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why are black boys' ears not the same?

Last Saturday, two things happened on the same day that prompted me to write (again) about the intersection of listening and race, and sound in public.

Firstly, the Florida jury judging the murder case against Michael Dunn were unable to decide that he was guilty against jordan davis. 

They were unable to believe, without reasonable doubt, that a middle-aged white man armed with a gun did not commit murder by shooting an unarmed teenager because he felt his life threatened by the boy's loud music and defensive manner.

Jordan Davis' death is, among other things, linked to listening in public to loud music. Black music. Music that black boys listen to in cars. Loudly.

In terms of sound in public space, this is a case which sets dangerous precedent. In terms of my interest in the rise of headphones and the changing ways we listen in contemporary times, it's full of important things: It connects to the rights of the listener, who has privilege over those rights and even the racial difference between the ways of listening.

In this case, the ears of the white man are privileged over the black boys'.

Michael Dunn's ears were offended in public. So his life was threatened in public. 
His defensive actions were found, in the public realm of the law, to be justified.

The ears of Jordan Davis were ignored in public. So his life was ignored in public.
His death was found, in the public realm of the law, to be justified.

For obvious reasons this bothers me greatly.
It is racism, white privilege in the eyes of the law and the ears of the listener.
It pushes the relationship to sound into the area of law.

It is also an example of something that i'm coming to see as the dangers, the real consequences of the racial differences between listening. ie: the fact that white people don't listen*.  or actually, the way in which white people colonise listening (connected to the way in which white people colonise everything else.**)

This realisation was driven home that same day at the Pharaohe Monch gig.

I'm a hip hop fan. I've made artwork about hip-hop and I have to acknowledge the privilege and problematic aspects that puts me in. So I am not above my own criticism at all - I am part of this colonial white listening crew too.

And back to the hip-hop gig: 

The main support band were four white dudes wearing masks, with great beats (a great producer/DJ) and the same old boring shouty rhymes over the top. 

At first they seemed OK - like i said - killer soulful beats, and full of energy and crowd-pumping. But after the first 2 songs, once I realised that all the songs essentially sounded the same, I was bored, started to see a bit of a pattern, and applied it.

These four white boys took the parts of hip hop culture that they learned/borrowed/shared with their black brothers and sisters, mashed with it, applied their 'i have something to say and people need to hear it' agenda that is (we have to admit) part of the typical white-with-a-mic pattern.

They took the form of rapping/preaching over bass-heavy, soul-heavy music, without an experience of these things, or an understanding of the more subtle aspects to hip-hop. 

These guys, all four, wrote a verse, all sung four choruses together, found some phat beats and sticky taped them together - interwoven with occasional 'when i say X, you say Y: X, Y, X, Y' blah blah, and a bit of a stand against the legalisation of marijuana (because you know, white kids are crowding the UK prison system on pot charges.) just shouted at us.

Seriously, the whole set sounded exactly the same. It was cut and paste.
There was no real connection between their lyrics and the music. Just an approximation to rhythm, but no actual marriage, no understanding. No years-of-it aspect that is present in so much other music.

It was like these four white guys have never really listened to music, hip hop,  or even to the soul music they were riffing on.
Or preachers. Or performance poets. Or maybe even people in general.  Not with their hearts. Or souls.
It has never truly kept them alive.

Perhaps, as white folk, the desire to manipulate and use the material is too strong.

And the privilege is to high - like we've never really had to hold onto music, because we know that at least the jury will believe us, we'll eventually get work we qualified for, the bank will probably loan us the money eventually or we can always 'go home'.

Because the difference between their set and the Pharoahe Monch set was huge. Monche and DJ had an actual connection with the music being played, with each other, with the audience.

He has a deep connection with listening. An identification with the sounds of music, of people, of rhythm and therefore and understanding and connection.

Of course Pharoahe Monch is a high-grade professional. He's crafted and worked hard. He has been doing this a long time. But his whole community have been doing this a long time. The four boys are still just along for the ride.

it is the difference and the privilege of taking up sound space in this kind of gig, which particularly sparked the link to the jordan case. The link between the rights of the listener and the rights of the body are linked through music and a reminder that listening is a political act. 


postscript: i was also a bit sad to realise that nobody did a shout out to jordan davis that night.  nobody acknowledged the public death of a young black man in the hip-hop community and that rap, hip-hop and black music is still a site of much contest that we must all be alert to.

*which may or may not be the title of a much longer essay/book/PhD, etc.

**I would like to spend more time unpacking this case, in relation to listening as an act. It won't be in this post, but it may end up in a more academic-style of essay.

*** btw, angela corey, you have a lot to answer for at the moment.


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