Being Black in a White DIY Scene
I have hesitated on whether I should speak about my racial experience as an African American in light of current events. To be honest I have already shared about my experiences twice before. Once on this website and another time in a Global Creativity magazine. Did I influence or help anyone? I honestly don’t know because I am not sure if my voice is being heard or whether or not my voice has the same influence and power that my white peers have.
I hesitate because contrary to the fact that current events have brought African American communities together and have made other non-black people more aware, I have also noticed it does not exactly grasp the entire scope of individualized or generalized racially charged experiences. I want to write a blog entry about my experience, but to be honest I would end up having to write a book to speak about the entire scope of my racial experiences. I think it would be most relevant to speak about my racial experience within the music scene. A scene that says they listen, but really avoids. At the bottom of my core, I truly think that if I was white my reception and experience as a musician would be completely different and maybe even more positive than negative.
Being in a DIY house is not always as welcoming as it seems. It is actually a lot like being in a republican frat house at a Big 10 University. I have had times where I walk in and I get stares as if I am some sort of person who does not belong here. When I come in to play, people are shocked to find out that I am a black person, as if it is not okay that a black person is playing music. It actually took seven years of playing in Philadelphia local music scene up until last week until I was placed on a bill where another black musician has played with me( please note that I have played with other Black artists outside of Philadelphia and two other specific times during festivals, but never at a show).
People automatically call you “the man” or “your boy” when they don’t know you as if it’s completely fine to act overly friendly towards the black guy for no other reason other than “he’s black.” It doesn’t appeal to me when I hear the tone of my white peers change the tone of their voice in a more ethnically charged tone when they see me, saying whaddup dawg to me while you say hello to your other friends is not cool, and it doesn’t make you hip, it makes you look like a racist asshole.
I feel that I am being typecasted as the token black guy in the white party. I say party because to be honest the level of attention house shows give to musicians is not always great, more of the time I feel that the attendance is for drugs and alcohol than it is for music. I don’t feel comfortable when someone looks at you and then and confuses you with every other black person that they meet. Not all black people look alike, and to group any racial or ethnic group as a people that “all look alike” makes you an asshole.
It does not stop there; people will tell you that they expected something blacker when you just get finished your set. Apparently, the color of my skin makes a person assume that I only play hip-hop or R and B. Granted I have had musical experience with playing for R and B singers and hip hop artists, it doesn’t mean that being black should limit me to any one genre. If you truly think black lives mattered, you would not typecast a black person. Being black in this scene makes me feel that I am censored and unsafe from actually being myself. I attend shows and am given looks as if I do not belong in house shows because I do not have the same look that others have. Much of the time, people are not social, and yet the venues are claimed to be “safe spaces” but in my experience I often times do not feel safe. This is not to say that I never had a good experience at a show, but most of the times I am at shows, I do not feel comfortable. I feel judged. I am looked at “as that black guy” that no one ever really wants to understand or listen to because I am black.
I dislike the way relationships work in the DIY scene and how my race plays a part. In some ways, I feel like a black boy in a white country club with no ability to ever fit in. I have had to forge friendships with people that I should not be friends with just to book shows. I have had to censor my genuine feelings on topics because of the lack of empathy the scene has, which goes deeper beyond racism. The DIY scene claims open mindedness but practices frat boy mentality. Too many of the same bands playing at the same houses in front of the same people. There is such a lack of cultural diversity and understanding coated in alcoholic blissful ignorance to a point that makes me sick and it makes me feel uncomfortable. I am hurt when I am given the third degree about my ability to play music let alone be a part of a show from show bookers, while they give their white counterparts the ease and comfort of playing a show immediately and welcomed with open arms. How can I really be angry when the parents of some of these young adults who book these shows are either conservative republicans or overly privileged people who never communicated with black people until their 20s? To say black lives matter is almost laughable when you cannot even treat a black person with respect in your own environment. Maybe I should not care at all.
There should be no double standards in the way we treat each other and yet it happens every time. It happens when I ask for a blog to record a video session because I saw my white friend play and I am asked to pay a fee where as they are given a free opportunity to record a session. It happens when I submit my music for a blog, and I am told that my music is not “punk enough” suburban enough, or your face is not the type of music we want on our website. If black lives really mattered in the diy scene, then why am I treated so differently like an outcast?
It does not end with booking; it does not end with being at a show. It gets worst when you play shows, because you sing about your experiences and no one understands you. It’s not comfortable when you read on a diy platform that a venue only books POC or colored people. I say this because the term POC is an offense to black people, it is derivative of the word colored and I should not be grouped with other racial minorities or ethnicities and deserve the right to have my own identity instead of being labeled by a lazy acronym to determine my culture. It’s not comfortable when a white person is only booking POC people, with that mentality you mind as well only collect rare Pokémon. We are not a rare breed, we are people and to diversify and accept is to literally bring people together not to separate them with exclusive standards like blacks only bills or whites only bills. Destroy the homogeneity, embrace diversity, and do your damn best to practice it every day.
Maybe I don’t really belong here to begin with I don’t really know where I belong, but I do know that there are great beautiful people who have shown me that I should keep pushing. I am not punk, I am not from a community where bands like David Bowie and The Ramones were a part of my childhood or culture. I was raised on BB King, Bill Withers and Motown. I thought DIY was about acceptance, I thought this was about community. I know that there are so many things I can work on and get better at, ranging from having a committed full band line up to support and write with me to even making amends to people, I have cut ties with. But it doesn’t disregard the fact that I have been given secondary treatment to my white counterparts who are singing about the same struggles I am and treated like a backdoor slave waiting to take out the trash. I do not feel safe here and the worst part about it is, your DIY community is the only thing keeping me alive.
The first bar gig I ever had was at the M Room in Philly and I was called the N word on stage multiple times. This also happened at JR’s bar and at other locations. People have called me Jimi Hendrix but not only am I black I am also a lefty guitarist. I decided to play at houses and independent spaces to avoid that racism and discrimination, but it still happens anyways. I still feel the need to censor myself because of the closed-minded attitude of this community. It genuinely pisses me off when I see people in my community preach black lives matter while they practice racially biased behaviors and give preferential treatment to their white peers and ignore their black peers such as myself. There is no way possible I could address every racially charged issue I have encountered in the music community because I have pretty much lost count. I am doing my best to remain positive while I continue to play music, but experiencing this bullshit is demotivating and exhausting. Parts of me say that I am lost, but when I find places and people who accept me I feel that I am found again. Thank you to all who support the houses, the promoters, the bloggers, labels, the people, and me who have accepted me and given me a chance without the third degree because the last place I want to go is a bar to be called the N word again.