America’s hierocracy has always been rooted in capitalism. The monetary gain of those at the top has always come from the disenfranchisement and exploitation of those deemed less than. In a society that prioritizes an “us vs. them” mentality that fuel conflicts like racism, sexism, homophobia and so on, people of certain identities are more likely to be utilized as means of generating wealth.
Slavery is one of the more blatant examples of exploitation, as human labor was used to produce and sell resources. The system itself was driven by racism, but the use of Black bodies was decided by racism and the “us vs. them” mentality.
Post-slavery, the perception of Black bodies as a dollar bill sign did not change. In a plethora of areas from labor to innovation, Black people were seen as commodities for whites to make a buck off. Once Black people began creating new genres and types of music that was enjoyed by all races alike, the commodification of Black music begun.
People Like, People Buy.
One of the earliest forms of commodification with Black music are minstrel shows in America. These shows involved actors in blackface and would make a mockery of Black people’s culture, behavior, and more.
The writers and owners of this content would sell out tickets, sell records and more that would profit from these disrespectful productions.
After the minstrel show era, come the 1900s genres like blues and jazz were the hottest thing in music—and elites were looking to make big money from that. So came the development of record companies and labels.
Companies drained Black artist of every last ounce of creative juice in their souls. They marketed them, used their styles to create trends and dances, and took advantage, taking majority of the profit for themselves. It continued on like this for a bit until Black folks began to create their own forms of mass production: for us, by us.
Black Owned Record Labels
If You Can’t Beat Em, Steal from Em.
When white folks began to recognize how popular Black music was across the nation, many began to take Black folks forms of expression and try to modify it as their own. Art became appropriated, and no credit=no cash
From rock and roll, blues, to country, they were selling black owned creations and not giving the black folks a dime.
The institutionalization of Black music became an additional way of reinforcing white supremacy through financial superiority. Learning the origin of these systems of oppression and gaining in depth understanding of why they have become what they are is imperative to generate significant change. Artistic expression for Black people is one of the earliest and most consistent forms of freedom we embodied. No one can take that away from the spirits of Black folks, and they shouldn’t be able to take it from our pockets either.