White people: I don’t have time for this.
Last Friday, over the course of that one day, I sent three separate messages to white people involved in music scenes in Chicago and Western Massachusetts — I’m part of both.
One of the messages I wrote on Friday was in response to a white male who runs a record label that had a showcase at the Hideout in Chicago. He had learned that I had criticized his bill’s lack of diversity, so he had written to tell me that he hadn’t been in a position to diversify the bill. He also wanted to know if I would do the labor of meeting him in person to educate him more about the issue. In my message, I declined — impolitely.
The second recipient of a message was a white woman organizing a show in Western Massachusetts called Chillith Fair (I know — cringe). The show is part of an annual series that claims to celebrate women in music. The language in this year’s Facebook event for the show included a casual apology for this year’s lack of inclusivity. You can see its racist, ableist, homophobic, and transphobic language below and read a public Facebook thread I started about Chillith Fair here.
The third message went to the editorial board of a magazine I sometimes write for. They made the regrettable choice to run an article by a white man about the place of identity politics in New Music/experimental music that had racist and misogynistic implications. I’m not going to link to the article and drive traffic to that garbage fire.
These may seem like minor infractions, but imagine trying to participate in a scene that throws endless hurdles to participation your way at every level. In each case I pointed out how these individuals had failed their wider communities by contributing to the marginalization of marginalized people — even when they were explicitly attempting the opposite, like Chillith Fair. And, in the case of Chillith Fair and the magazine editorial board, I briefly explained how they could fix these problems. I didn’t offer those insights to the label owner because I have exceptionally little patience for white men.
White people: I don’t have time for this. I have a new album to write, record, and promote. I have a full time job as a Visiting Assistant Professor with a demanding course load and commute. I work hard to make extra money on the side and ensure I have a career alternative by doing freelance writing. I live with a disabling chronic disease that has caused my quality of life to deteriorate significantly over the last two years. And until my partner can join me in Western Massachusetts, I am living and managing all of the above alone.
Let me repeat. White people: I don’t have time for this. I don’t have time to sit here and explain why you’re as woke as Sleeping Beauty in all her clueless porcelain glory. That’s because I need that time to be a better musician, professor, and writer so I can claim room at the table before it goes to some average white person. Do you see what I’m saying here? I have to be better than white mediocrity. Because if I’m brown and mediocre, that night at the Hideout, that spot on the bill, that academic fellowship that would help me pay my medical bills — those things would go to someone white and mediocre.
White people: this is not about me. No person of color has time for this. No marginalized person does. Nor do we have the energy. There isn’t enough time and energy in the world to fight every theater of war that systemic racism presents us with and to take each of you aside and explain why you’re directly part of the problem. We need that time to keep proving we’re better than you so we can make art and pay bills and protect each other. We need that time and energy to battle the depression that systemic marginalization produces. I am not the first person to say this. I wish I were going to be the last.
And yet I’ve taken the time to write this. Why? Because when I’m angry and think that I have better things to do than this, I say to myself, maybe there’s nothing better I could be doing.
Since I spent Friday addressing discrimination in the music scenes I’m part of, I decided to list some questions that those of you who are white members of the music industry can ask yourselves. White women, your perpetual failure to uphold the lessons of intersectionality mean that you are not exempt from this. You are every bit as guilty as white men.
This is not a complete list, but since I put the time in to write it, I expect you to take the time to read it. Read it, and do something about your answers.
Are the bills I join or try to set up all or mostly white? Why is that the case? Is it because I only ask my friends to play and, given that I’m white, only have white friends? Why, when someone asks me about the lack of diversity in my bills, do I respond “I don’t know any artists of color”? Is it because I haven’t tried to get to know the artists I do know? Is it because artists of color make the reasonable assumption that it doesn’t occur to me to make that effort, and so do not try to get to know me? Will I begin to demand diverse bills of the venues I perform at and back out of bills that consist solely of white people?
Curators, bookers, promoters:
Are the bills I book/curate/promote mostly white? Is that because I didn’t look for poc? Or because I tend to book my friends who — because I’m white — are white, too? Do I exercise my power to turn down a complete and completely white lineup in order to add poc to it? Do I realize that the reason I don’t know about poc artists is because they don’t reach out for shows since they find the whiteness of my venue’s bills inherently hostile? When I leave this job, how will I ensure I’m replaced by a poc in order to effect systemic change?
Does my roster consist of or mostly consist of white people? Is it because I’m white and have only white friends and sign my friends? Do I realize that poc artists hesitate to send me demos because the whiteness of be roster is inherently hostile to them? What can I do to change this?
Music journalists, editors:
Do I only cover white artists? Are there poc on the editorial board? Do I pay them as much as the white writers? Do I only ask them to write about racism in the industry? Why is the editorial board/contributing staff of this publication mostly white, and whom can I add to both to change this? Why am I struggling to come up with the names of poc to add to it?
Are the bills I attend primarily white? Is that because I’m white, and have only white friends, so those are the only people whose performances I support? Why have I not started talking to venues about diversifying their bills? Why do I continue to attend these shows, knowing that they are hostile toward the many artists of color in my scene who would love a chance to perform on those stages?
These questions are easily adapted across art scenes, so consider how they apply to you. But remember. If you aren’t sure about the answers to your questions or how to effect change, take the time to do the research yourself. Do not ask a person of color to tell you. We don’t have the time.