Saturday, September 26, 2009

What IS White Culture?

Back in late July, FOX TV's most popular nutcase, Glenn Beck, began the movement to boycott his employer's sponsors, by saying:

This president has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people, or the white culture, I don't know what it is.

Perhaps Beck was noticing something I had missed. A lot has been written about Beck's comments since then. Most have centered around the "hatred for white people" part of his sentence. But yesterday, on the anniversary of Katie Couric's memorable interview with now-ex Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Couric managed to concentrate on the "white culture" part of the sentence, while interviewing Beck:

I teach a college course in cultural history: Music Appreciation. The historical part of the course looks at and listens to the development of Western art music from around 450 AD to the present. Up through the end of the 19th century, the content is what one might describe as "white culture." I've never described it as "white culture" to my students, though. I don't think I'll start doing that now, either.

Doing some google checking this morning, I did locate a group that DOES seek to define some things as "white culture." And I thought Beck was just catering to the Teabaggers. Nope, he's using secret language copied from Storm Front.

The guy who Beck has claimed saved his life, was W. Cleon Skousen. Beck wrote the forward to the most recent edition of Skousen's The 5,000-Year Leap. About another of Skousen's books, The Making of America, there has been much controversy:

Toward the end of Reagan’s second term, Skousen became the center of a minor controversy when state legislators in California approved the official use of another of his books, the 1982 history text “The Making of America.” Besides bursting with factual errors, Skousen’s book characterized African-American children as “pickaninnies” and described American slave owners as the “worst victims” of the slavery system. Quoting the historian Fred Albert Shannon, “The Making of America” explained that “[slave] gangs in transit were usually a cheerful lot, though the presence of a number of the more vicious type sometimes made it necessary for them all to go in chains.”

From my perspective, as a music historian, what has made the United States great worldwide as a musical or cultural center has certainly NOT been our "white" culture. Rather, it has been the struggle of non-white, Jewish and otherwise oppressed musicians to bring their voices to the fore.

Our first great composer, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, was a mixture of Jewish, black Haitian and other heritages. More highly regarded in Europe and Latin America than in the USA during his lifetime and for long afterward, his music is left out of most texts for the course I teach. So is the music of our second great composer, Scott Joplin, who was African American.

When the rest of the world became attracted to American musical culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it wasn't our Eurocentric composers who excited the planet. It was our Black composers like Joplin, Armstrong and Ellington. It was our Jewish composers like Gershwin, Copland and Bernstein. When visiting composers, such as Antonin Dvorak came to the United States in the late 19th century, when they referred to American musical culture in their work, it wasn't to our fuddy-duddy White composers, it was to Native American song, and to Negro spirituals.

Here are two YouTubes that illustrate how little Beck understands of American culture, from his "white culture" perspective.

A Night in the Tropics, from around the time of the beginning of our Civil War, was Gottschalk's greatest orchestral hit. Over 150 years ago, the great Creole composer used a huge Latin American percussion section in this vibrant work:

Magnetic Rag, written in 1914, was one of Scott Joplin's late masterpieces. He combines some of the new jazz elements he had been picking up in New York City, with his keyboard classicism. The composition almost magically conjures both Jellyroll Morton and Franz Schubert:

I don't know what "white culture" is.

Do you?


Anonymous said...

White Culture : Trailer Parks, Dog Fighting, Tractor Pulls and Charlie Daniels.

Anonymous said...

"White Culture : Trailer Parks, Dog Fighting, Tractor Pulls and Charlie Daniels."

Did someone say "self-loathing liberal" ?

Anonymous said...

I know it's not excusively white but you forgot the Grateful Dead. Ya gotta admit spaced out hippies are a minority. A creative lot! and for the most part harmless. Well aside for bad childrens names!!.


Anonymous said...

racist baiting may lack nuance,

but the highly predictable and blatant responses to it makes it hard to resist periodically casting out the bait and waiting for the fish to bite.

They bite 'hook, line, and sinker', every time.

Not much of a challenge, but still, ....hard to resist.

Polarbear said...

Vanilla yogurt.

Philip Munger said...

Polarbear comes the closest yet...

Anonymous said...