So, I get up fairly early, for someone whose work does not usually take them anywhere but into the basement. As many people do, I get up early for other people – namely, Tech Boy. If I didn’t, we’d not really see each other much longer than a quick bite at breakfast, and I like to have Actual Conversations. We have made him fairly late for work before with our conversations, so it’s worthwhile for me to sleep thirty minutes less so we can really get into whatever topic comes up.
Our usual roving conversation this morning landed on Macklemore – that Guy With the Batman Jammies. I was mentioning the post-Grammy episode SorryWatch covered the other day, and discussing the phenomenon of a Caucasian rapper in a field started and generally dominated by African American artists. (Macklemore, in case you did not know, is a Caucasian artist who won everything at the Grammys [Grammies? Grammyies? You know what? I’m going to call them THE GRAMOPHONE AWARDS. That’s the original name, and has much appeal in making me sound even less hip with it than I already am], including Best Album, about which he was weirded out and shocked.)
In discussing rappers, rap as a genre and the business of the music industry, Tech Boy mentioned a 2006 radio interview he heard with rapper and UC educated economist Paris, talk about the music industry from the inside, and how African American rappers are subtly – and not-so-subtly – directed to keep their rapping to the stereotypical view of “the Black Experience,” with plenty of “ho’s” and disrespecting the police and drugs and guns and liquor thrown in, because that is THE ONLY THING producers have convinced these artists that will sell. The ONLY thing. (Which, of course, brings up the irony of a guy in a Batman onesie selling a smash hit about thrift shopping…) We spoke briefly about the case of Sarah Jones, the feminist rapper whose indecency fines by the FCC came because she was quoting other rappers’ misogyny. (She sued, and, when it became apparent that the case would indeed go to trial, the FCC dropped the whole thing.) We remarked on how broken the whole music industry is, as a whole, in many respects. And then, Tech Boy went to work.
…And I went down to the basement, and opened an article I’d set aside to read this morning, which brought me riiiiight back to the constant push-pull between the publishing world and young adult fiction. Christopher Myers spoke in the New York Times this past weekend about exactly what we’d just been saying:
“AT a public school in Southeast Washington, D.C., I ask a fifth grader what he wants to do with his life, what the map is that he has drawn for himself. He is talkative and smart, and his high-top fade adds a few extra inches to his height, so that he is almost as tall as his classmates, and far more stylish. He tells me that he will join the N.B.A., and use that money to buy a recording studio and record his first rap album. Looking at him, I think that these are not necessarily his dreams; they are just the dreams that have been offered him, the places he can go in the narrow geography that has been delineated for him, strung along in a surreal and improbable sequence.” ~ Christopher Meyers
“…they are just the dreams that have been offered him, the places he can go in the NARROW GEOGRAPHY THAT HAS BEEN DELINEATED FOR HIM.”
As I told the Store the other day: nothing exists in a vacuum. Images count. The things we portray as cultural COUNT. The areas on the map of the world which we highlight and label have too many blank spaces that say HERE THERE BE DRAGONS, giving kids a “no fly” zone that takes up large parts of the world. To paraphrase Kadir Nelson at the 2010 Coretta Scott King breakfast, we want to have sparkly Black vampires out there, too. (Not that we really need too many more sparkly vampires, but you get the point.) As soon as we say “no” to a black Rapunzel, Wonder Woman, Hunger Games participant, medieval princess, Hobbits, Arthurian knight… we’ve blocked out part of the world of imagination, leaving a poorly shaped lump from what used to be — and still is, for other children — an entire and illuminated globe.
I agree with Myers’ surmise that “The Market” is the faceless, nameless villain to which so much is attributed. But, I think we need to stop lying to ourselves. The Market is only an imaginary puppeteer; we’re tied up in strings by something else… It’s probably time to put a name to it, and stop dancing to its tune.
(Don’t miss Walter Dean Myers’ words on the same topic, from a different angle.)