Posts Tagged ‘Howlin’ Wolf’

A Black American Intellectual’s Attack on Official Attitudes on Race

June 19, 2022

Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Race (New York: Basic Books 2013)

Thomas Sowell is himself a Black American intellectual. A former Marxist, he wrote an excellent book on Marxism which I’ve used on this blog, before crossing the floor to become a conservative. According to the blurb on the back flap, he is the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow for Public Policy at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. That’s the same Milton Friedman, I presume, who backed General Pinochet’s Fascist regime in Chile because only a Fascist regime could introduce the free market reforms and abolition of the welfare state Friedman wanted against the wishes of the workers. The same Milton Friedman whose monetarism was considered so daft by economics lecturers in the 1970s that they simply didn’t bother discussing or refuting them. The same Friedman who caused consternation in Tory ranks in the late 1980s when he announced that his policies were a failure.

Race and IQ in the views of the Progressives

The book is a survey of official attitudes to race, intelligence and social, economic and intellectual achievement from the Progressive era around the close of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th up to the late 20th century and today. These two periods had markedly different attitudes towards race, and especially its supposed links to intelligence. During the Progressive era, senior academics, intellectuals, politicians and policy makers followed the social Darwinist dogmas of their day and believed that race defined intelligence. They believe in a racial hierarchy of peoples, with Nordic Whites at the top, southern Europeans below them, Black Africans below them and right at the bottom aboriginal Australians. This led to brutal, callous and genocidal attitudes towards race. Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin, declared that ‘we should not be sentimental about the gradual extinction of inferior races’. They were particularly worried about the decline in superior Nordic immigrants from Europe and mass immigration from the supposedly inferior peoples from southern Europe. Hence they were keen to impose legislation limiting the arrival of the latter. They were also afraid that intellectual inferior Whites from the lower orders would also outbreed their more intelligent social superiors, and so imposed legislation providing for their sterilisation and isolation. These men weren’t cranks. They included leading academics from America’s best universities, and politicians like American presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Most of the examples Sowell gives were on the political left. They believed in conservation, state intervention, publicly owned utilities and strong trade unions. He does, however, mention that over here in Britain eugenics’ supporters included Ernest Beveridge, H.G. Wells and Conservatives like Winston Churchill.

The American authorities thus initiated a programme of IQ testing, the results of which do appear to show that they were right about the average IQ of certain racial groups at the time. But many of the groups whose IQ scores were low have gone on to achieve considerable social and economic success. Blacks had an average IQ of 85, but other immigrant groups like Greeks, various Slavic peoples also had IQs in the low 80s, while Spanish immigrants had an average IQ, on these tests, of 77. These low-scoring peoples also included eastern European Jews, which is astonishing given the massive uplift of the Jewish community and their prominence in academia. As for the Chinese, who believers in the Bell Curve consider are superior to Whites in intelligence, they were found to have an IQ of 98. Interestingly, Blacks from the northern US scored higher on IQ tests than southern Whites. This racist ideology had a direct effect on Black employability. Under Wilson, various state departments, such as the post office, began to sack their Black workers. But not all of those who believed in the link between race and IQ were monsters. One psychologist stated that he took 3 sessions with a child before administering the test. He believed the children he saw were more intelligent than the tests showed. he therefore spent time getting them used to him. In the first three sessions he let them play, drawing on the blackboard, making things with clay. It was at the fourth session he administered the test. Using this technique, the children’s test scores went up by 8 points. This psychiatrist still believed that this was a small amount, but it is roughly half of the 15 per cent average difference between Black and White IQs. The link between IQ and race was later discredited when another psychiatrist issued damning criticisms against it, one of which was that the tests were not often not administered in a language the subjects, often immigrants, understood. The same psychiatrist also did not believe that Blacks were incapable of being educated, but thought that they could achieve much more given better teaching methods.

General Rise in IQ

He also notes that IQs generally are rising, and that no-one really knows the true range of the Black IQ, or even that of the human race as a whole. The reason why average IQs have always remained at 100 is that they’ve been periodically renormed to keep 100 as the average level. If they weren’t, and psychiatrists continued using the same standards, then the average Black IQ would 104. As for the range of Black intelligence, he cites the example of a nine year old girl, who by one set of tests had an IQ of 140, and 200 by another set. Unfortunately, his scepticism towards racial differences in IQ does not extend to the Bell Curve, whose authors and work he defends. He notes that they state in the book that there isn’t enough evidence to decide one way or another if IQ is affected by race.

But IQ alone does not explain why some groups outperform others, even when their intelligence is exactly the same. For example, Chinese with an IQ of 100 perform at the same level in jobs, education and so on, as Whites with IQs of 120 or so.

