Tuesday, December 26, 2006

James Brown, Sam Cooke - Racism + Music

Coming back from Florida Monday (Christmas) morning in the airport the tv showed James Brown and I heard of his death. Coincidentally I was finishing reading a lengthy biography of Sam Cooke who was his contemporary.

The biography of Sam Cooke talked at great length of the tours that both men made in the Deep South (U.S.) in the late 1950's and the first half of the 1960's (until Cooke's death in late 1964). It is hard to imagine today a world where any Black Man (or Woman) no matter what his economic status could have been arrested, killed or harassed because of anything which might be perceived as "not respecting" any White Person.

It is interesting to compare the racism that James Brown lived through in the early days of his career with racism today. James Brown spoke up at length for Black Pride around 1960 when this was a radical and "foreign" concept in a world where "Negroes" (or worse) were expected to always defer to any White Person no matter what the circumstances.

A Black Person could never try on a piece of clothing in a "White Store" if they could shop there at all. In the South a show could only contain either White or Black performers and if the audience was "mixed" the "races could not mix" - so the Blacks were usually on a balcony only. Black musicians and other Black people - always came in the back door unless it was a Black establishment solely for Black people. Stores in Harlem and elsewhere often were owned by Whites and Blacks could only work in low paid jobs that had low status where they could work in such establishments at all.

Today racism in the U.S. is generally much more subtle! My partner (Black) can pick up how particularly in stores catering to wealthy White Women how she is looked at and treated as if she perhaps doesn't belong there, though nearly always very politely. We were shopping for blue jeans for me in Marin County, California a little over a year ago when a White Man - totally ignored B - a Black Woman - to get his clothes purchasd - she wasn't there in his world. I was shocked - B wasn't!

Often with racism today - it isn't clear that it really is racism, however because it happens over and over again, one knows some of the time racism is prevalent.

It's very interesting! Black People are of nearly every religion, different sizes and shapes, differ in their political beliefs to a large degree (though the number of right wing Black Folks may perhaps be "under represented"), have varying educational levels - yet We White Folks - think often that we "know Black People" as if they were most predictable.

For Black People, such as my partner, they exist in a world where they often feel a need to "make White People comfortable" - to translate the feelings and expectations of them, because they are Black Folks. "Passing" in this context is "passing as normal" - e.g. - comfortable to White Folks. B - is much better than I am at breaking down barriers with others. I never had to learn such things.

It wasn't until recently that Alabama, in 1998 I believe, legalized Black and White people marrying each other (though the U.S. Supreme Court had invalidated this prohibition years before). My Black Partner and I her White Husband - could have in a sense been - "illegally married" not that long ago.

I'm saddened at the death of James Brown. His music and his being as a Proud Black Man were very important in the growth of the U.S. in the second half of the 20th Century. I loved his "sweet music" such as: "Please, Please, Please" while having trouble listening to his funk and other "rougher" music.

I read a lot about Black History and Culture. I hope that many more other White Folks are similarly learning an important part of our history in the U.S.


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