Friday, April 19, 2013

@YesYoureRacist: combatting racism in America, one Tweeter at a time

Whenever awful tragedies happen in America, there's always the bigger-picture questions of how America's anger response will take shape after the horror of the initial tragedy has passed. As was the case with the war and racial profiling response to 9/11, opportunities to come together and seek common ground often take the knee-jerk route to bringing greater divisions, often on lines of race, ethnicity, and culture. Sadly, but not surprisingly, before anyone knew anything about the identities of those responsible or the Boston Marathon bombing -- before the smoke had even cleared from the blast -- racist calls from the Twitosphere to blow out "R**heads" and "Sandni**ers" were sprouting up all across middle America.

Of course, faceless (or semi-faceless) social media like Twitter should not be taken as a gauge for any sort of scientific conclusions about public opinion, but the response to the racism is where optimism on American intelligence has earned a pleasant uplift.

There is a Twitter account called @YesYoureRacist, subtitled "a public service by @LoganJames," which I suspect was initially conceived as a semi-lighthearted means to publicly shame other Tweeters who abuse their free speech rights by posting racist remarks, particularly prefaced with "I'm not racist but...." You know, another instance of culture-jamming, and using contemporary media to humoursly satire bigotry, "out" its propagators, allow those enlightened amongst to a) have a reality check; and b) fight back.

However, a lot of respect to Mr. Smith for really stepping up to the occasion amidst the ongoing tragedies in Boston, Massechussets. He has taken it upon himself (with a growing army of supporters behind him) to monitor, retweet, and respond to several racist posts in an effort to expose racists in America but also to allow enlightened members of the community to debate, confront, and challenge their racist stances. It's a noble effort, and one that deserves attention and support.

Now, the reason I'm bringing this up is not to appeal to the cynics amongst us who will look at racist tweets, throw their hands up and say, "Fuck this, I've lost all faith in humanity." Because what is truly telling, hopeful, and a sign of progressive intelligence winning, is the way that racist tweeters are getting bodyslammed by enlightened, non-racist individuals in response to their ignorance. Some even to the point of shutting down their Twitter accounts (as in the case of @KatieGiorgio, whose public shaming was seemingly the first in this wave -- and don't bother to find her Twitter by the way because she closed it. Hallelujah!). For every one racist remark, there are dozens of anti-racist retractions. Do the math.

My favorite response was when one person said something about "Chechen sandni**ers," a retraction said, "Um, Chechens are white, hun." Education by inches.

As is usually the case, the passive Tweeting racists are like most bigots and conservatives: they talk a lot from behind the iron veils of their internet connections but are hating from afar, and are not out in the community making the real world a better place, thus rendering them effectively useless. Those who are actually making the world a better place are physically on the ground getting the job done.

So genuinely, cheers America for a faith-building exercise. Our thoughts and best wishes are with you in this time of trouble.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"Grow a Pair" or "Grow Up": can music do both?

A blog by Kitty Vincent called "Hey Kids, Grow a Pair: How Music Blogs Neutered Indie Rock," was put on my radar by an old friend from Vancouver today through the social networks.

It was a good read, proof that there are always exceptions to the rule, and the author herself acknowledges the irony of writing about it in blog form (as, well, I guess am I)....

I wholeheartedly agree with the community element; what makes rock scenes happen is when there are bands that support each other, go to each other's shows, and play in each other's bands, with no real "professional" goals; it's just about making great music and art with your peers. The industry is always, always playing catch-up to this. I've had real-life experiences of this both in Vancouver when I was there, and now in Toronto and its surrounding areas.

I've thought about this issue a lot lately, and talked to a lot of other musicians about it....

After Kurt Cobain died, a lot of people in the industry pretty much said, "We're not taking a risk with our money and livelihood anymore by investing into and dealing with people who are angry, emotional, sensitive, and potentially unstable again." Not the least of which, financially-speaking, may have had to do with the advent of downloading.

What they missed in the process, however, is that it is precisely those angry, alienated, real-life human beings are the ones who make the most genuine and kick-ass rock 'n' roll. And sometimes, like in Kurt's case, the commericalization of their art can result in things like, well, drugs, depression, and suicide....

Think back (or read back if you were born after 1987): after Kurt, what was considered "alternative"? It was dudes in press photos wearing touques and sunglasses, sitting in coffee shops eating scrambled eggs and toast, making music that was cleaner, safer, and more adult contemporary. Stuff that both you and your parents could listen to together. It wasn't that Black Flag record that pissed your dad off every time you put it on, that's for sure. It was, for many people, a conservative (financially and economically) response to what happened with Kurt, which simultaneously shut out a lot of the "rock," that has changed all of our lives in some way, from avenues that typically gave them a wider audience.

Moving, challenging, and genuine art (in the form of rock 'n' roll) is still out there. We tend to think we just have to dig a little harder to find it -- but chances are it's right in our backyards, our local record stores, and our local clubs. Hell, your friends may even be the ones making it.

Relish in that possibility!