Culture and Historic Environment as the Determining Factors in Ethnic Skills and Performance

Sowell believes that the performance of ethnic groups depends on the environment in which these groups historically lived and their traditional culture. These create skills which have allowed minority groups the world over to achieve prominence in business and academia, such as the Germans in Latvia and Bohemia, the Jews in eastern Europe, and the Chinese in Indonesia and Malaysia. These groups have often prospered despite immense persecution, like the Jews. For example, Italian immigrants to the US and Australia were dirt poor. But they always repaid their debts, hence a separate bank was set up in California, the Bank of Italy, was set up to cater to them. This bank eventually became the Bank of Italy. At the same time there was a marked disparity between the achievements of Jewish and Italian kids at school. The two groups lived in the same areas and attended the same schools. But Jews did much better than Italians. Why? Sowell puts this down to different cultural attitudes towards education. Even the poorest Jews had a respect for learning, while there was a hostility to it in the Italian south, from which many of the latter migrants came. When there Italian government introduced compulsory schooling, there were riots, and attacks on teachers and schools. He takes issue with some of these groups now being described as ‘privileged’. A survey of different races in Toronto declared that the Japanese were the most privileged people in the city. But the Japanese owe their success to their own efforts, not privilege. They were also subjected to restrictive legislation and were interned during the Second World War for far longer in Canada than in the US. He is also highly sceptical that racism accounts for the poor performance of American Blacks. While they’re often the last to be hired, and the first to be fired, the next in line for sacking are Whites. Asians are the last to go, and perform better generally than Whites, even in White owned companies. But this is not mentioned in discussions about race, as it would cast doubt about the poor performance of Blacks being solely due to White racial prejudice.

White Racism as the Cause for Black Marginalisation

And it’s White racial prejudice which is the dominant explanation for Blacks lagging behind Whites and the rest of society today. This began with Gunnar Murdal’s 1944 book, An American Dilemma, which claimed that this was due to ‘confused and contradictory’ attitudes among Whites. But Sowell considers this an insufficient explanation, as American Blacks made their greatest progress, both professionally, economically and educationally, during the period before the Civil Rights Act, when racism and overt discrimination was far more acute. He also describes how White racial attitudes changed over time. For example, from 1840 to 1890 some areas were remarkably racially tolerant. In these cities, Whites and Blacks lived in the same areas. As time went on, Blacks not only exercised their right to vote, but also were elected themselves in areas where the majority of voters were White. There were no zoning regulations and the communities weren’t segregated. Sowell believes this was because the Black communities that had moved north in this period had become acculturated and had the same values and standards of behaviour as their White neighbours. This changed with mass Black migration from the south. Sowell draws on observers to the south, like Alexis de Toqueville, Frederick Olmsted and others, to argue that there is a common southern culture, shared by Blacks and Whites, and ultimately coming from the British immigrants that settled those areas. This culture rejects education in favour of aggressive masculinity., The new Black migrants had none of cultural values of the previous Black arrivals,. Crime rates shot up, dismaying the traditional Black citizens as well as Whites. As a result, these communities introduced zoning laws segregating the two colours.

As time went on, the Progressives called themselves liberals, and the explanation for Black underachievement and poverty changed from intelligence to White racism. The solution for these ills, as proposed by the intellectuals, is multiculturalism. Blacks are to be given greater access to academic places through preferential treatment that allows them to get into universities with lower grades than White applicants. At the same time, the features of Black culture that are holding the Black community back are either excused or simply denied as well as the racist attacks by Black gangs on Whites and Asians. Multiculturalism, according to Sowell, is not only not working, it is actually positively harmful.

Affirmative Action Holding Blacks Back Educationally

The book argues that, contrary to the claims made by some educationalists, there doesn’t need to be a ‘critical mass’ of Blacks in a class to get the bright Black students to do better. What works instead is when bright blacks are put in with Whites at the same intellectual level. As for university admissions, much harm is being done through mismatching Black applicants with the wrong colleges. Elite American universities are giving places to Black students, who without such preferential placements would have gone instead to second tier universities. These students find it difficult to keep up, and drop out. The second tier universities, denied a pool of applicants from these aspiring Blacks, offer places instead to Blacks, who would have gone to third tier institutions. And these two drop out, all the way down the line. This is a controversial assertion, and has been argued against, though the professors doing so have not made their research available to scrutiny by others. The book instead to the academic results achieved by the University of California when they dropped giving such preferential placements. There were drops in admissions at the some campuses, but of the Blacks who attended, more passed with better grades. He also argues from the example of Amhurst College that teaching Black history and insisting on Black culture also isn’t necessary for Blacks to get ahead. Amhurst was a Black only college that sent a small but significant number of students on to Stanford. Alumni from the college have said that they were taught Black history as it affect America, like slavery and abolition. But beyond that, it wasn’t taught and there was no interest in it. They said they knew about as much about Africa as they knew about Finland.

He also criticises such academic preferential programmes on the grounds that they don’t work for the poor who really need them. Instead the places offered go to members of the upper classes of the groups targeted. In America, that means the children of lawyers and businessmen. And it’s the same with the Indian version of affirmative action.

