By Adia Victoria
I am writing this essay from the back of a van that’s hurdling my band and I up the east coast for our next show tonight. We are in the midst of our first national tour, and as is customary with any new artist, I am asked to give interviews to introduce myself to the public.
Typically, I am asked the same handful of questions such as ‘Who are you?’ ‘What inspires you?’ ‘Who are your influences?’ ‘What is your “message”?’ I enjoy giving interviews, I’ve never shied away from the chance to speak my mind. However, after dropping my first single and essentially offering no other clues as to what my “persona” was, I watched as the press began to construct a narrative around my music and I.
The music industry is a White industry. For the most part I am performing for a White audience, my art is reviewed by White critics (as the journalism industry is also a pillar of White society). I am performing and making art almost solely under the White gaze. As a consequence, I am given the treatment all artists of color are given by this industry. I have watched over the last year as press and critics and bloggers have attempted to hem me into categories such as ‘country’ or ‘alt country’ or ‘Americana’. I’m from Nashville and my first song is called ‘Stuck In the South’ so country I am. Case closed.
This obsessive compulsion to know and identify and label and treat according to these identifiers is a classic component of the White mind at work. Most White people would scoff at the idea of there being a universal White mindset, mostly because Whiteness has risen beyond subjectivity into the realm of the omnipresent. It is hard to speak of because it is taken for granted as “the way things are.”
It is this frame of mind that introduced society to world of racism and all its wonderful tropes. It has allowed generations of Whites to see the world in such simplistic, child-like ways; that White is “good” and Black is “bad”. And this remains unchecked and unchallenged. The rest of the world is expected to accept the slapping on of their label and the consequential treatment that follows.
The White mind is never asked why they feel the need to group and categorize and file the world around them. The White mind is rarely asked for the credentials that they are even qualified to do so. Why do they feel this labeling is necessary? Is it that they fear the creeping crouching unknown? What exactly would happen if Black and Whites could co-exist? What would happen if we allowed artists to make art without the burden of labels and genres? Who benefits from the hemming in and sawing off of our humanity?
I’ve no doubt that I will continue to be labeled ‘country’ or ‘Americana’ or whatever. That’s fine. Frankly, I am just grateful that people are interested in my art. The trouble comes when I am asked to act according to my label—to play the part the White mind has assigned me.
It is not my job to educate my White fans. I don’t have time to be your professor. But I will not entertain the laziness of the White mind. I will, however, challenge you to re-examine your beliefs.
Recently, The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates tweeted on the requirement of the black intellectual to disabuse their self of myths and long held misguided notions of the world. We cannot hold onto our silly beliefs and be taken seriously, whereas the White intellectual can hold on to childish beliefs and myths and still be seen as credible. Or elected president.
I will finish this essay by issuing a challenge to any White reader who may come across it to re-examine your long-held beliefs of the world and the people in it and even your place in it. I will not do this work for you—you have to do it for yourself.
I echo the sentiments of Coates—it’s a privilege for me to be black; to constantly be forced to question the status quo, my beliefs, and the labels the White mind imposes on me as a woman of color.
I wouldn’t trade it for the world.