The OF Blog: "Now Blacker Than Ever"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Now Blacker Than Ever"

Or so the tag translates for this Dutch radio station's video clips advertising its jazz lineup.  I saw this posted yesterday on this international SF site that I frequent and was struck by the discussion that broke out...or perhaps, "broken down" would be a more apt description.  Knowing the handles of most of the people there and their countries of origin, it is fascinating to see how shared (or not) historical and cultural values have shaped such a discourse.

Virtually all of those who responded negatively so far to the question "Is this racist?" are Europeans (the original poster, from the Netherlands but with family in the US, being the one exception), while those who noted the possible racist interpretations (again, with one exception so far) are all from the United States.  Perhaps it's largely due to being made aware, via educational programs such as those devised for Black History Month (among quite a few possibilities), just how derogatory references to "black music" and especially to blackface (if you haven't clicked on the first link above to watch the clips, I highly suggest you do so) truly are for large segments of the American population.  Same reason why that racial slur, the now-infamous "N word," in spite of (or rather, in large part because of) its etymology referring to "blackness," is something that non-African American citizens of the United States more and more refrain from using; it's tacky at the very least and perceived as being deeply insulting at the worst, due to an increasing multi-cultural awareness and a shared understanding of the traumas of the American past.

But obviously the situation is much different in Europe.  I found the responses to be quite interesting, even if a couple came across as rather patronizing (but again, that could just be viewing things through different historical/cultural lens).  Just a little something for people to view and perhaps weigh in upon here.  What do you think?  How offensive (if it was offensive to you) was that radio ad?  How would it be viewed where you live?

6 comments:

Karen said...

Hi - I'm from Belgium! Well to be honest I see nothing wrong with this ad. But have to admit that when we receive visitors from our US office I sometimes freeze up when wanting to say anything related to black culture. I mean which word is appropriate to use? I obviously know that there's a sensitivity there and you don't want to say anything that's perceived as racist.

Martin said...

I can't watch the ads at the moment but the association with blackface is at the very least unfortunate. However, I don't see anything wrong with the tag itself (in fact, it made me think of Billy Paul). It is clearly meant to be positive and that is how I would view it.

It does seem to be a US/Europe split. For example, we have Black History Month in the UK as well but we also have the MOBO Awards, literally the Music of Black Origin Awards, designed to celebrate black music.

Jeff said...

American here. I think the spirit of the ad is not offensive, if anything, it's pointing out that jazz is deeply rooted in black history. However, at the very best, it's ill-thought and unfortunate. Given the history of blackface, yeah, the ad plays as offensive in the U.S.

Larry said...

Karen,

That's a tricky issue even for natives such as myself. I'd use "African American" in referring to culture or groups, while "black" can sometimes be appropriate for talking about individuals.

Martin,

Yeah, it's unfortunate indeed. I believe most would view it and think it was meant to be positive, but sometimes the roads to Hell are paved with good intentions, no? As for the MOBO awards, things are so intertwined in the US now that it's hard to place an ethnic label on any music, well at least to do so without any pejoratives being implied. Just another cultural difference, no?

Jeff,

I agree. I think the term "black music" is merely antiquated by itself, but the blackface is so associated here with minstrel shows and Sambo and Steppin Fetchit that it's near impossible for it not to conjure negative imagery here.

Derrick said...

Larry-so what do you call a group of black people in africa-african ethiopian, african chadite? African american is a term to denote a VERY specific group. To use it for anyone who is black is rascist and even worse, shows a complete lack of understanding of our world.

American here. I think the whole race thing has become overblown in regards to words and has taken on a political life of its own that has nothing to do with the goals of those who started the racial equality movement.

Larry said...

Derrick,

I use either their national or ethnic group. Dinka, Igbo, etc. Just like I say for part of my ancestry, I say Cherokee.

Not going to deny that there's some overblown rhetoric that's taken place, though.

 
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