I’m Black and I’m a Rock Musician. WTF Do I Do?

I really am not sure. I know I should just keep making music, and I will, but to what end? To be an addendum; tacked on after I’m dead? I have never been the type to settle for less than what I deserve, but this is a beast that I honestly do not understand. White culture and the way White people see things is not the default perspective. It is incomplete, distorted, and wholly irrational. Yet I, who is normal, am supposed to see things as they do, which is not normal and I don’t want to, but also, I just can’t. I don’t understand it. I don’t know how you can look at people and really believe that they have no right to surpass you, and if they are capable of doing so, you sabotage and erase them. You Tonya Harding the shit out of them, then just pretend you are the best, and they don’t exist. That is so fucked up but it took me so long to even realize that it was happening. Since it is not in my nature to be a hating ass bitch, I didn’t assume it was a norm for other people. We all think everyone thinks the same as we do. That’s why good hearted people tend to get fucked over and liars and cheaters are always suspicious that everyone is lying and cheating them. I am just now realizing that for me, as a rock musician, being exceptional is an obstacle. It is an obstacle for Black rock musicians in general, because we are trying to break through in a White space where it makes them insecure and angry if they cannot feel better than us.

The Black bands that get the most press are not the best. And I would always wonder why that is. It didn’t make sense. Same with white female bands. I would often get excited when there was a new female band getting hyped up. They were always white but whatever, at least they were women. I would pray their stuff would be better than mine. Just to have some competition. But they were always derivative and mediocre. I’m like, Why? Why is this the best female band you can find?

They’re not the best band. That is why they are not threatening. The men they deal with know they will never be bigger or better than them. They also “kiss the ring” and don’t challenge. That’s why they are chosen. And it is the same with Black bands. If white people feel that you could be bigger than them, they blank you. White women AND White men do this. I spent my entire 20s playing “Queer, feminist spaces” that were racist as fuck. You can’t be better than White people. You can’t be better than men. That’s the rule. That’s the law. And if anyone looks at you and feels that you can be, well, there go your kneecaps …

People need African women to be a permanent underclass. Whenever they catch a glimpse of you, they need to feel they are better in comparison to you. That’s why people will watch a 3 hour BBC documentary about African women being raped and having their genitals mutilated, but they would never watch a middle class African women led rom-com, action movie, or family drama. People need to believe we are worse off compared to themselves. When they don’t feel that way, it makes them jealous and angry. So they sabotage. They exclude. They attack. African women can’t be pretty. We can’t be smart. We can’t be skilled. Because you need us to be less than you so you can feel good about yourself.

When we show ourselves to be exceptional, it is proof that you don’t have to be White or male (or close to it) in order to be capable. And you’re so evil and fucked up that this truth actually makes you angry, and you harm people so you can delude yourself into believing only you can be on top. It’s so infuriating. But it’s only a problem because fans of rock music feel that way too. They would rather watch some shirtless White douche stand onstage in a Jesus pose than watch Black women be exceptional. And this includes Black and female fans of rock music. Black and/or female rock music fans are racist and sexist, period. They don’t fucking like themselves. That’s the problem. Of course the white bookers are racist. Of course the white press is racist. But no one is stopping Black people from starting an alternative music mag. No one is stopping them from opening venues and putting on shows. But the thing that I didn’t realize is that White male validation is a huge drive for people who aren’t white guys that make rock music. When I started my band, I was so pissed off at how racist everyone was that I started putting my own all Black shows together. As a young African woman doing this, none of the Black people I dealt with even respected me and most were so fucking rude and difficult. They don’t care because you’re not White. I once booked these Black women to play my show and they went ahead and booked another Brooklyn show the same fucking week. I got so pissed and was like “Why would you do that? You’ll dilute your audience and I am one person doing diy publicity/booking/everything whilst they have their whole hipster White network and a popular venue, bla bla.” They were like, “Well, they asked us and we didn’t want to burn any bridges.” I thought to myself, it’s interesting that they didn’t see me as a bridge they didn’t want to burn. But that is not how Black psychology works. You think your success will come at the hands of White people. You don’t think success looks like you. You don’t think it will come from you. You don’t evaluate the people you’re working with and what you’d be gaining in order to measure the value of any opportunity, you just go with whomever is Whitest. Then you wonder why you don’t have shit.

After I called them out, the band apologized and actually helped me a lot by getting their friend to let me put on the gig in his basement out of town because no NYC venue would book my show of an entirely Black lineup. They were only interested if there were majority white bands on the bill and only 1 Black band. Now these same racist ass venues have the nerve to post BLM shit *eyeroll*. Anyway, out of a desire to be supportive of fellow Black women musicians, I actually went to their hipster white booked show. I arrived earlier than their advertised set time, just to hang out or whatever and since they were a hometown band, the majority of the people that came were there to see them, like me, and they were supposed to go on in less than an hour. I found them and spoke to them. They told me it was good that I arrived early, because the white female booker had informed them UPON THEIR ARRIVAL that they would be going on about an hour earlier and their set was cut in half. I couldn’t believe it. I asked them what they were going to do about it but they just took it. They didn’t protest. More “bridge preservation”, I would assume. Anyway they went on to way less people than they would have played to if they didn’t get fucked over, but the people that came, came to see them so the crowd was really energetic and into it. They must have played 3, MAYBE 4 songs. Then they were off. Show over. It was ridiculous. I stayed long after they were done, just to see what White nonsense would play next. It was an all white female band that undoubtedly were friends with the booker or her “network” because they were from France (NO ONE knew who they were) and I think it was actually their first Brooklyn gig so why the FUCK were they headlining and not the BROOKLYN BAND THE ENTIRE CROWD ORIGINALLY CAME TO SEE. Anyway, they were SO bad. Just BORING, derivative, post punk Joy Division nonsense (and I like Joy Division) but it was literally the most boring thing I had ever seen. EVERY song sounded the same and their set was 45 MINUTES! But Black bands will put up with that treatment just to work with White people. They think that’s the way to success. Before I wrote this, I searched a few bands I came across or played music with back in the mid-late 2000s. Some got a ton of White press, some were signed, but none of them still make music. Or the ones that do, their views are still in the sub-5000 range. So you ate all that shit, tolerated all that mistreatment, but you are still in the same boat as me, who just did it on my own and didn’t accept nonsense. So what was the point? So concerned with maintaining White bridges, completely oblivious to the fact that they all lead to a brick wall.

