The finale to this Identity Series concerns post-Blackness and the future of identity politics and labels. First, a video:
In his 2011 book Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness, the single-named author Touré posits theories about the generation today that came up taking past Black struggles mostly for granted, and reshaping the Black experience into something more maleable, complex, infinite. In a book review by Orlando Patterson in the New York Times, Patterson writes:
"One of [Touré's] goals ... is 'to attack and destroy the idea that there is a correct or legitimate way of doing Blackness.' Post-Blackness has no patience with 'self-appointed identity cops' and their 'cultural bullying.'”
Perhaps it is clear to see, now, why I mention this important, relevant text. However, Touré also writes in this book that post-Blackness is breaking free from "normative" Black behavior. This idea has always sat uncomfortably with me, perhaps because I am a child of this era of post-Blackness. Furthermore, the act of being Black and being a composer of Classical music has never been (and perhaps never will be considered) "normative." While there have been and are still many Black composers, I think it is safe to say that the total number is insignificant compared to the number of non-Black composers, and I would even go as far to say that the number of ethnic minority Classical composers combined is probably also rather insignificant compared to the total number of white-skinned composers, mostly from Europe and the United States (and perhaps South Africa). Being Black, brown-skinned, a POC, and an ethnic minority while being a composer has NEVER been "normative", thus perhaps Black composers have always lived in some version of post-Blackness.
But what happens when the world begins to significantly and eventually turn beige, when everyone in the world will be so mixed that racial labels will become pointless? Would this also mean laughing at humanity in the past for violence committed in the name of racism and identity politics? Or would this mean, dare I say, attempting to and eventually being successful at erasing certain aspects of history altogether for the purpose of maintaining a certain type of identity harmony?
Finally, what would this mean for music? What would this mean for music? Would all music be silenced to give current musicians a clean, fair slate? or would the beloved composers and singers and musicians of the world be kept?
My journey of promoting the music of Black composers and women composers has lead to me getting quite a slew of comments warning me against (what they call) discrimination and identity-based musical decisions. There is quite a bit I want to say to these people, but if I were to sum up my argument, I would say this: the way that Classical music developed was one big unconscious identity-based path that unfortunately occured before identity vernacular. Humanity had to name the problem in order to reveal it, but now that it is named and revealed, it does not automatically mean that it goes away. Think of the world of the future about which I postulated above. What happens if when the world goes beige and certain aspects of human history are destroyed? Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Debussy, Mozart ... they will all stay because they were beloved. If we do not do something today make Florence Price, Blind Tom, Ignatius Sancho, Undine Smith Moore, Nkeiru Okoye, Evan Williams, Margaret Bonds, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Jeffrey Mumford, Julius Eastman, Dolores White, Coleridge Taylor Perkinson, Adolphus Hailstork, Ed Bland, Alvin Singleton, David Sanford, TJ Anderson, Jessica Mays, Elizabeth Baker, Jonathan Bailey Holland, Renee C. Baker, and a slew of other composers more beloved and respected, then what will the future look like?
Let's shape the Classical music future - a future where a female and a Black child can enter and feel welcome, not feel like an intrusion into a monotonous boys club where you have to prove your worth by being superhuman. Let's start now by transforming the myths of Classical music's elitism and exclusivity into truths of Classical music's desire to communicate to all. Let's start right now and write the path of this future, not re-writing the past, but shining a stronger light on the forgotten, silenced, and unknown stories of the past - stories that fell victim to racism, sexism, and the unnamed, unspoken identity politics that shaped this world. Let's shape the Classical music future!
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