The Decline of Black Communities Following the ‘White Racism’ Explanation

Sowell also gets angry about how multiculturalism has led to the decline of life in Black communities. Anything done by Whites for Blacks is immediately suspected of being for some sinister, racist purpose. When a subsidized housing project was built in Harlem in the 1960s, writer James Baldwin declared that it showed how much Whites hated Blacks. That was why people were urinating in the lifts, smashing anything they could, and fornicating in the playground. Sowell argues that there was never a time when this would have been acceptable, and it didn’t occur before the ’60s and White racism became the explanation for everything. He cites the memoirs of other former residents of Harlem, who say that when they lived there, none of this vandalism and loutish behaviour occurred. He cites Theodore Dalrymple, one of the columnists in the Spectator, who declared that the same destructiveness is found among lower class Whites in Britain. They can’t blame racism, so it must come from a common attitude of resentment fostered by the post-60s intelligentsia.

He also argues that most Blacks were against the race riots of the 60s, citing polling data. One of the polls showed that 58 per cent of Blacks thought the riots were harmful for them. But the rioting was excused by the media, which claimed that the anger that fuelled it was quite rightly felt by all Blacks. Sowell is concerned and angry at the way Black culture is being dragged down to the lowest common denominator of rioters, criminals and vandals. He suggests that Black underperformance in schools comes from a resentment of intelligent, academically able Blacks by other students, who will attempt to stop them from achieving. And the same attitude, according to Dalrymple, exists among White Brits. From my own experiences at school forty years ago, I think Sowell has a point. There is a resentment among some Blacks and some Whites, not all, against anybody, who seems to be doing better than them, and they will bully them. For Sowell, this clearly harms the Black community when middle class Blacks feel compelled to emulate the poor behaviour of their less-achieving classmates.

Multiculturalism Preventing Blacks from Acquiring Social Skills Leading to Achievement

This attitude prevents Black Americans from acquiring the same civic qualities and skills that other groups have in their progress upward through society. For example, German Jews were highly acculturated, compared to more recent immigrants from eastern Europe. They took it upon themselves to educate and uplift them. As a result, eastern European Jews from Romania and elsewhere were told to learn English, speak without vulgarity ‘and learn the uses of soap’. Two Black newspapers in one of America’s northern cities advised Black arrivals not to dump their rubbish in the yard or the passage by their houses, watch their language, and not to talk too loudly on the tramcars. In other words, to act couth. Sowell doesn’t mention it, but similar attitudes were impressed on the British working class during the 19th and early 20th century as part of the culture of working class respectability.

Again, there’s a similar example from Britain. In the 1980s or 1990s, according to the Independent, the head of education in one of the northern towns had lost her job following accusations of racism by the Pakistani community. She’d been concerned at the way they took their children out of schools to send to Pakistan for three months at a time. This was damaging their educations. But the Pakistani community denounced her as racist, and had her sacked. It was over a decade before the council realised she was right and had the courage to reverse the policy.

Multiculturalism Creating Anti-White Racism and Violence

And then there’s the racial animosity produced by multiculturalism and its attitude that all Black America’s problems are due to White racism. This has led to racist mob attacks by Blacks against Whites and Asians, but they aren’t reported. In one, where a gang of Blacks attacked a White girl and 10 others, the cops when they arrived weren’t interested in taking down their statements or particulars, but told them simply to go home. As for a girl left bleeding from a punch, they laughed at her and joked ‘White girl bleed a lot’, which became the title of a book arguing that there was more violence by Blacks against Whites than the reverse. When these attacks occur, the race of the attackers is never identified. They are just unspecified ‘youths’. And if the details are given, then racism as a motive is both denied and justified. After a White woman was gangraped in Central Park by Blacks, a New York Times hack declared that racism wasn’t a cause, but it was part of their motivation as resentment against their treatment by White society. At the same time, a White academic has redefined racism so that it depends on power and privilege, as a way of denying Blacks can be racist.

Something very much like this has happened in Britain. Back at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of this one, Whites were briefly the ethnic group suffering most racist assaults. And it was noted that the number of racist murders of Whites was nearly at the same level as the White racist murder of Blacks. And then there were the Asian grooming gangs, were allowed to get away with their predations for 20 years because the police and authorities were afraid of being accused of racism. And there have been the same accusations of the media cover-up of racist assaults and murders of Whites.

Another White academic felt that it was only right that young Whites should be denied places under academic preference schemes, considering how he had benefited from White privilege. Sowell states that he was therefore punishing someone younger, who had nothing to do with it, for something he himself had done. He makes the point that these decision are not about abstract people, but affect real individuals.

Slavery

He also discusses slavery, which is now held to be simply a case of Whites enslaving Blacks. But it has existed all over the world, from the days of the Roman Empire onwards. Before the arrival of Europeans, Africans enslaved other Africans, and there were more slaves in India than in the whole of the USA, and slavery was also extensive in China and southeast Asia. White Europeans were also enslaved by the Barbary pirates. Before the technology existed to transport slaves en masse, most civilisations enslaved people of their own race. As for racist lynchings, fewer Blacks were lynched in American history than Armenians were killed by Turks, or Ibo tribesmen by Nigerians in one year.

