Stop Shaming Black People For Not Listening to the Beatles (and Other White People Music)
I never listened to a Beatles song until I was twenty-three. I heard a few snippets when Across the Universe (2007) was advertised. And, I enjoyed the covers on American Idol. But, I never heard them sing their own songs until I was cornered by white coworkers shocked and amazed at my inability to name a singular member of the group or song.
Their puzzlement went from inquiry to harassment to public shaming as they paraded me around the office showing me off to other white people who were similarly shocked at my apparent “poor upbringing.” They had no idea that their projections of what constituted “good music” denoted their own simmering privilege. Meanwhile, they were discrediting everything I actually had grown up listening to.
It all started when a young white lady in the office was commenting on her favorite Beatles song. When asked, I responded, “Which group is that?” Then, ‘el shit’ hit ‘el fan.’ I got the Beatles mixed up with the Eagles mixed up with the Rolling Stones. They asked me to name them and I said “Well, I know it’s not Elton John. Bob Dylan? Maybe Billy Joel?” Shit everywhere. It was completely foreign to them that I could have possibly missed something so integral to their lives. So, they attempted to shame me.
The responses I got from everyone were in virtual lockstep.
“What in the world did you listen to at home?”
“What? Did you live under a rock?”
“Do you just never turn on the radio?”
“Where are you from?”
To which I responded, “Well, I’m black.” And, I simply explained that there are other radio stations that play other music. Unsatisfied with this answer, they pelted me with further inquiries.
“Do you just never watch TV? cause the Beatles are EVERYWHERE!”
It was cute for about two seconds then it just got stale. What was funniest about it was that they were almost offended when I mentioned non-Beatles members. Like I had somehow broken white people music code by mentioning Billy Joel or Elton John in the same conversation. The Beatles were so sacred to them that they guffawed about it and it became an office joke until I eventually left the team.
Isn’t it funny though how I was assumed to be some foreigner transplant because I didn’t conform to white musical interests? They questioned my mom’s parenting skills before they ventured to think that maybe black folks just aren’t interested in listening to boring music sung by vocally-challenged British men.
My mother raised me on Anita Baker, Luther Vandross, The Four Tops, The Commodores, Patti Labelle, and a healthy dose of gospel artists. I have heard and appreciated a host of other greats. Presently, I love the soul sounds of India.Arie, Jill Scott, and John Legend. Not to mention I come from a family of talented singers, rappers, and song writers. I was never lacking for musicality in my home or life. But, my music and upbringing didn’t “count” to these folks because it didn’t measure up to their standards. This is the definition of white superiority.
For many white people to assume that their music is “good music” and any other music pales in comparison is a) wrong and b) bigoted. I once had a girl tell me, “I hate ‘black music.’ It all sounds the same and they only sing about sex.” This is not an anomaly. For many whites, “black music” is inherently substandard. All the artists are interchangeable.
These premises are why every single time a black male releases a new single, onlooking whites exclaim frivolities like “Is that Sisqo?” (yes, I have witnessed this on several occasions with my own ears and eyes and yes, I am aware that Sisqo is only really known to white people because of Thong Song...released fifteen years ago).
No, white people, every black male singer is not “Ursher” or Lil’ Jon or Nelly or Sisqo. But, if you can’t figure that out, why is it so confounding when black people can’t parse out white singers who are essentially the same vocally, visually, and chronically? I mean, at least Sisqo had blonde hair. Lil’ Jon has dreads and a bejeweled chalice. Please tell me a vocal difference between Sting and U2? And, couldn’t Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow be brothers? There really isn’t a ton of diversity here.
I would love to say these experiences were flukes. But, no. I had a young white woman at my second job do the same with Taylor Swift. When I said Swift wasn’t a great singer, she went slightly nuts. She exclaimed how talented she is and how I must have just been listening to the wrong songs. She tried to make me listen to her favorites. I noted that I know plenty of people who could sing circles around her to which she replied, “but can they play the guitar and write music?” Such a simple-minded girl. This implies that Taylor Swift only sounds good on some of her songs and that she shouldn’t be regarded as a vocal artist but as a musician and song writer. Yet, she records albums. See the cognitive dissonance there?
This idea that white people’s mediocrity is better than black people’s virtuosity is exactly why white people keep winning singing reality TV shows. It’s also another reason why phenomenal black singers, musicians, and songwriters struggle to make headway in an industry infatuated with faux artists like Iggy Azalea.
No, this isn’t an argumentative post explaining how much better “our” music is than “your” music. It’s just an opportunity for white music nazis and white culture zealots to peer through the looking-glass in a sense.
Personally, I don’t know many white musicians pre-1990. I am okay with that. I don’t feel like I have missed out on much. I’m not even remotely interested in the Beatles, Taylor Swift, or Iggy Azalea. They don’t fit my palate. See how that works? It’s my palate. You don’t get to define it.
I know it feels uncomfortable to realize that your music (and therefore subculture) are no longer as much a ubiquitous force as they once were. I know you are completely flabbergasted that anyone would shirk the pillars you use to define yourself musically or otherwise. And, I know you are breaking out in hives and experiencing heart palpitations as you read this. Don’t worry. It won’t last too long. Soon, you’ll be used to not setting the tone for everyone else’s lives. Your way of life will be just that: yours. It only hurts if you are too possessive, self-absorbed, and bigoted to not get over it.
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