Annoying Things We White People Do

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.

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5 Responses to Annoying Things We White People Do

  1. teamchauncey says:

    I hear you brother. Another frustrating thing is when you are of mixed heritage (like me) and suddenly your perspective becomes the bar for whether or not something is racist because I (being all hispanic people, apparently) somehow know what it offensive to everyone.

  2. threetorchestogether says:
  3. fin says:

    i got here as fast as i could–us soc majors have something kind of like a bat signal, but it’s marx’s beard, so when it’s up in the sky it takes me awhile to realize it’s not just some other cloud.

    as a former bass II (yes, my testicles are bigger than yours, thanks for asking), a drummer, and a white kid from the suburbs, i too have pondered this same issue.
    and i completely agree with your point.
    AND how you defended it. which is how i would have defended it.
    i would have added that white kids from the suburbs lack soul. this is because they grow up listening to shit like the beatles and here nothing but 4 on the floor all day long.
    polyrhythmic concepts are totally lost on most white choir kids especially. unless they also happen to be real musicians. there’s little overlap in the ven diagram of musicians and choir members, but that’s a whole other thing.
    so i wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a lack of shared white history. i would say it’s a recent history of shitty white music.
    what did the collective white suburban experience give us?
    punk rock. god. damnit.

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