The Racism Industry and Its Assault on Business

He is also critical of what he terms the race industry and particularly the American equivalent of the Equal Opportunities Commission/ Equalities and Human Rights Commission. This prosecutes companies for not employing the correct number of ethnic employees according to demographic statistics, leading to long, expensive cases costing millions of dollars which drag out over the years from court to court. And this is despite no individual actually claiming they were subjected to racism by that corporation. Few companies can afford this process, and so they settle out of court. While this technically means that no offence has been made, it is taken by the department as an admission of guilt and a victory for them.

And what also infuriates Sowell is that none of the intellectuals, who ever pushed these policies, whether it is the racism and genetic determinism of the Progressive era or contemporary multiculturalism, ever has to take the consequences of their views. But academics, news people, politicians and educators will pay the price if they speak out against these orthodoxies. But intellectuals, meanwhile, promote these views with impunity, seeing themselves as the anointed on the side of the angels.

Sowell’s Right-Wing Bias

The book has a clear conservative bias. It’s no accident that Sowell marks out the Progressives as the promoters of social Darwinism, despite the same views being held by the right. Big businessmen during the Silver Age of the 19th century used social Darwinist arguments to oppose welfare and safety at work legislation. It was no use passing these laws, they argued, because the poor would never really benefit and would instead become a burden on society while outbreeding their brighter, more successful social superiors. But American conservatives are now using past racism to discredit anything left-wing. Previous generations of left-wingers were supposedly racist, so you shouldn’t back their policies today. It’s pure guilt by association. He likewise blames the expansion of the welfare state for the decline of the Black family, and argues that Black employment fell as a result of minimum wage laws passed in the 1930s. The motive of some of those arguing for them was that they were needed to prevent Chinese workers undercutting Whites. But this did happen, and resulted in race riots against the Chinese in 1909 in Britain. Then a number of companies sacked their White workers and replaced them with Chinese, causing the riots and racist attacks on Chinese people. After this, the firms sacked the Chinese workers and rehired the Whites. As for minimum wage laws today, these are desperately needed whether the workers are White, Black, Brown, Yellow or whatever. Without them the mass poverty we’re already seeing thanks to neoliberalism and the war in Ukraine will become particularly acute.

Decline of Marriage Not Due to Welfare State

I also disagree with his statement that the decline of marriage and the two-parent family among Black Americans is due to the welfare state or its expansion. I’m sure he’s right that this occurred in America about the same time as LBJ passed the welfare legislation of the late 60s, but as Sowell himself says, correlation is not causation. In Britain the marriage rate declined as a result of the sexual revolution of the 60s, but only really got going in the 1970s,, several decades after the introduction of the welfare state by Clement Attlee’s Labour government in 1948. The decline of marriage as an institution might have been aided by the socially liberal legislation passed by Roy Jenkins in the 1960s, which made divorce much easier, but I think it has far more to do with a changing attitude towards sexual morality than greater welfare provision. At least over here in Britain.

Racial Tensions Increasing

But I do think he has a point about multiculturalism and the way it is leading to greater racial tensions. At one point in the book he states that in the 30s, 40s and 50s Whites would go into Harlem for entertainment and parties. This rings true, if only because this was the heyday of some of the great Jazz musicians and their orchestras – Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Howlin’ Wolf, Duke Ellington. Yeah, I know, some of these were really in New Orleans, while Howling Wolf was in Chicago. At the end of a good evening’s fun, people were even able to sleep in Central Park unmolested. I believe that as well, as I’ve read interviews with various writers – I think one of them was veteran journalist of UFOs and the weird John Keel – who have done so.

And I do believe that attributing all of Black America’s problems to racism is making the situation worse. Note here that Sowell doesn’t deny racism existed or exists now. He just doesn’t believe that it’s the ultimate cause of Black America’s dire situation, not when other groups have suffered the same persecution, started out with the same low IQ scores, but have managed to rise and prosper like Jews, Asians and the Chinese. And here the book becomes a warning. Throughout history the resentment of the success of one ethnic group by the others, from the Czechs’ resentment of the Sudetenland Germans, to the Chinese in southeast Asia and Malaya, the Indians and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, and the Jews in eastern Europe, has resulted in terrible official persecution and ethnic cleansing. Here he could have added the White farmers in Zimbabwe, attacked, beaten and murdered by Robert Mugabe’s thugs. These tensions have been exacerbated by versions of affirmative action. This suggestion also contains another veiled criticism of socialism, as the resentments he criticise also apply to those at the bottom of society against those at the top, and he is very much against redistributive economics. But redistributive economics through a strong welfare state in Britain has meant that there hasn’t been the level of grinding poverty that there is in the US, where the living standards of some parts are worse than some developing countries. This may be one of the reasons why the crime rate here in Britain and Europe has traditionally been lower than the US. People traditionally haven’t been as desperate. Quite apart from the fact that if social tensions in America and Britain have got worse, it’s because of an increasing gap between the rich and everyone else, so that ordinary Americans and Brits don’t feel that the system is rewarding them as it should for their hard work.

