There’s no easy answer to the simultaneous exclusion of black cultural output and then it’s appropriation by brands and people who are disrespectful to those who create it. Aseye Negedu gies her take.
Photo: Bristol 24/7
There’s no easy answer to the simultaneous exclusion of black cultural output and then it’s appropriation by brands and people who are disrespectful to those who create it.
I often hear white people defending themselves or other white people for having an ‘unconscious’ bias towards people of colour, saying things like, “I didn’t even realise I was doing it,” or “She would be so shocked if she knew what she said seemed racist.”
“Unconsciousness” implies that you are completely unaware or unable to experience a situation. It presumably happens without you causing or actively participating in it. But when you are the manager of The Exchange venue and you decline to host certain kinds of music because it may bring in “a difficult crowd” that seems to be quite a conscious, well-thought out decision, right?
If you haven’t heard, this most recent incident of ‘unconscious racism’ came out of an an email exchange between someone trying to organise a party for their friend and Matthew Otridge, the manager of the Exchange. His response to the promoter’s enquiry about setting up a night was:
“There’s a few genres of music we don’t allow because it brings in a difficult crowd… Grime/Bashment/Dancehall/ some Hip-Hop being amongst them.
If you are staying clear of these genres then I will look into whether the other event I have pencilled is going ahead to see if I can free up the date for you.”
In my opinion, the thought that went into that email is evident. It’s openly saying that he doesn’t like the music, but also covertly saying black crowds are a problem. The only prohibited genres are those which retain their black identity and have not yet been fully appropriated and watered down to fit into ‘safe’ white culture. Sean Paul over Elephant Man. President Green over JME.
Following a social media storm and a lot of criticism, Mr Otridge has apologised saying “All I can promise is that moving forward I will remember that as a white male I need to continue to check myself and any of my own unconscious biases.”
“Unconscious biases”. This feels manufactured to diffuse anger and prop up the business’s reputation. This is made doubly offensive as we lie in a time where people and businesses want to avoid being perceived as racist, but cultural appropriation, as well as cultural suppression, remains the norm. Because the Exchange has put on Grime nights before. And it’s perfectly okay to put on Hot Wuk nights which has a reputation for attracting a crowd which is safe and easier to control. Yet a night which virtually plays the same music can’t happen because it would bring a difficult crowd?
Understandably, the promoter was enraged. Having someone describe music that is primarily produced by those from your racial heritage as bringing in a ‘difficult crowd’ is hard-hitting to hear. Just like when I was a teenager and my white friends described any black-created music that wasn’t Eminem as ‘chav music.’ Any music that reflected cultures and experiences that were completely alien to them was not acceptable.
But as the promoter said on Facebook, “I didn’t share this experience to hurt the Exchange, as that’s what a lot of people seem to be worried about. I shared this for people to hae an understanding of what BAME community experience on a daily basis. Racist/prejudiced actions don’t always come in in the form of hate fuelled violence or from horrible people. I’m, sure the people at the Exchange may well be lovely, I’m not disputing that. However being nice and being prejudiced ( whether consciously or unconsciously) are not mutually exclusive”.
Because this is a trend, including the many reports of nightclubs in London turning people away because they were black. Camille Barton who is involved in activism around these issue sees it this way, describing Bristol as being a “segregated city” with “many inequalities that need to be addressed.”
For much of the time, non-white culture seems like an exhibition for white people.
There’s no easy answer to the simultaneous exclusion of black cultural output and then it’s appropriation by brands and people who are disrespectful to those who create it. But, if ‘trouble’ from crowds is expected then sensible measures can be taken. The venue can have drinking restrictions to limit the impact of alcohol on behavior and security staff to diffuse any problems. For sure, alcohol does a strange thing to people, but this is clearly not limited to black people or ‘black music’. Or how would you explain the chaos on the Harbourside every weekend?
For much of the time, non-white culture seems like an exhibition for white people. Something to marvel at and/or be disgusted by, to occasionally participate with when they want to and step out of at any point. We can be appropriated at any time, and disregarded simultaneously. Told we are too loud, too boisterous, that our world is so obscure and strange that it is better to be an observer than a perpetual participant, like we have to be.
And it’s not just music that we are being pushed out of. We are being gentrified out of the communities that we were brought up in, the ones that originally stimulated a white flight are now having a white return. We watch our cultures being used, profited and manipulated whilst we just stand back and watch with excruciating agony.
This is just another example of that.