Music venues shouldn’t be white spaces. Not even accidentally.

What is the responsibility of venue bookers, music promoters, club owners, and festival organizers to create a platform for artists of color? It’s a tricky conversation to introduce, because there are so many issues — ticket sales, popularity, potential tokenism — but I think it’s more important to have the conversation than to be graceful about it.

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Photo by Jorge Salgado from this year’s Neon Desert Festival

So I’ll start here: Asheville, where I live, is a predominantly white town with a nationally recognized music scene and a high per-capita number of excellent concert halls and listening rooms. But peruse the lineup of at least three of the most popular venues in town and you’re lucky to find one person-of-color-led act in any given month. I recently browsed the calendar for one such music hall that lists no artists of color from September through December. Continue reading

By a hare

A retelling of an Asian rabbit myth, excerpted from a longer poetry cycle on which I’m working. 

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1830s-era French natural history print

Black-naped hare, meadow creature, keeps his language
secret. No one around here speaks rabbit. When the beggar
asked for alms, the monkey gathered fruit, the otter brought fish
and the jackel stole a pot of milk. The rabbit only knew
how to harvest grass, so it threw itself on the cooking fire.

But the beggar transformed himself into Sakra, ruler of the Devas
and rewarded the rabbit for his selflessness by placing him
on the moon. It was better than death by immolation,
but it was far away, and cold at night, and there was no grass
at all. And no one spoke rabbit there, either.

Of Faulkner and polar bears

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Image from endangeredpolarbear.com

A writer who I don’t know but follow on Twitter posted this William Faulkner quote today: “The only thing worth writing about is the conflict in the human heart.” And my first thought was, “Wait, is that right?”

I like quotes from writers and quotes about writing, but the thing about quotes is they sound like edicts when, in fact, they’re just the musings of creative people who, like the rest of us, are making it up as they go. Continue reading

The squirrel knows but isn’t telling (micro fiction)

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Photo from society19.com

There’s a house on Kimberly Avenue. There are many houses, but this one in particular is the kind of house that exudes style and dignity and the kind of manicured calm that comes from proximity to wealth. The whole street is like that — wide and well-maintained with grand old shade trees casting cool green over sidewalk and tended lawn.

No one is ever tending this particular lawn. Landscaping crews piloting tractor-sized mowers are for the nouveau riche; the truly wealthy have yards maintained by elves who show up, soundlessly, after midnight, and pluck every clover and sorrel by hand so nothing remains but a uniform blanket of St. Augustine sod. Continue reading

Arts, equity, and the whitewashing of Riddle Fest

I learned something this week: There are no artists of color performing at the upcoming Riddle Festival, an annual event celebrating Lesley Riddle. What you need to know here is that Riddle was an African-American musician from Burnsville who greatly influenced the Carter Family. So think about that for a minute: The first family of country music has a black musician to thank.

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Lesley “Esley” Riddle, right, with guitarist Brownie McGhee.

This is not the only story where mountain, Appalachian, country, folk and roots music — much of which seems so of the domain of white folks — is actually closely tied to and even originating from the creative efforts of people of color. But because the white narrative has long been the dominant narrative, people of color tend to be diminished or overlooked or left out altogether. Or not invited to participate in a festival commemorating a person who looks like them and represents the history, hopes, talents, and ingenuity of their community.

I don’t think the organizers behind Riddle Fest intended any harm or slight, but I do think these kind of oversights pile up, one on top of the next, until we really can’t see past them anymore. Words like “appropriation” get bandied about — for good reason — but I see a greater harm. Yes, when white musicians record and profit from the songs of unrecognized musicians of color, it’s plagiarism and Continue reading

Weekly reading 7

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“Skull House, Mississippi, 2014,” by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

You guys. I love Junot Díaz and really love both this writer’s use of a Díaz quote and just where he’s coming from in general.

• “Dragons Are for White Kids with Money: On the Friction of Geekdom and Race” by Daniel Jose Ruiz in The Millions: “There is progress; we now have an unapologetically black super hero series in Luke Cage. There is BlerDCon (Black Nerd), and Blerds (the term is typically inclusive of any non-white nerd) even get a shout-out in a song (thanks Childish Gambino).”

• “The Loneliness of Donald Trump” by Rebecca Solnit at lithub.com: “Instead of the dictator of the little demimondes of beauty pageants, casinos, luxury condominiums, fake universities offering fake educations with real debt, fake reality tv in which he was master of the fake fate of others, an arbiter of all worth and meaning, he became fortune’s fool.”

• “Let’s Play: Intuition, Imagination, and Black Creativity” by Maggie Millner at PW.org: “There’s a diversity within the black arts community that we don’t always acknowledge. … There’s no one way to be black or to celebrate our lives.”

Weekly reading 6

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A vintage photo of African-American bikers from the story “Soul on Bikes & Black Chrome:  The History of Black America’s Motorcycle Culture” at salvedgeyard.com.

An interesting read as we go into Asheville Beer Week (aka, not so much different from All Weeks in Asheville). The question that brought me to this article is: Why is Asheville’s beer scene (aka, outside of medical, probably its largest industry) not welcoming to or inclusive of people of color?

• “There Are Almost No Black People Brewing Craft Beer. Here’s Why.” by Dave Infante in Thrillist: “[The post-Prohibition] consolidation of most beer brewing in the US into very large corporations probably hurt all sorts of minorities who would have potentially owned breweries.”

To put this next piece context, I came to this story after being seriously annoyed by 45’s comment that an investigation into his Russian ties are a witch hunt. Witches, historically, were women healers and leaders who were persecuted for their independence and for the ways they sought to provide for their families and communities (doing what the governing bodies of their times would not). Witch hunts were systematic murders to stop the power of women. A white man of significant privilege and power aligning his predicament with that of “witches” (many of whom didn’t even identify as such), is tone-deaf and insidious. Here’s a story about a legitimate witch hunt in the 21st century. And be warned, it’s hard to take.

• “Witch hunt: Africa’s hidden war on women” by Witch hunt: Africa’s hidden war on women in The Independent: “These women are frightening anomalies here: they have a flicker of financial independence denied to all other females. It has to be stopped.”

• “Chelsea Manning’s Lawyer Knows How to Fight Transgender Discrimination—He’s Lived It” by Samantha Michaels in Mother Jones: “If you can’t go to the bathroom, you can’t go to school or have a job. … You can’t go to the movies or a restaurant. This is really a question of whether or not as a society we’re going to let trans people participate and be part of our social fabric.”

• Transcript of New Orleans Mayor Landrieu’s address on Confederate monuments in The Pulse: “In the second decade of the 21st century, asking African Americans — or anyone else — to drive by property that they own; occupied by reverential statues of men who fought to destroy the country and deny that person’s humanity seems perverse and absurd.”