The Bigotry toward Americana
Last year Giovanni Russonello took to the Atlantic magazine to draw a narrow line from Bob Dylan’s “Americanarama Festival of Music” showcase and the lack of diversity in the genre overall. (“Why Is a Music Genre Called ‘Americana’ So Overwhelmingly White and Male?”)
In the piece Eric R. Danton takes stock of the current crop of Americana Music Award nominees and concludes that they “skew largely folky, and largely white, with few artists of color among the awards contenders”
The WSJ is hardly a bastion of political correctness, but there it is. The conclusion drawn from both of these articles is plain to see: Americana is a hotbed of bigotry and should be ashamed.
There appears to be a trend to cast Americana as a bastion of white (presumably straight) males. Much of the stereotypes typically reserved for Music Row guards like Toby Keith appear to be blowing back on it’s rootier cousin.
I’ve been covering this music for almost eight years and have been to over 100 Americana and roots music concerts and festivals. I’ve also been to six Americana Conference and Festivals, where the Americana Awards are presented. I see the artists appearing at concerts, festivals, and accepting those awards and I also see the many emerging artists that contact me hoping to join those ranks of those working musicians.
Males outnumber female performers and, yes, there are more white folks than people of color. So what? Is the conclusion that there’s some Americana gatekeeper keeping woman and people of color out of the field? The lazy answer is that they are being kept out, right? Where’s the outrage? Where’s the Americana occupation?
Or perhaps the answer is more pedestrian: there are fewer women and people of color in Americana because they don’t want to be there. Just as hip-hop has few white men and women, and pop music has fewer men, some music styles appeal to segments of society. This isn’t societal bigotry, it’s diversity in taste.
And, with diversity, there is the freedom for some to choose another direction.
I have been a part of the community and a tireless advocate for a long time. I’ve met hundreds of fans, musicians and industry folks that love and advocate for this great music. Save for the occasional GRAMMY-nominee (right Linda Chorney?) there is less racial, gender, or sexual bias than any other genre–except for, perhaps, EDM.
There is, however, a bias in musicianship. The music draws from folk and country, as well as blues, Tejano, and zydeco–from the expanse of this country. Other genres have emerged to allow a rich market of styles that appeal to people that self-identify. But, if more black people self-identify with hip-hop or women self-identify with pop, no one sounds the alarm of racism or gender bias on those genres. It’s just seen as the way of progress and choice.
A casual survey of Americana might lead you to believe it’s chock full of white boys. So what? Is their choice less worthy? More suspect? If there’s something about the music that allows males of the caucasian variety to self-identify with it, who’s hurt?
Of course, America is not lily white. It’s an open community that draws from our rich cultural past–all of it–while forging a future of brave creativity.
Drawing bias from preferences debases the instances of actual bias that corrode our world. Painting those of a any group–black, brown, gay or, yes, even white–as racist or sexist because of a gravitation toward cultural definition is bigotry cloaked in righteousness.
Of course, in America, everyone is entitled to their opinion, no matter how misguided. But I am a member of a great and compassionate community, and I take this as a personal affront. I know these fans. I know these musicians.
In practicality, “there is no such thing as bad publicity”–the statement most often attributed to that master of self-promotion, Phineas T. Barnum–applies here. If Americana and roots music wasn’t thriving and growing in influence, it wouldn’t be a target for this nonsense. So there’s that. But, personally, I believe that those who dare condemn the genre–and, by extension, the people–can stick their kinder and gentler bigotry where the sun don’t shine.
originally posted on TwangNation.com