Music Monday: Adele, Beyoncé, Album of the Year Grammy, and One White Music Fan’s Perspective on Privilege

Hey Folks,

I’m going to stop apologizing for missing promised posts; life happens. As has been the case with my previous two posts, I had planned to write today about something entirely different, but something timely and topical just swooped in and consumed my thoughts and my need to voice my perspective. Before I begin, I want to write a few–not disclaimers, as I’m not looking for a reprieve from any problems or difficult discussions that may arise from this post (which reflects largely the point I’m making in this post)– but a few clarifications on the position and background from which I come that inform my subjective, privileged opinion:

  • I am not going to define the concept of privilege for you. In my experience, people willing to understand the concept have either a clear or rough idea of it, and those who have a rough idea are willing to research more from experts on the concept; as I am not an expert, I also do not feel qualified to give an objective definition to the highly inexperienced. My only goal is to analyze and acknowledge my own privilege as a White music fan, which brings me to my next clarification:
  • I am 100% White, of completely European descent. As alluded to above, I am making my best attempt to acknowledge the extent of the privilege that informs my perspective on this topic. I believe one of the most important ways I can do this comes  in the form of my final clarification below. I am also male, and will be talking about two female recording artists, and acknowledge this privilege as well.
  • I will be speculating on the motivations of Recording Academy voters who decide the winners of the Grammy awards. I have no idea of the actual racial, gender, age, etc. makeup of these voters, and thus cannot quantitatively and objectively gauge how much influence White privilege has on the outcome of the vote. It is purely subjective speculation.
  • I do not claim to understand Black oppression from any perspective.  As mentioned above, this is the most important clarification in my view that I can make. While I have several Black friends, I am not going to claim to understand their daily struggles. While I understand oppression from a different identity as a disabled citizen, I do not equate this with Black oppression. While I try my best to practice anti-racism in my daily life, I do not claim to set an example of anti-racism to White readers of this blog.

With those out of the way, let’s go to the topic of Music Monday referred to in the title.

The 59th annual Grammy awards aired last night. Overall, I enjoyed the show, and had few if any objections from a fan’s perspective to the winners and enjoyed many of the performances as well (if you all would like a bonus post at some point with general highlights, let me know, but I won’t go into them here). Two of the front runners for the Album of the Year award were Adele’s 25 and Beyoncé’s LemonadeThe award officially went to Adele. I own and greatly enjoy both of these albums, and Adele’s record, in my humble opinion, is what I would choose to listen to if I wanted to just background music or a more typical pop record, and perhaps stronger overall vocal performances, while Beyoncé’s is certainly stronger from the perspective of groundbreaking artistry, less common and more unique choices from a production perspective, and discussing social issues, including the theme of Black oppression and White privilege which this post shares. That’s my opinion, and it very well may be influenced by my own White privilege, despite not feeling as though Adele’s and Beyoncé’s White and Black respective racial identities influence this conclusion.

The question of the degree of the Recording Academy’s White privilege and prejudice is a separate and tricky discussion. As mentioned above, I have no data on the RA’s racial, gender, age, or otherwise demographic makeup, so I cannot assess how their personal identities as individuals influence their vote. What I can point to is objective data as summarized in this Washington Post article which points to perhaps less qualified Album of the Year victors who are White besting Black nominees for nine years running. Could this point toward institutional White bias on the part of the Recording Academy? With the rampant institutional racism we see in institutions from criminal justice to education, I’d speculate that it plays a factor, though with no demographic data or statement from the Recording Academy itself. I can’t make a claim to the extent. NOTE: The WP article makes claim to Adele’s victory as a sign for the awards’ declining relevance. I make no claim to this one way or the other.

While we can’t change the vote, perhaps we can follow the example of Adele herself, who addressed the concept of White privilege indirectly by praising Beyoncé and the efforts she made for the Black community (in which she rightly did not include herself) in her acceptance speech. This deference is what we White folks need to do in discussions of  racial oppression and privilege. The “I’m not racist because [insert reason here]” explanation only reasserts our privilege. The notion of a post-racial society is a fallacy. As I said above however though, my goal is not to explain why or how this is the case. I operate under  the assumption that you understand these basics or you don’t. With this understanding, we can then act in solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters, and in my experience, this can be as simple as demonstrating these basic understandings and then showing empathy for the struggles that we will never share.

That’s about all I can say without feeling like I’m speaking on the behalf of my Black brothers and sisters, Congratulations to both Adele and Beyoncé, who both won awards last night, and I hope this piece has done even a small part to remind you all to check your privilege. See you all for Thursday Thoughts, where I’ll get personal again. Brace yourselves *wink*.

JM

 

 

 

 

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