“That Doesn’t Sound Black Enough” | Racialized Expectations of Being Black

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During an interview, singer and songwriter The Dream said that he thought “Blacks can’t sing soul music anymore”. He elaborated on his thoughts by explaining that during earlier years, artists such as Aretha Franklin, James Brown and the like dominated the soul music genre. They had voices and lyrics that were the pinnacle of soul.

He says nowadays that black artists such as Beyonce and Usher are the icons of Pop and R&B music. While R&B stands for Rhythm and Blues, he argues the Blues has been taken out and these artists only produce upbeat, club-appropriate songs.

The Dream finally says the music industry has given the Soul music platform to artists such as Adele and Amy Winehouse. What’s his beef? They’re both white.

While I was intrigued by his observation, I quickly found myself shaking my head in complete recognition that his comments are the epitome of internal racism. Billie Holiday, James Brown, Aretha Franklin are an era that will never be duplicated. They came from a time of intense civil rights movements, milestone changes for minorities and some of their songs were a reflection of that culture and experience. Mind you, we still face racism, discrimination and marginalization today, but The Dream’s suggestion that black’s can’t sing soul music has the underlying assumption that black’s should only sing a certain way. This is a concern because this furthers the conception of how black’s should be.

The Dream isn’t the only one trippin’ though.

A teacher in Virginia asked one of her 9th grade students, Jordan Shumate, to read out loud a poem by African-American writer Langston Hughes. She interrupted him mid-sentence to say “Blacker, Jordan. C’mon, blacker. I thought you were black.” Blacker? Hold up. Is there a measurement of reading black or reading white?

When he didn’t obey her request, she demonstrated to him how to read it in a “blacker” style. Shumate asked why she thought all black people talked the same way. So she punished him for speaking out of turn.

These expectations of hyper-blackness is problematic because not only is it perpetuating stereotypes, but it essentially limits the identity of black people. With notions such as “a black person can’t be this or that, can’t talk this way or that way”, people of these communities are then limited to certain pre-conceived notions. With these restrictions, they’re not to freely express themselves or make choices of how they wish to be identified.

But let me humour The Dream for a minute, you say black’s can’t sing soul music anymore? What about Raphael Saadiq, Maxwell, Leela James, Anthony Hamilton, Jill Scott? Oh you meant those represented in the mainstream music scene? Ya, but when has mainstream ever gotten something right?

You know what would be right? The Dream and this teacher getting schooled.

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