Picture it: Bethesda Maryland, 1984. A (handsome) black youth of 15 is sitting in the homeroom in tenth grade in a religious, conservative-leaning mostly white school. Homeroom has a radio, which is played before the class begins. The radio is on, playing the shock-jock known as The Greaseman. The Greaseman is doing one of his schticks: racial humor built around the fact that urban black people often have different naming conventions. (“This my daughter, Sy-Phyllis; and here’s her sister Gon’Norhea. Yuck! Yuck! Yuck!”)
Our hero is usually quiet. But this is just too much. He stands up, and turns off the radio, much to the consternation of his classmates. “You’re too sensitive,” they cry. “Don’t you have a sense of humor? YOU have a normal name, why do you care?”
Our hero, somewhat cowed, replies, “I was offended. I think is was” (little voice) “racist.”
Voices are raised; it is the beginning of an adolescent war.
The battle is thwarted, because the teacher stops everyone and says, “He was offended. End of discussion.”
No, I don’t listen to Carrie Underwood. But….I like ‘white’ music. Particularly alternative, gothic and indie music. So I feel this girl’s pain.
I remember when I haunted a record store in college, always looking for an interesting album. Before the Internet, buying music was a bit of a gamble. You had to rely on record reviews, the label that the album was on, and occasionally, the artwork to give you clues to what the music sounded like. So visiting a record store was often a 2 hour ordeal that included much research and contemplation. The staff of this particular record store was used to me, (and many other college students) spending hours among their stacks. However, one Saturday, there was a new staff member who rather overzealously followed me and repeatedly asked me if I needed help. She ignored the other customers, and focused on me with a laser-like precision. Eventually, I left the store, and didn’t return until the spring. I was familiar with this kind of micro aggression. It was a combination of Shopping While Black with a liberal dash of This Isn’t Your Type of Music!
I was relatively lucky before that point. I grew up in an area where it wasn’t uncommon to see PoC at punk and indie shows. Every now and then, someone would glance at me sideways, but that was the extent of it. But that Othering was uncomfortable enough to make me avoid that particular shop. When I returned to the shop, the overzealous employee had left. Maybe someone else complained about her.
Frankly, this incident was small potatoes compared to what I experienced on an online forum circa 1998, when the Internet etiquette had not yet been established. The goth singer Siouxsie Sioux had started a side project with fellow Banshees drummer/husband Budgie, called The Creatures, which she released independently. The Creatures had an active and lively online forum, which I joined. In the ‘intro’ section of the website, I wrote something like, “Hi, I’m Craig…Just wondering if there are any other Siouxsie/Creatures fans of color.”
Reader, you would have thought that I had insulted everyone’s mother and desecrated a thousand graves. Message after message condemned me for even mentioning race. I was a racist of the worst kind; I was like Louis Farrakhan; I hated white people etc. And those were the intelligible responses. I quit that den of obnoxiousness quickly, never to return.
A few years later, I went to hear the world music/goth crossover band Dead Can Dance in concert. I ran into an acquaintance at the concert.
Him: “What are you doing here? Black people don’t like Dead Can Dance!” Me: Throws Shade and eye-rolls so hard that my eyes fall out and roll down the hall.
I’ve been confounding stereotypes since the 80s, and I have no intention of stopping.