feelings, cause I'm a white person. This is so inherently attacking black persons. I have no business addressing it, and yet... perhaps it might assist that I find this situation an abomination. It's not about good taste, or marketability or reality shows or what sells.

It's about human beings. When did we forget that and how did we let ourselves forget? I speak from my own perspective, but right now, even days later, I want to crawl into my bed, pull the spread over my head and pretend that stuff like this stopped. As I mentioned over at Cinie's, when I first saw a video of strange fruit, I was physically sick. To think that after all these years, these yahoos think it is acceptable to - well, I was sick again.
I cannot ever truly understand how you feel - our realities are too different, yet oddly similar - and you cannot feel my pain totally, yet we share. And that's a good thing right? Sorry, I'm not very coherent on this at all. I'm disgusted, angry, and getting to the point where I give up. I won't of course, but damn me, it is so bloody tiring!

Citizen Ojo said...

I see you going in on em Sista... Do your thing!!

Deb said...

Cin...No take - am in total agreement.

soupcity...Hey! Thanks and thanks for dropping in. I'm so damned tired of crazy-ass people like this. I really am. They don't have a "lick of common sense or common decency" because they don't have to have either. They know it'll all blow over and they can keep right on keepin' on. Gets on my damn nerves.

HT...Hey shy-girl! Know that I don't automatically discredit a person's point of view because they're white. I try to listen carefully first, and then if I smell bullshit - I call bullshit and keep it movin'. If they don't want to own it, or at least explain to me why it's not bullshit - no need to waste my time. That said, I've not had that kind of experience with you - ever. So, don't feel you "have no business addressing" anything I write here. I welcome and appreciate, not only the dialogue, but your refusal to be complicit in such inhumanity by NOT being silent.

Sadly HT, there are those who've not forgotten anything because they never thought about the humanity of it - at all. That's the un-owned privilege that blows the top of my head off. And you're right, " is so bloody tiring!" Sometimes I just fold - but only temporarily - because I just can't shake what's in me when it comes to shit that matters.

"I cannot ever truly understand how you feel - our realities are too different, yet oddly similar - and you cannot feel my pain totally, yet we share. And that's a good thing right?"

Absolutely!! Take care of yourself, HT.

Citizen Ojo...What's up?? Good to see you! I had to go in on this one, Man. How in the hell could they not know? A music magazine? In New Orleans?? Please! Were it not for that "local music," what would she be peddlin' in that magazine?

I swear, with each and every day, I see us continuing to be devalued as a people and it ain't pretty. My contribution to slowing that shit down is small - but necessary IMO.

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