Does Music With Problematic Origins Deserve the Right to be Performed?

I would like to take a quick step back from minstrelsy to discuss a comment I made in our last class about cultural sharing. This past Tuesday, in conversation with the idea of people of European descent making up 1/3 of those who perform Taiko in the United States, I suggested that this type of cultural sharing would not be problematic if there were not a history of colonization in this country. This is an idealized notion that I recognize to be a trying if not nearly impossible task, that is, undoing those parts of colonization which have made people unequal. The reality, however, is that colonization is far more widespread in its aftermath than I could personally be able to explain and begin to combat individually.

Take this video my father sent me called, “White people Pow-Wow song “Going To A Pow-Wow” and really focus on the way it evokes particular emotions.

It’s pretty blatantly… cringey. It also makes me laugh due to the sheer lack of knowledge of Native Americans, well, anything. 

My point is, the people in this video are not engaged in cultural sharing because they have fetishized and created their own ideal version of what Native American culture and music should be. On the contrary, I would like to still believe that cultural sharing can be possible but it is the adoption of marginalized identities by a white-majority that remains the issue. 

For example, this department had an open dialogue last year sparked by the presence of Marti 

Newland on the topic of white students singing spirituals. With her guidance, we ultimately came to the conclusion that it was okay for white people to sing spirituals and specifically in dialect however the composition of spirituals by white composers was to be abandoned. This brings up the issue of authenticity and what race of composers are allowed to compose what and profit off of a marginalized culture. Tying this back into minstrelsy, I feel the need to point out that the ambiguity in whether or not we should give attention to songs that were created for racist purposes is an act of liberal violence. There is an essay by Gareth Griffiths titled, “The Myth of Authenticity” from the collection of essays he Post-Colonial Studies Reader, I have felt helpful in the discussion of what this blog is titled. Although Griffith is not speaking to an American experience, the fetishization and mystification of marginalized groups are applicable, in part, to the discussion on marginalized identities in the United States. The claim he makes is that even though an entity may be claiming to be “even-handed” in discussing two sides of a story between an oppressed group and their oppressors, the act of giving each truth equal weight is an act of “liberal violence” [1]. This mode of thought does not give proper weight to the constant fetishization, institutional racism, or a number of other societal factors that negatively impact a marginalized group yet we give outsider voices equal weight. Take from this what you will. 


Sources Cited

Ashcroft, Bill, Griffiths, Gareth, and Tiffin, Helen. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader London : Routledge, 1995.

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