In the midst of one of the darkest chapters in recent human history, the past ten days have been full of more pain, sadness and rage, but also, crucially, a sliver of light.
The sickening murder of George Floyd, which served to highlight so many other deaths of Black people at the hands of police as well as the more generalised white supremacy that has gone largely unchecked for centuries, feels like a moment of reckoning.
It might have taken a global pandemic for us to reach breaking point, or to be far enough removed from our own bullshit to start paying attention, but white people are finally joining the chorus we’ve failed to hear for far too long and saying, enough is enough. How did humanity reach this shameful, rotten nadir, and how do we find our way out of here?
As a writer who writes mainly about electronic music, it’s been cause for some uncomfortable self-reflection and the realisation that I’m not half as woke as I thought I was.
I knew racism existed everywhere, of course, and I knew that Black people were the originators of house and techno music, but like so many others I have simply been non-racist rather than anti-racist in my own work and general existence. And being non-racist is useless when the systems that work to oppress people of colour carry on regardless if the majority of people who benefit from these systems are not willing to help dismantle them.
Over the past week I’ve been stunned to watch how the electronic music community has responded, or failed to adequately respond to the Black Lives Matter protests that have arisen across the United States and around the world in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a white policeman in Minneapolis.
We finally got our shit together enough to rally behind a social media event called #BlackoutTuesday, which for many, consisted of posting a black square and a hashtag (often the wrong hashtag) and calling it a day.
Performative activism is transparent, and we need to do much, much more, but I preferred to see people post a dumb black square than post nothing at all. (I posted a black square and the wrong hashtag too, before I realised I’d fucked up, deleted it and started over.) Even if the person who posted a black square doesn’t fully understand or care to understand the issue, someone in their network might take it upon themselves to find out more, which makes it worthwhile, in my opinion.
To abstain from posting anything of supportive relevance, either on Blackout Tuesday or on any other day since the protests began, has seemed like a conscious decision to stay out of the matter, suggesting at best, that you’re too weak to contend with your own failings and at worst, that you don’t think Black lives matter all that much.
I’m sure a lot of people felt scared, either uncertain if it was their place to engage or feeling too ignorant and uninformed to express an opinion. Perhaps they knew they’d get called out for hypocrisy for having not given a visible shit about the cause until this point.
This is the part I’ve struggled with most when watching the electronic music scene react over the past week, or fail to. So many artists, labels, clubs, collectives and publications have lacked the courage to own their failings and blind spots, apologise to the communities they’ve exploited, directly or indirectly, for decades, and make genuine promises to try harder.
From the tone-deaf Berlin “protest party” held on a canal in Kreuzberg last weekend, with a couple of “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe” flags swaying limply in the breeze while revellers (nearly all white, by the looks), crowded into tiny inflatable boats as if coronavirus was a distant memory, to prominent DJs and producers hashtagging their posts #alllivesmatter, to corporations such as Spotify and major record labels posting pat statements of purported support without showing receipts, to some woefully small donations from publications and companies that have made millions from Black music, it’s been a staggering indictment of an industry that claims to be built on peace, love, unity and respect.
It’s also opened my eyes to the extent of the systemic racism that has existed all along in the industry, that my white privilege has blinded me to. And the ways in which I’ve perpetuated it in my own work by not writing about Black artists just as often, if not more, than I write about white artists, and not doing enough to acknowledge and emphasise the Black roots of house and techno. I haven’t been questioning enough of some of the work I’ve been commissioned to do, and I haven’t properly interrogated my own beliefs and ideas in the context of race.
I’ve even been wondering if I have the right to be writing about this music at all, as a privileged white woman (it’s a question that’s been on my mind as long as I’ve been writing about music, to be honest, as someone who is not a professional musician/DJ/producer, either).
I would hate to stop, as I am truly passionate about it and I’m at my most excited and inspired when engaging with good music. But now is the time to start doing it differently. I’m planning to launch a new project soon and while I was initially planning to make it as “diverse” as possible in every way (gender, race, geography, emerging and established artists, etc), I now feel like I need to focus on turning up the voices and music of those who have been muted for far too long.
Is it my place to do this? Not sure, and I’m open to having a discussion about that. But my vision would be to collaborate with the right people, to amplify other writers/editors and creatives of colour and other marginalised folk and to make it as inclusive as possible.
To the Black music community and to people of colour generally, I am truly sorry for not having supported you adequately until this point and I vow to do better.
To those who have failed to say sorry, or to say anything at all, your silence is deeply, deeply disappointing. If you’re not willing to stand up for the people you have profited off for so long, I am no longer willing to support you or your music. I would invite anyone who genuinely believes that Black Lives Matter to do the same.