Critical Race Theory as an Explanation for the Failure of Affirmative Action Programmes

Sowell states that these affirmative actions programmes were, in many cases, only supposed to be temporary. But they have always been renewed. We’ve had positive discrimination in Britain for forty years now, ever since riots of 1981/2. These were also supposed to be only temporary. I think the intention was that after Blacks gained proper demographic representation proportional to the White majority, the situation would become self-sustaining. The programmes could be discontinued because Blacks would no longer need such official help. But this hasn’t happened. Blacks still lag behind, and have been particularly hard hit by austerity and the banking crisis.

I think this is one reason why the radical left is pushing Critical Race Theory and White privilege, even though some of this is obvious nonsense. CRT holds that the level of racism is the same today as 100 years ago. It’s just better hidden. But I doubt that very, very much. At the same time, all Whites are racist and benefit from the privilege of having White skin. But this is also not true, as shown by the White vagrants you can see on the streets and the very fact that many of the BLM protesters were White. There is institutional racism, but I don’t think it can be held to be the source of all the Black community’s problems. And I do fear that the belief that White racism is responsible for Black poverty and marginalisation is just increasing racial tensions. CRT and White privilege seem to me to be a desperate attempt to explain why previous anti-racism policies haven’t worked, and making even more dubious claims. Sowell states that the supporters of multiculturalism never give any supporting evidence for their views, and are never asked for any. It’s just assumed they’re right. The Black Tory MP, Kemi Badenoch, has today been reported as stating that the concentration on race is resulting in greater segregation. She may well have a point.

Perhaps now’s the time that multiculturalism and its accusations of racism as the cause of Black poverty and marginalisation should be questioned.

Adele’s Adoption of Black Style Is In a Long Tradition of White Anti-Racism and ‘Allyship’

September 1, 2020

One of the controversies that has now broken out in the wake of Black Lives Matter has been over the dress and hairstyle Adele adopted yesterday. She was hoping, like many folks, to attend the Notting Hill carnival. But it was cancelled due to the restrictions on large gatherings imposed by the Coronavirus. I’ve heard that they held a Virtual one online instead. Adele decided to signal her support for the carnival by posting a picture of herself in a bikini showing the Jamaican flag and with her done in a Black hairstyle. So the league of those wanting to find any excuse to be offended have accused her of ‘cultural appropriation’.

I really don’t accept this. I believe that she wore the bikini and the hairstyle as a genuine gesture of support to the Carnival and the Black culture that created it. And moreover, without people like Adele adopting Black fashions and Black music, Black culture would not have the acceptance it does among Whites and the racism Black people experience would be much, much worse.

Real Appropriation of Black Music and Culture

I am very much aware that cultural appropriation has occurred. Black people have complained for a long time that ‘the White man stole the Blues’. One of the great stars of the Big Band era, Benny Goodman, is a case in point. Goodman was a White man, but all his hits were written by Black Jazzers. One of the most notorious cases is that of ‘Tar-ra-ra Boom-de-ay’ in the 19th century. It’s credited to a White musician, but he heard it from a Black lad singing it on the streets. And cultural appropriation also doesn’t just apply to Blacks. Native Americans are also uncomfortable when Whites adopt their traditional culture, like some of the New Agers and pagans, who have adopted aspects of their religion. And I can’t say I blame them. But what Adele has done is the opposite, and goes right back to the 1920s and before when White youths began adopting Black fashion and music.

The ‘White Negroes’ of Jazz and Rock-n’Roll and Anti-Racism

One of the first in the 1920s was ‘Mezz’ Mezzrow. He was a White kid, who first immersed himself in the emerging Jazz scene. He adopted Black culture to such an extent that he has been called ‘the first White Negro’. Later on, one the ‘White Negroes’ – I’ve forgotten which one, painted himself with melanin in order to see what being Black in America was really like. I think he got an unpleasant surprise. But this didn’t stop him writing a book pleading for reconciliation between Whites and Blacks. And after Jazz faded with changes in youth culture, it’s place was taken by rock’n’roll. The books on music I’ve read state clearly that it’s a hybrid musical genre – a mixture of White Country music and Black barrel house Jazz. I’ve got a feeling that the primacy given to the guitar in rock and pop, rather than the piano or keyboard, comes from the old Blues master Howlin’ Wolf when he was performing in Chicago. Little Richard, who passed away recently, once claimed in an interview that it was thanks to him Blacks and Whites started dancing together. Before he started performing, he noticed that White the dance floors were full of Blacks tripping the light fantastic, the Whites just stood around the edges watching. ‘White spectators, we used to call ’em’, he reminisced. Then he started playing and they suddenly joined the Blacks on the floor. ‘So a decade before Dr. Luther King, we had integration’.

Nazi Hatred of theĀ  White Adoption of Black Culture

And those Whites that did adopt Black music got real hate for it from the real racists. It comes from the old biological determinism that sees culture as the product of biology. By this standard, Whites are somehow betraying their race and degrading themselves by adopting Black music and fashion. Back in the 1980s there was a book, The Best of Signal, which published articles from the big popular Nazi mag of the Third Reich. It was published by a mainstream publisher as I think one of the very many titles on the Nazis, the Third Reich and World War II that appear every year. I found a copy in a secondhand bookshop. One of the articles in it was an explicit attack on the contemporary Jazz scene in America. It showed a groups of American youths – I can’t remember whether they were White or Black – wearing the characteristic ‘Zoot suits’ and made it very plain what the writer and the vile regime he served thought of them. When White kids in the 1950s started listening and dancing to rock’n’roll, Conservative voices accused them of taking over ‘Negro sensuality’.

