BY JOSH HART & JOE RYAN
ILLUSTRATION BY ASHELITA SHELLARD
Josh Hart and Joe Ryan are longtime friends who bond over their love of pop culture. In July they are going to see Future together at Bluesfest and are nervous about the audience.
Joe: Have you had moments when you are at a rap show and you look over and think, what the hell are you doing?
Josh: I remember a few years ago I went to a Lauryn Hill concert and nearby me was a white lady with dreads. I thought ‘Do you get the point of what’s going here?’
It is wild that some people welcome themselves to the sort of criticism so carelessly. Someone on Twitter was talking about being at the Beyoncé show and seeing a bunch of white women with dreads there. It was unbelievable that in 2016, after we’ve had conversation after conversation about appropriation of black culture by whites, that no one has done anything to modify their behaviour when they are hanging out in predominately black spaces.
I think you can confront people if they really expect to be welcomed into spaces and have done nothing to honour the artists and the people that the art is created to celebrate. I don’t think it is reasonable to openly offend who the art is made to uplift. If you do something like that you open yourself to criticism by flagrantly disregarding the feelings and attitudes of the people the art that you wish to enjoy is made for.
Joe: Freddie Gibbs’ show at Babylon is something I think of often and feel uncomfortable about. There were too many people there that look like me. Not to say that I “get it” or get to be an exception but I have tried to give a shit about black people as a people and not just take this segmented popularized part of their culture and divorce it from their existence. I feel like there are likely a lot of people who intentionally or unintentionally have done that.
I don’t know how to open up a dialogue with those people. It shouldn’t be your responsibility either. As someone going into these spaces, white people should talk to white people but I don’t even know what to say because essentially what you are asking is ‘can you acknowledge this person’s humanity?’
Josh: That’s the problem. Far too often fans of rap music fail to critically acknowledge broader issues that are affecting black life in North America. Showing up at concerts is often their only real interaction with black people in their city. That is clearly a big, big problem. I don’t know what the obvious solution is beyond encouraging white fans to stick around the scene year-round in all its iterations. DJ nights, community meetings, locals shows, BBQs, and to be present in the lives of those who want to enjoy music with. That’s all anybody expects of you is to be someone to have the integrity to be a real contributor to a community you wish to benefit from.
Joe: If you are taking things out of a community, you should give back to it. From my experience if you are white and going into these spaces, remember that you don’t know everything and you are going to make mistakes. You will slip up and do or say things that make people uncomfortable because you don’t know or you aren’t thinking compassionately. That doesn’t mean you can’t change or do better.
Josh: It doesn’t mean that you aren’t welcome. You just have to keep working.
Joe: Do not double down and get really offended.
Josh: That’ll make you look like a nerd.
Joe: It’ll be so corny.
Josh: [white person voice] “Oh I’m not racist because I went to see Kanye West last summer! I also painted over the black lives matter poster on Bank Street because I want people to remember that white lives also matter as much, if not a little bit more than, black lives. I don’t mean to be offensive.”
Joe: That’s the undercurrent I sense from many of my peers. It isn’t the performer’s responsibility and it isn’t the black community’s responsibility to teach white people how to behave appropriately in public.
Josh: Simple ideas like not saying n**** loudly because it is still a racial epithet that’s threatening to black people when it is uttered by white people. That’s just true.
I know Kanye West says it a lot in The Life of Pablo, too bad. You’ll need to learn to be decent. Don’t be hostile by screaming a word that many have let you know is not acceptable when coming out of the mouth of white folks. Every once in a while a slip up is ok. Everybody gets caught up but there’s no excuse to use it constantly when you are called out on it. When somebody is uncomfortable with you saying n**** loudly in their face at a rap show it is because they are genuinely upset.
Joe: Have you had other conversations with black friends about how white people come into spaces and make you uncomfortable?
Josh: I’m amazed by how different crowds become as soon artists reach a critical mass where they have a large percentage of white fans. I’ve been to shows with only black people and a few months later in the same venue seeing a similar artist with a lot more white fans and the energy changes.
It was a place that previously was a really exciting place for black people to hang out, enjoy music and each other’s company. Now it is a place where we have to negotiate and police the behaviour of people who often behave in a way that is unacceptable. Which is a drag.
At shows where there aren’t white people no one has one eye open looking at someone who might yell n**** in their direction. That’s the biggest difference. When white people show up sometimes so does racism.
A few months ago in Toronto, Travis Scott was opening for Rihanna and a white fan rapped the full lyrics to “3500”. He said the n- word few times. To me it was uncomfortable with the conviction he landed on that n****. He didn’t think about it for a second.
Joe: Oh God. I did not hear about that.
Josh: Complex reported on it and Travis Scott kinda congratulated the kid on it. In the crowd you could see mostly white folks. Is it on artists to check fans from doing stuff like this?
Joe: I don’t want to put that responsibility on the artist. They don’t want to fuck with their money.
Josh: If you say “Hey white boy you can’t say that.”
Joe: Is Rodeo going to keep selling?
Josh: It is tricky.
Joe: Closing thoughts?
Josh: Fuck Anthony Fantano.
Joe: He’s endemic of so many of the problems with whiteness and rap music.
Josh: He’s a germ. It is a celebration of music that black people don’t even really like. For instance I like the Travis Scott record but I know lots and lots of black people who don’t. I think that’s a more mainstream opinion on the record and idiots like him are saying this guy made the best trap album ever. That is not true, Dirty Sprite 2 is. There’s been so many projects you’d have to put ahead of that one. Let black people determine what shit really slaps.
Joe: Listen actively, reflect, be conscious of the space you take up and those around you. Have fun but don’t have fun at the expense of other people’s humanity.