The closing lyric of “The Only Black Guy at the Indie-Rock Show” goes, “I wonder if white folks who like Jay-Z often feel as alienated as me,” which opens a conundrum. Somewhere between the Beastie Boys and Eminem, hip hop became one of the most popular art forms on earth, one socially acceptable for white people to like. Whereas American society quickly co-opted and overtook rock‘n’roll, crafting it into its own (white) image, hip hop remained in the category of “black” music and ultimately became the easiest way to stick it to the Baby Boomer Establishment. Soon, African-Americans were recognized as the arbiters of cool — finally recognized for our contributions to American popular culture, dating back almost an entire century — and whiteness became a synonym for squareness.
The reason why the Stuff White People Like humor genre has so many holes in it is because the vast majority of the things lampooned are not white-specific, they’re creature comforts of the middle class. But the lines between race and class are getting blurrier and blurrier by the day, and there are quite a few people of color being born into comfortable financial situations who will likely never know what it’s like to be poor. Thus, memes like White Person Bingo end up portraying a common theme in popular culture: class stereotyping poorly and tastelessly masquerading as race stereotyping. This is hugely problematic because it implies people of color are exempt from liking or owning things that are associated with the middle class. Sometimes the people who make these jokes don’t realize there’s a not-so-fine line between craft beer and malt liquor, and it’s not a line of color.
There is the implicit notion that indie rock is generally linked to the “highbrow middle class” end of American culture. (If your Average American Joe drew a line that connected NPR, indie rock, and white people, that line would be straight as an arrow.) Critics and fans suggest it’s an auteur’s medium, while areas of art chiefly practiced by people of color are most often celebrated for their immediacy and accessibility. (In layman’s terms, the most acclaimed works by POC are things you don’t have to think hard about.) This line was less defined in 2012 (Channel Orange and goodkid, M.A.A.D. city, for instance), but the topic of race and class frequently come up when an artist of color creates something widely considered “highfalutin’” or “artistic.” And then critics fall out of their seats to praise genres of music they generally don’t care about, they pretend the entire world has changed because a person of color has created a challenging piece of art. “These artists are moving beyond the artistic vocabulary of the environment,” they’re likely to say.
But what about those kids of color born into the middle class? It’s likely that they’re going to be turned onto the culture all on their own, without the cooler older siblings who passes down their Pixies records. Also, what about the kids of color born into poverty, ones who take solace in skateboarding and punk? Couldn’t we safely assume the vast majority of people who regularly read this website have Screaming Females (or at least Screaming Trees) listed after Schoolboy Q in their iTunes libraries?
— Martin Douglas, “The Only Black Guy At The Indie Rock Show,” MTVHive.com 1/16/13
OkCupid thinks one of my strongest personality traits is that I am “less indie” than the average bisexual 23 year old woman. I find that…laughable. It wholly and definitively depends upon whose standards you’re measuring me by.