And the same criticisms was still being voiced in the 1990s. That was the decade that saw the emergence of the Militia movement in the US and the gathering of various neo-Nazi outfits in the Hayden Lakes area, where they started building communes and compounds. These are real Nazis, not the casual racists who are often simply called it for their vile opinions. I think Louis Theroux went to one of them in his Weird Weekends. It was built like an armed fort or concentration camp, complete with watchtowers and barbed wire fencing. The obergruppenfuhrer Theroux interviewed proudly showed him the stack of greeting cards he’d had printed for his storm troopers to send. For most people, it would have been blasphemy, as it showed Adolf Hitler as Santa coming down a chimney bringing presents. In the interview I read, the writer tried to tackle one of these Nazis on the subject of Whites. The reply they got was that contemporary White culture had been corrupted by Black. They listened to Black music, wore Black fashions and danced like Blacks. Except he didn’t say Blacks. He said ‘N***ers’. It’s the same sentiments David Starkey got rightly panned for in 2012 or so when he was asked what was responsible for the riots. He blamed Black music. When it was pointed out to him that a fair proportion, at least, of the rioters were White, he stated that ‘they have become Black’. I don’t doubt that same White racists would condemn Adele for her choice of dress and hairstyle yesterday.

Blacks and Musical Apartheid

And these sentiments are contributing to apartheid in music. One of the complaints that has been voiced in the wake of the Black Lives Matter has been by Black musicians about the racism in their industry. I remember reading newspaper interviews 25-30 years ago by Black British musicians complaining about the musical apartheid they found when they toured America and parts of the continent, like Austria. They found there that music was strictly compartmentalised between ‘White’ and ‘Black’. One section dealt with Black performers another with Whites. I can’t remember who the Brit muso was, but she was really shocked because back here in Blighty she performed for people of all colours. But when she went to America, there was an expectation in the record company that she’d only perform for Blacks. At the same time, she and other Black musos, when they toured Austria, found their CDs and records put in the section of the music stores devoted to Black music.

I’ve also heard since then about the racism and abuse Black artists have had to face when they’ve tried performing in ‘White’ genres. A friend of mine told me a little while ago about the amount of hate the founder of the Heavy Metal band, Living Colour, got. Living Colour was an all-Black band, who wanted to produce awesome Rock. And apparently they got a lot of hate from both sides, Blacks as well as Whites, for daring to play a ‘White’ style of music. A month or so ago Radio 4 one started broadcast a piece about a Black American Country and Western performer. I can’t remember who he is, but I think he’s pretty old and has been playing it for a long, long time. And he’s suffered the same kind of abuse from the same type of people. It’s hard for me not to think that by accusing Adele of cultural appropriation, her critics are supporting the same kind of racist attitudes that would keep Whites and Blacks from appreciating and performing music outside very strict racialised boundaries.

Whites and Black Fashions and Hairstyles

As for Whites adopting Black hairstyles, I’m old enough to remember the ’70s and the big Afros that were in style then. From what I understand, they did so as part of the ‘Black is beautiful’ movement. Instead of adopting White hairstyles, Blacks in America and Britain wanted to wear their hair more naturally. And because of the influence of Black musical culture, so did many Whites. Leo Sayer had one, and when I was child I honestly thought he was Black. I don’t know if anyone from the Black community complained, but as this was also when the NF were back on the rise over here, along with organisations like the ‘Anti-Paki League’ – that’s what they called themselves – I think people had colour had worse to worry about.

I only came across the accusations of cultural appropriation for Whites adopting Black culture in the 1990s, and that was only in the American satirical comedy, Spin City. This starred Michael J. Fox in one of his last roles, as the head of the communications team for a fictional New York senator. In one episode, his Black co-workers are upset because one of the Whites has moved into a Black neighbourhood. And to fit in, he’s started wearing stereotypically Black clothes. Like turning up in an African robe. Fox’s character tries to explain that the man isn’t trying to be racist. He’s just trying to identify with the people of his new community. He also tries to explain to the man that he is, inadvertently, causing offence. The next day the guy comes in very obviously wearing a hat. Fox whips it off to reveal that the guy’s had his hair dressed in dreadlocks.

At roughly the same time that was on, I knew White people with dreads. As there still are. And the Black people I’ve known and worked with had absolutely no problem with it. They told me they had White friends, who looked good with it. Victor Lewis Smith, the satirist, TV critic and practical joke responsible for such shows as TV Bile and Inside Victor Lewis Smith, used to wear dreadlocks. Now I’ve got very mixed views about Smith. Some of his material I found funny, but in other ways he could be anything but. And he was an ex-public schoolboy, and so could be accused of cultural appropriation. But I don’t think anyone did.

