Music and Social Justice: The Intersection a Response to Michael Eric Dyson’s Breakfast Club Interview

I am writing this post is in response of the Breakfast Club Interview with Michael Eric Dyson in which he discussed two things that I am very passionate about: music and social justice. Dyson spends the beginning of the interview discussing Beyoncé’s Grammy Award snub to Adele. As we all know, in 2017 Beyoncé lost the Album of the Year Grammy Award to Adele. Dyson argues that this lost is an example of the “emergence of Black genius against White mediocrity.” This represents more than just music; it represents race and gender standards in the United States. White musicians are, often times, praised highly for their musical accomplishments while the accomplishments, creativity, and hard work of many Black artists goes unnoticed. Although Adele has a beautiful voce and creates great music she was not as worthy as Beyoncé who influences a larger audience, sells more records, and has been an A list performer for many more years than her.

Beyoncé has not gotten the recognition level of recognition, from the Grammy’s, she deserves for her musical genius or hard work, and she isn’t alone. Artists like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Kendrick Lamar have all been robbed of awards they deserved as well. Considering the diversity amongst these artists’ music, the pattern of robbing deserving black artists of awards is not unique to one genre. Since the beginning of music: Negro spirituals, Jubilee Quartets, etc., there has been some example of the commodification of African American music. This present day example of commodification, however, is much larger than just music: it is undoubtedly representative of white supremacy that this country exemplifies.|

Being that African Americans are the foundation and main influence of all North American musical genres, we should have a considerable amount of recognition from the largest and most renowned American musical award show, but only two African Americans have been awarded a Grammy for “Album of the Year” in the past twenty years. This fact is extremely absurd, disturbing, and disheartening. It leads me to feel that instead of looking for recognition from racist white award shows; African American artists and musical consumers should create a different standard of awarding artists that is by us and for us. Although I feel strongly about this, how might Black artists achieve this when so much of their success relies on acceptance and approval from white consumers? There is an extremely fine line.

In regards to creating our own standards for awards and recognition, I am not the first to have this idea. The BET Awards and the Soul Train Music Awards were aimed at that exact idea: to recognize Black musical genius in a professional and honorary setting. These award shows have had success but have never grown to the Grammy level. Over the years a growing number of people have begun to take the BET Awards less seriously. It has transitioned from a staple show in the African American community, to a Minstrel Show of sorts. Many of the A list musical celebrities don’t even attend the BET Awards. This award show is no longer widely accepted and honored amongst black music lovers, which is an unfortunate fact because the BET Awards could and should still be a form of elevation, expression, and recognition for the Black musical community.

In conclusion, I have developed a question regarding a problem that has several possible solutions. How will we, as African Americans, combat the culture of racism in a musical context knowing how important white consumer dollars are to the monetary success musicians? I don’t have the answer, but I do believe that any solution will take decades to achieve.


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