A Whitened Idea of Racial Identity

American folk music, as the general music education community knows it today, UPHOLDS systemic racism – most notably, White people on top and Black people underneath them. What I think most music educators in America consider to be folk music today is a WHITENED idea of racial identity. What has been acceptable in the American music education classroom as folk music (think “This Land is Your Land”) is filled with music by White musicians but not representative of our students.

“American folk music has at some times subverted and other times reinforced the categorical boundaries between blacks and whites in twentieth-century United States. … Genre boundaries then become social boundaries. Folk music inverts the usual relationship of genre and social boundaries. Folk music is always the culture of some “other,” either racial, regional, class, or national. Before it was called folk music, American vernacular music was much more racially integrated than the society around it, creolized across a spectrum from predominantly European to predominantly African-influenced, but with most exhibiting both.
Before the era of commercial recording, black and white musicians sang the same music, learned techniques and songs from each other, and shared a social world of performance. The concept of folk music was created by academic elites, but remained unfamiliar to most people until the organized left took it on as a cultural project in the late 1930s and 1940s. Both academic elites and political activists constructed the genre as an alternative to the racialized genres that the commercial recording industry had dubbed “race records” and “hillbilly music.” American communists and their allies were especially self-conscious about using folk music as an instrument of racial solidarity in a particularly racially polarized era. Submerged by McCarthyism until the 1960s, folk music was revived as a racially unified genre, but quickly became whitened.” – (Roy, 2002)

Let’s talk more! What are your thoughts?

Update:

“White critics in folk music and elsewhere have often taken it upon themselves to define “authenticity” in a way which includes white performers with black influences, but excludes black performers with white ones.” – (Berlatsky, TrackRecord, 2017)

  • Why are White people allowed to define “authenticity” in America, but not anyone else?
  • Who is excluded when music educators attempt to define “folk music”?
  • Why does music that has originally been shared and passed down in another country not included in the notion of “American folk music” if it is continued to be shared in America?

We cannot perpetuate “American folk music” to be White and exclusive.

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