Western Black Traditional Culture, Hip Hop Fashion and Ethiopian Dreadlocks

It seems to have begun with some Black Americans claiming Whites were stealing Black culture when they took over Hip Hop fashion in the 1990s. But I also remember one Black celeb scornfully pointing out that expensive trainers and the designer accessories also aren’t a traditional part of Black culture. And then a few years ago there was a video clip going round on YouTube of any angry Black female student haranging a young White lad in an American university because he had his hair in dreads. It was clipped and repeated in posts by Conservative Whites attacking the aggressively intolerant anti-racist culture in parts of American academia. And now that same attitude appears to have crossed the Atlantic.

But what was said about Hip Hop style not being part of traditional Black culture, could also be said about dreadlocks. Don’t mistake me – they are an authentic part of African Black culture. They were taken over by the Rastafarians from the hairstyle worn by Ethiopian warriors. They did so because at the time – I don’t know if they still do – they revered the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie Makonnen as the Black messiah they believed was foretold in the Bible, who would liberate western Blacks from their bondage. But it’s a hairstyle that was introduced from Africa, not one that was preserved in the traditional culture of Black slaves and their descendants. And many of the Blacks who wear it just do it because they like the style, but aren’t Rastafarians. Which, if we’re strict about the issue of cultural appropriation, raises all kinds of awkward questions. If it’s wrong for Whites to adopt Black styles, it could be argued that it’s also wrong for western Blacks, as the same dress and hairstyle properly belongs to its original African people.

Black Performers in White Makeup

And then there’s the question of how you judge Black performers, who have adopted White hairstyles and makeup. There are a number of videos, for example, where Beyonce actually looks White. She has straight hair, which appears blond rather than brown or black, and her skin has been made up to appear very pale. Certainly much paler than she appears in other videos, where she appears much darker. I am not accusing her of racism. But if people start flinging accusations of cultural appropriation around, then it could be applied to Black musos like Beyonce.

Skin Whiteners and the Damage to Black Skin

And incidentally, I am also very much aware of the harm being done to Black people by the feeling that somehow they should try to make themselves appear more ‘White’. Akala apparently discusses his book on race and racism the use of skin lighteners by many Blacks in a desperate attempt to appear Whiter. It’s nasty stuff. These chemicals work by taking off the top layers of skin. Other Black and ethnic minority writers have attacked their use. And there was a nasty incident that got into the pages of Private Eye’s ‘Funny Old World’ column. It was during a boxing match in Ghana. One of the boxers had been using these wretched potions, and as a result he lost the skin on part of his face after a particularly vicious blow from his opponent. Which provides an extreme, and very graphic argument why people shouldn’t use them. Skin has its own natural beauty, whatever shade it is.

I realise this is a long article and that some of the outrage is understandable coming after the condemnation of certain comedians for appearing in makeup as Black characters, like Bo Selecta and Lucas and Walliams in Little Britain. But Adele was not in Blackface, and she is nowhere near the Black and White Minstrels, who were subject of massive controversy in the ’70s before being axed in ’80s because they did perform the old Black minstrel songs in Blackface.

But Adele seems to be coming from a completely different direction. She’s following a century-old tradition in which the White aficionados of Black culture have shown their appreciation by adopting it. People like Mezzrow, who would now be viewed, using the jargon of intersectional feminism, as ‘allies’.

White Youth, Black Music and the anti-Racism Campaigns of the 1980s

It was people like Adele, who helped push back against the NF and BNP in the 1980s. Rock Against Racism before it collapsed thanks to a takeover attempt by the Socialist Workers Party brought Black and White youth together through a series of concerts by some of the great bands of the day. But I’ve friends, who are worried we’re losing that musical culture. I was watching the old episodes of Top of the Pops one of the cable/ satellite channels has been repeating. Yeah, I know it was cheesy and some of the bands that appeared were jokes even in their time. But some of the bands were awesome. The first pop video I ever bought was UB40. In case you’re too young, they were a reggae band with Black and White performers. I bought the video of their tour in Russia. They were one of the first western groups that were able to play when Gorby gave the country glasnost. And they rocked! The video shows the crowd dancing after their translator tells them that they can. This was the country that banned Boney M’s ‘Ra-Ra Rasputin’ as evil and subversive. There were other bands, too, who mixed White and Black performers. Quite apart from White groups like Madness, who played Ska- more Black music – and wore the characteristic suits. Yes, they took over Black music and culture, but it came from a place of affection and solidarity. The kids of my generation saw them bands like them on TV, in concert, heard them on the radio and absorbed the general anti-racist message as it was coming out.

A New Apartheid in Music?

But my friend was afraid that this is being lost because of hardened attitudes that Black and White performers should stay to certain genres within very racially defined boundaries. So racially mixed bands can’t come forward and perform. Because it’s cultural appropriation, or somehow betraying Black culture or some nonsense. Whatever it is, it’s still segregation.

