If you look at the post-election electoral map, you see that 90% of the country voted for Obama. That’s a multicultural, multi-generational coalition of voters that came together across many socioeconomic boundaries. Obama’s victory certainly says something about where we are as a country, that there has been a shift in sensibilities. The Black rock community needs to figure out what’s being said, and what that means for us. ‘Cause, honestly, I want to us to part of and able to speak with relevance to this group, not once again relegated to being the freaks on the the fringes of American culture.
As Barack noted, the election wasn’t the change we seek, only the opportunity to make change. The fact that the highest office in the land is occupied by a Black man shifts an important frame for everyone, particularly Black kids like my 9-year-old son. Barack’s election shatters a huge and imposing glass ceiling. Certainly, as they fall, those shards of glass are shredding Black identity politics, right? Those leaders who relied on leveraging Black victimization and White guilt to hold their positions of “authority” and be gatekeepers to the community (Tavis Smiley, anyone?) are going to be marginalized. They’ll look like anachronisms, so last century. The election of Obama means we’ve finally begun the 21st century.
Once the seemingly impossible is achieved, it’s no longer impossible. But answer me this: What exactly changed? More importantly, to what degree? See, you can’t really talk about the relevance of Black rock today, November 11, 2008, until you answer these questions.
The NY Times calls them Generation O. They are the 18-29 year olds and those slightly older who rallied to support this historic run. The audience–particularly the Black audience that we most want to impact–for Black rock is clearly part of Generation O.
Marketers have long called this specific group “Millennials” or Generation Y. Basically, anyone born in 1980 or later. What this means is that this generation—particularly Black kids– have completely different cultural reference points than those of us who were born in the late 60s and came of age in the mid 80s. We remember school desegregation. For those of us in the middle class, we were aware that there was a mass entree by our parents or parents’ friends into Corporate America, an environment that, in many cases, was less than inviting and in some cases openly hostile. They don’t have our connection to the Civil Rights movement, whereas we are acutely aware that our parents lived through the crucible of the 1960s, and we feel a greater obligation to honor their commitment and sacrifice. And in some ways, I’m glad we went through the Afrocentric 90s so that Blacks in their 20s don’t have to. In fact, the Black members of Generation O are the beneficiaries of everything that the Civil Rights movement sought to achieve: The real freedom to see themselves as individuals, not primarily as a member of a monolithic group.
Black rock is necessarily rooted in identity politics. But these days, the term that’s been bandied about is “post-racial,” which describes this moment some feel we’re in and one that pinpoints Gen Y’s lessened connection to the identity—racial, in this case—politics of earlier generations. For Black kids, their Blackness is a fact, but they’re much more self-defined by their lifestyle and the communities they’ve opted to participate in. In light of this, I wonder to what extent the appeals to racial pride, which is what “Black rock” can be read as—you know, Blacks doing and reclaiming rock—seem old and tired in this age of Obama.
One of the things the Black rock nation has to remember is that this election was, in fact, a repudiation of identity politics and the culture wars that defined the political environment of the Bush and Clinton years. The country wants change. But we’ve got to balance that with the fact that some things have not. For example, just because we have a Black president, doesn’t mean that racism has gone—or is going—away. Our family in Texas called and said that at my niece’s school, a bunch of kids came to school on Wednesday with Obama t-shirts: His face was crossed out, and “KKK” was written above the picture. Vigilance is still necessary. But something has changed. The spontaneous celebrations on election night in Brooklyn and cities throughout the country and the world proved that.
I predict there will be a national dialogue on change. It’ll happen on a lot of levels and come through a variety of channels. The challenge for Black rock is to figure how it can be additive to this process. Look at the Black rock artists who are gaining national exposure–TV on the Radio, Santogold, Janelle Monae, Whole Wheat Bread, to name a few–and all the thousands coming behind them. Maybe the last 23 years (the length of time the Black Rock Coalition’s been in existence) has been about reasserting our place on the American musical landscape. Maybe, just maybe, we’ve reclaimed our right to rock. If that’s the case, and given where we are as a people and as a country today, maybe the next 20+ years needs to be about something else.
I just wonder what that is.