Social media has become a great tool to learn how to become an activist. I see posts every single day that literally change my way of thinking, it’s amazing. There is endless information at our fingertips.
Sometimes, people will uncover new information they don’t like
The other day, I came across a post by Cahleb Eliyah about the importance of diversifying your music taste. He said, “It is no secret that Black culture, creations, and aesthetics are very “in” right now. The issue is that Black people are never “in” alongside our cultural creations. There is a long history of white musicians stealing music from Black musicians and achieving significant success with it. People in the comments were furious, saying things like “Bro, it’s music. Who cares? It’s fucking music for Christ’s sake. MUSIC” and “Have you ever once considered the reason they hadn’t gotten the recognition not because they are black but because they aren’t [sic] as good?”
I was shocked by how tone deaf people were acting
How could they not see the bigger picture? Racism is entrenched in every part of our society, why would music be exempt? Not only are white musicians afforded more opportunities due to systemic racism, but they have also been literally stealing music from Black artists for decades.
Eliyah spoke about Elvis Presley’s 1956 “Hound Dog,” one of his most successful singles, being stolen from blues singer Big Mama Thornton. Big Mama Thornton literally released “Hound Dog” in 1953, clearly before Elvis, yet there are people angry at Eliyah for calling this out. People should know.
Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” features a guitar riff that BBC named the greatest guitar riff of all time in 2014. But it was stolen from Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters. Parts of the song were adapted from Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love,” recorded by Muddy Waters in 1962. Although this was originally uncredited to Dixon, a lawsuit in 1985 was settled with a payment to Dixon and credit on subsequent releases. I grew up listening to Muddy Waters and Led Zeppelin, and I didn’t know this until yesterday. How is that okay?
Chuck Berry had his music stolen by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and many others. This is an issue in the music industry that people want to overlook, but it’s obvious: “Black music has always fared better coming out of white people’s mouths… It is just what the industry deems as commercially digestible, which often means Black music on non-Black faces” (Eliyah). When white people hold power, they also control the narrative of the music industry. This means they center white voices and cater to a white audience. There is not a single aspect of society that escapes racism, no matter how much people try to ignore it.
Learning that your favorite artists are problematic can be deeply unsettling… you might ask, is my whole life a lie?
Well, it sort of is, to an extent, based on the false, whitewashed narratives we have learned in public school since kindergarten. But that’s a different conversation. Reading about white artists receiving more recognition than Black artists is distressing. Still, instead of trying to learn about the complexity of this issue, white people often jump to the defense of their favorite white artists.
In our culture, which obsesses over famous people, we often have an incredibly difficult time “dethroning” those famous people.
For example, Caleb Eliyah called out racism in the music industry, citing the way Elvis Presley and other famous white artists stole and profited off of music from the Black community. This challenged a norm: Elvis Presley was not as talented as people think he was, he was simply stealing from Big Mama Thornton. When this is uncovered, fans of Elvis feel threatened and confused because they have to question their understanding of Elvis, and therefore music as a whole. Once the bandaid is ripped off, there is no going back to ignoring the facts: Elvis did not write “Hound Dog”; he was far from being original.
We as white people need to be more receptive to the critiques of Black people and other POC instead of immediately jumping to the defense
Although this is only one example, it applies to so many different artists that are mainstream today. It’s okay to learn new information and change your opinion. I used to love Elvis. But after learning about how much he stole from the Black community, I couldn’t find myself enjoying his music anymore. Famous people are humans, and not all of them are as good as we make them out to be. Many other people are doing great things on their own – they deserve our support so much more. I’m not saying we should cancel people. I believe that cancel culture is counterproductive to learning processes. However, we need to be more critical of the status quo.
To do this, Eliyah has some suggestions: “Challenge this by challenging your own consumption. If you like those non-Black R&B/soul/funk artists, then also check out these Black artists who are doing the same thing but rarely receive the same level of opportunity or credit for their cultural impact, creativity, and innovation. There are always more Black artists to listen to. Do not settle for what your Spotify algorithm, the charts, or the recording academy tells you is the “best” or “most popular” music. What the industry spoon feeds you is not necessarily the “best” music. Eliyah created a long list of Black artists that I suggest you all give a listen to! Supporting the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t just mean reading a book on anti-racism, it means challenging the whitewashed narratives in every part of our lives, and that includes our playlists.
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