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PERSONAL ESSAY: Can Music Define Racism?

(photo credit)

Moments ago, I was informed by my boss I was no longer allowed to play rap or hip hop music at her store. We use Pandora as our listening medium and I was never given guidelines of "right" music vs. "wrong" music to play amongst our customers.

I've worked in fashion for 10+ years now, and have experienced many different types of adversity. But this was the type of subtle racism that feels the most frustrating.

"Can you not play this type of music? It really drives me insane."

I'd like to preface this rant with the fact that she never told me she had an issue with me playing this type of music. So she could have just mentioned it the first time this type of music was playing so that it would no longer "drive her insane".

The moment I asked myself what is this type of music exactly she interrupted my thoughts by saying, "Pop is fine, but, a little more --we just have older customers coming in." Her words fumbled as she saw my face and realized she no longer had a white girl working in her store.

"Yeah, I normally change the song if it gets too 'intense.' I just get bored of the other music," I said. It was as polite as I could be when really all I wanted was to go off. But I can't be the angry Black girl. I've tried too hard to not be.

I've pushed down my emotions and silenced my opinions and can no longer take on the pain. I've reached my threshold of racist bullshit and have no room left for negotiations. You're either racist or you're not. It's black and white, quite literally, and I have no room for the wishy-washy, middle of the road, faux white-feminism nonsense and you can thank my ex sorority sisters for that. The, "she didn't mean it like that" moments were no more longer to be tolerated. Black girls, raise your hands if you feel me!

When she left the store I sat at my station and wondered why this interaction honestly bothered me so much. Was I experiencing a microaggression in my new workplace? Can the type of music one allows you to play define someone as being racist? Was it the way she said it? Or was I being over-sensitive because prior to her walking in I had just finished a conversation with a friend about the racism issues in this country? Not to mention, I was in the midst of a Facebook battle defending people that practice the Muslim religion. I just felt emotional beat up.

Most rap and hip hop is primarily created by Black artists and is somehow still seen to be the cheaper version of music (or come off as "ghetto" some might say) in the eyes of boutique owners. And layered with that is the irony that artists that make that type of music tend to be leaders in the fashion industry. They still haven't earned respect to be played at small mid-range boutiques where people in my mom's demographic (white, female, 40-60+) shop? I mean, hell, my mom listens to that type of music, so what exactly is the problem?

Aside from Streetwear stores, where would you ever hear that type of music played? I mean, let's really think about this. When you walk into a cute, Pinterest inspired boutique they're playing some sort of alt-rock playlist. The Shins, The Kooks, The Strokes. If it doesn't start with "The" you can't play it. And, that's cool. I listened to all the The's all through high school, college and my early 20's. Most of my life has surrounded around crying to Fiona Apple or cutting myself to Radiohead. And maybe that's why I'm so adversed to that music, it's the trigger for my lowest moments.

I revisited Hip Hop, Rap and R&B in a more serious way when my friend, Eric, moved in with me, I believe we were 27. When we lived together, he unknowingly gave permission to feel comfortable listening to all of that type of music again. Not that I hadn't, but after working at high end boutiques, as well as Abercrombie and Hollister, you start to think that listening to rap makes you look a certain way and I felt a shame in loving that type of music. On dates with white men when they asked me what kind of music I liked I never said rap, hip hop or R&B. I always opened with alternative, indie, or something in that genre, which was true, but it wasn't why I was leading with those genres. It was because I wanted them to feel comfortable and saying I liked Sigur Ros over PARTYNEXTDOOR felt safer.

I was lucky to have Eric be one of the people to help push me towards my transition out of my white washed life. He made me stay up 'til 6AM watching videos that normally I would have paid no mind to. He gushed over primarily Black women that were his style icons, and made me listen to every new song that came out. He made me fall back in love with that type of music and I was grateful.

I've finally reached a point where I don't feel the need to hide behind the white version of myself. Proudly listening to what ever I want, wherever I want, in front of who ever I want gave me a new sense of freedom. And that may be hard for most people to understand because they haven't had to play a part just to fit in, get a job, or even feel worthy. By her stating that I could not listen to that type of music I felt like part of my identity was being ripped away from me...again. I have to please the white women in the community...again. Could the possibility of them hearing Kanye say nigga in a song really lose a sale? They've probably heard their neighbor call a black person the same damn thing. And in all seriousness, the true white allies don't care what I'm listening to during my 7 hour shift, where I'm alone in a store for 80% of the day. So who exactly are we really trying to please?

I guess next time, if anyone is so adherently against having to listen to that type of music, pay us all the respect to at least wait until someone who didn't win a Pulitzer Prize is on. Because, let's be real, we ask so very little of you to begin with.

Background music: MGMT Electric Feels (*begrudgingly*)

Mood: Bored, so fucking bored.

#KendrickLamar #Rap #Hiphop #racism #oped

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