Conclusion

I think before accusations of cultural appropriation are directed at people like Adele, there are some, who should do a bit of reading first. About Mezrow and the adoption of Black culture and music by alienated Whites. There are some classic studies of it. I think one of them has the title ‘White Youth and Black Culture’. They should understand why the Punks took over the Pogo – it came from the jumping style of dancing of the Masai. And at the same time they did so, they were mixing it on the streets giving the real Fascists – the NF, BNP and the rest of the scumbags the hiding they deserved.

Adele’s trying to show anti-racist solidarity. And it’s the people denouncing her for cultural appropriation who are strengthening real racism.

Because the opposite side of that coin is that the Whites, who do adopt Black culture are somehow betraying their Whiteness. And that’s always been an argument for real racism and apartheid.

 

 

Miley Cyrus Puts a Wrecking Ball into Trump

March 3, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece reporting that pop chanteuse Miley Cyrus has given her succinct opinion of the New York Nazi, Donald Trump. And it wasn’t approving. She described him as ‘a –ing nightmare’, and in the colourful demotic of contemporary rap, expressed her physical disgust and wish to leave the country.

Quite.

I realise that Cyrus isn’t exactly everyone’s musical cup of tea. She was Hannah Montana, but after growing up she decided to make her act much more raunchy, to the angry dismay of moralists, and the delight of Daily Mail journalists as they rushed to their keyboards to knock off stories about what an evil menace to western civilisation she is, and how twerking should be banned, with full pics so you can share the outrage too. But she’s done something cool here. And she’s right: Donald Trump is indeed a nightmare.

His racial attitudes are horrendous. His bigoted attitude towards Mexicans and Muslims is well known, as is his support for torture, even when it doesn’t work, and the targeting of civilians in the War on Terror, or whatever name they’re giving to the bloodbath in the Middle East. All of this is genuinely frightening enough. His alliance with the far right- he’s actually given press passes to a White supremacist radio show, The National Cesspool – could even pose a threat to pop culture.

Modern pop music, by and large, is pretty liberal. Part of the mainstream American right hates it because of its very frank embrace of sexuality, including homosexuality. The Moral Majority were most definitely not fans of David Bowie, because of the sexual ambivalence of his ‘Ziggy Stardust’ persona. Some of us can remember the 1980s when the Organisation of Senators’ Wives went chasing around demanding that the recording companies put stickers on the records stating that it had offensive lyrics. Just to protect good old American values, you know. The Reagan administration also inaugurate a series of congressional hearing in which various rockers and pop stars were hauled up before the nation’s elected representatives and interrogated about this new moral threat to America’s impressionable children.

They came a cropper when they got to Dee Snyder, the main man from Twisted Sister. They asked him about how he felt about exposing children to inappropriate material. Shouldn’t he be more careful about his band’s music? They actually didn’t know that Snyder was a responsible father himself, and said he was very careful indeed with what his children listened to. I’ve got the impression many rock stars are the same. Behind all the stage makeup and the bizarre performances, many of them in their private lives have exactly the same concerns about raising their children properly as the rest of society. Not all, by any means, but enough to take the wind out of some of those determined that rock is a genuine threat to western society’s moral fabric.

The Far Right also has ambivalent attitude to pop music. Of course, there is a Fascist music culture with the Nazi skinheads and the Eastern European Black Metal bands. On the other hand, there are also parts of the neo-Nazi milieu that bitterly hate pop and rock music because of its roots in Black culture. Modern rock ‘n’ roll started off as a mixture of White country music and Black barrel house jazz. Along the way it also drew on Blues music – it was due to the Chicago Blues style of Howlin’ Wolf that the guitar is the instrument of choice in contemporary pop music. Before then much Jazz was piano-based. Think Thelonious Monk tinkling the ivories, as well as, if I’m right about this, Professor Longhair. Gospel music has its origin in Black churches, while Punk after the initial fury passed was also influenced by Reggae. Let alone the influence of Ska, R’N’B, and so on.

Some of the White bands, who’ve been accused since of stealing the Blues, were originally real supporters and advocates of Black music. When they started out, the Rolling Stones covered songs by various Black American artists. The Stoned didn’t hide their musical debts – they told their audiences who the piece was really by, and the record label that had recorded it so they could hear it for themselves.

And some of the great Black performers were very proud of the fact that their music brought Black and White together. A little while ago Little Richard gave an interview into which he recalled the segregated nature of the dance halls in America. The Blacks tended to dance, while the Whites stood around the hall and watched. Richard, however, said that when he and his band came on, ‘the White spectators’ around the walls stopped spectating, and came and joined the Black folks on the dance floor. ‘And so’, he said, ‘Before Dr Luther King, we had integration’.

The racist right bitterly hates that interracial legacy and the tolerance that has been partly built up by Blacks, Whites and other ethnic groups, like Latinos creating a common musical culture. You can read rants by some of the American Nazi groups denouncing pop as ‘N*gger music’, and sneering at the people who like it, ‘dance like n*ggers’. It’s disgusting stuff, and it goes back a long way. The Nazis also objected to Jazz as ‘Negro’ music. By allying himself with White supremacists, Trump’s also given his support to people, who despise everything mainstream pop music stands for. Hence Miley Cyrus’ condemnation.