I was talking at dinner with a few friends the other day and somehow we got on the subject of gospel choirs (thus, my previous post). I’ve been singing in choir for about a decade now, and some of my favorite stuff I’ve ever sang has been gospel music, especially Moses Hogan’s stuff. One thing that annoys me, though, about singing gospel music is that there’s just no way to replicate the sound of an African-American gospel choir. A bunch of white kids just can’t do it. It’s not the same. And I said as much during the conversation.
And my friends were offended! One told me it was her responsibility as a sociology major to tell me that I was furthering unjust social categories or something, and that race was entirely a social construct, and so on. Not wanting anyone to insinuate that I was being a racist, I naturally defended myself. To me, growing up in mostly white, affluent suburbia means that I will not be able to sing gospel music as well as someone who has had this tradition passed down to them from their ancestors. It’s not that African-Americans are genetically better gospel singers. It’s just that they have a shared history and identity as a people which plugs them into the soul of gospel, something deep and powerful that arises from suffering and oppression but reaches into joy and hope.
Calling all sociology majors: was what I said racist? I think there may have been some miscommunication during this conversation, but all that I was trying to say was that because most white people don’t have the shared history and culture that African-Americans do, they’re not going to be able to replicate the sound of an “authentic” gospel choir. Gospel music was born out of slavery. We weren’t.
Besides, while it might not be right or just that we have set up these social categories, the fact is that they exist for a reason, namely, about five or six hundred years of history, and you can’t just dismiss them as arbitrary social constructs and expect them to disappear.
I guess it also just bothers me when white people become racism police. Like we get to be offended on behalf of the people we enslaved.
Somebody set me straight on this.