So the only thing to do is keep going. I’ve had insane drive for most of my life and I have accomplished things and have bulldozed through situations that would have left most other people in a fucking mental institution. I am a goddamned beast and I am proud of that. But I don’t think an African woman’s life must be struggle. So I have decided not to struggle. I don’t push. I don’t send out press releases, I don’t email bookers. When I feel like writing, I write. When I feel like recording, I record. I am concerned with getting music out to people. People are everywhere. I don’t need to reach people through any white or male controlled system, because that is what gives them the power to shut you out. If I feel like playing, I just go busk. And I keep all my goddamned money myself. If I want to put out a single, I just put one out. I don’t go through other people because when you are Black and exceptional, every “bridge” becomes a wall. So just do it yourself. That is what I’ve learned. The more I’ve learned to do myself the easier everything has become. Gatekeepers don’t matter in an open field. I’ve always believed that and that is why I started my band. If shitheads won’t let you through, go around. Walk away. Build your own. I am one of the few Black people that thinks that way but that is why I’ve done so much on my own. I don’t need White people or men for anything. And neither do you.

I get sad when I read about Tina Bell or Betty Davis or any other amazing Black women that left the music industry. I can understand why, but I feel that it would be a waste for me to do that, though many wish I would. It was a different time for them. No internet was a motherfucker. I would not exist without computers, mp3s, digital recording or the internet. PERIOD. In the 21st century, there is no reason any Black artist should be putting up with disrespect in exchange for “opportunity”. As far as making big money, I don’t know. We are in a place in music where everyone would rather see Black musicians as whores, pimps and degenerates rather than intellectuals or revolutionaries. But so? Maybe we should be less concerned with giving the people what they want and more concerned with expressing ourselves as individuals. Being broke sucks but you can always get money. In many different ways. I could take time off, learn to be an electrician and make bank. I don’t have to be sucking on white balls and degrading myself my whole life. I just don’t believe that is the only option for me.

So yes, after all this writing, I still have not answered the question. As an African female rock musician, what do I do? Continue making amazing music, by myself, putting it out there, by myself, all the while being refreshed and rejuvenated by the tears of all the haters that couldn’t write a song 10% as good as mine with a gun to their head. And that’s it. No one is going to recognize a Black woman as the best or the first, even when you are. But their validation does not dictate your relevance or impact. When I started, that Lester Bangs article was barely ever referenced or spoken about and Black rock musicians were not feminist and anti racist. Now they all are. But it is one thing to get in where you can fit in and it is another to be brave enough to stand alone and tell the truth, whether white people pat you on the head or not. I don’t know if in my lifetime, we’ll get to a place where people will support a Black female rock musician getting onstage and being exceptional, but who cares. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. Rock’n’roll, as Black people created it, was always about Black joy and how rebellious that is. Black people partying and dancing when their entire country was trying to kill them (and mostly succeeding). Used to be that the only people you saw on stage playing electric guitar were Black. White people refused to play rock’n’roll, calling it “race music” and “jungle music”. Did that stop Black artists then? So why should the whitewashed and corporatized rock music industry’s rejection of us stop us from playing rock’n’roll now? I don’t know how you can be Black and play punk rock and then spend your entire career yielding to white hegemony. Couldn’t be me. If they don’t accept you, do it yourself. THAT’S LITERALLY WHAT DIY MEANS. I’ve never seen so many people obsessed with being “real” be so calculated and fake as I have dealing with people who proclaim to be “punk” or “indie”. So fuck ’em. It’s Black innovation that created rock’n’roll and it’s Black innovation that will save it. We just have to not give up on ourselves. They can’t pretend we don’t exist if we don’t stop existing. And I think as Black rock musicians in the 21st century, we have more of an opportunity than anyone that came before us to be loud and to be everywhere and to exist and be heard whether White people “let us in” or not. I’m not 20 anymore so I really can’t even be bothered with 99% of humanity, like, I’m done. But if you’re 20 now, and you still have that fire in you, go out and burn this shit to the ground. There is nothing stopping you except your own mindset, your own deference to whiteness, and your own fear of being exceptional because you know that if you are, most people won’t like you. It’s difficult to be ostracized and disrespected by everyone, even your own people, but you get over it. Because seeing people behave like that makes you lose respect for them and if I don’t respect you, why would I give a fuck what you think? Even if I respect you, I won’t give a fuck what you think because my life exists to be lived and validated by me. That is freedom. Y’all think freedom is Whiteness. Or maleness. It’s not. And freedom will never be given to you by White males. You were born with it and it was stolen from you by White males. Why the fuck would they give it back? You must take it.

You must take it.