Ash Lauryn reflects on a week dominated by discussions around race and privilege in dance music.
I know that race is a sensitive subject, and being that we all know that, I think when dealing with issues of race we need to treat them with care rather than dismissiveness. If anything, I think the one main point that was missed by many throughout all of this is that the outrage didn't necessarily stem from the act of the person in question choosing to wear the hairstyle. The true outrage came once people saw with their own eyes how the person dealt with the situation. Their initial response of "I can wear whatever I want" was deeply problematic to many people in the black community, as we could never simply "wear whatever we want" when it comes to our hair. We often face backlash from the workplace and judgment from the world simply for wearing our authentic styles like cornrows or dreadlocks. The concept of that in itself is something many fail to recognize. One would like to think a well-to-do white woman who spent their career profiting off black music would actually address our concerns as valid. But we all saw that this was not the case here, which speaks to an even bigger issue: the idea that people can simply take what they want from black culture then discard us and our voices when it's no longer convenient.
I'd like to share a poem that I've seen the person in question include in their sets on more than one occasion. It's quite troublesome to see these types of messages being presented by non-black people who clearly do not understand the message and meaning behind them. This whole thing of playing pro-black music yet not taking the time to hear our concerns is not right, and if there are people out there who actually think this is acceptable then we've got a long way to go. What's that? You say it's "just music," and not political? Google "Underground Resistance" and get yourself some education. Why do our voices matter when it's time to play our music for clout, yet not when a real life situation pops off?
I saw a lot of people reiterating the fact that this person is not a racist, which was also a point missed. I personally was never trying to "expose" this person as racist, yet more so as a person in a position of privilege showcasing problematic actions soaked in tones of white privilege. To be honest, this situation would have never blown up the way it did had it been handled differently. By Monday I was pretty much checking out of this debate up until those dreadful tweets surfaced. That's when shit got real all over again. I've never been one to get involved in Twitter beef, but somehow I found myself in the middle of all of this, especially after expressing my initial thoughts via my blog, Underground & Black. It's sad that many see my thoughts rooted in being "jealous," or "having nothing better to do," because it is far from the truth. The decision to speak on something publicly like race is hardly convenient and extremely uncomfortable. I've already faced my own backlash and spew of trolls online, and am not surprised if I, too, have been written off by some. That is often the price you pay when sticking up for what you believe in on sensitive issues like this.
The next thing that needs to be touched on is people repacking a critique as "bullying." These two things are not one and the same, and to be honest, it seems like a convenient tactic to avoid the real issues at hand. I know it's not always easy to listen and look at things from someone else's perspective, but I think in this day and age it is imperative that we do so. Hopping on the defense is never a good look, especially in this instance being the privilege of this person. I don't think anyone offended by this really wanted more than a simple apology and maybe a brief reasoning behind the decision to wear the style. Now, I know many of you will read that line and automatically think, "this person doesn't owe us a 'sorry,'" nor anything for that matter," which is where I call bullshit, because the concerns of those apart of the very community that this person bases their entire career off of matter. Black lives matter, as do our voices.
This entire situation has shown me that perhaps we in this dance music world are far from mastering the art of accepting and understanding one another. Of course we all love the music and, for the most part, can remain cordial in the club, but this conversation goes much deeper than music and the club. Black people in general have suffered through enough bullshit, and it sucks to know that we still simply get no respect from some—that was validated to me first-hand more than once. I am not bitter, nor an angry black woman looking for clout as some have tried to categorize me. Me being involved in all of this was really by chance, and best believe I had other plans for my life this week beyond debating on Techno Twitter. Sometimes we find ourselves in these positions for a reason though, and in the end I think EVERYBODY learned a thing or two. I learned a lot of shit that I can't even touch on right now because we would be here for a lifetime. These types of issues and battles are indeed ongoing throughout our lifetimes, and in many different contexts. This one just happened to involve dance music.
So who really gets the last word in this? What happens now? It's up to us to finish the narrative and be the change we want to see in the world of electronic music, whether it's involving cultural appropriation, racism, sexism or anything else for that matter. We are far from a perfect scene, but luckily we are living in an era where many of us are done putting our tail between our legs on issues that matter to us. As a black woman and DJ in dance music I find strength and power in knowing that I do not have to bow down to those in "power" to stay relevant in this industry. I too have my privileges, which span from everything from being from Detroit, to my affiliations with NTS Radio as well as this here publication Resident Advisor. It's important that these large platforms continue to amplify the voices of those who are often ignored, and I am grateful to be in the position to do so. I find solace in knowing that for every internet troll there are at least ten or more supporters coming from many different races, sexes and creeds. If I walk outside tomorrow and see a white woman rocking cornrows, I will not automatically hate her or deem her a racist. I understand not everyone knows or thinks it's offensive to some, which is fine. Again, it's how the person in question goes about the situation once they do find out.
Peace, love, unity, respect. I witnessed a lot of it this week, and I also witnessed a lot of the exact opposite. I think we can all take some time to think about what we can do as individuals in an attempt to get the scene back on track with the true essence that it was founded upon.
It's up to us, may the force be with you.