Since the murder of George Floyd, no one can deny systemic racism in society anymore. But the music business is different, I still hear some white people say. They believe that in the music business it’s-all-about-music, no matter what skin-color you have. Still, various initiatives show that in the music business we have to fight systemic racism as well.
What is systemic racism? Racism is dividing society for centuries. We white folks made a division between white and not-white. We combined the skin-color with stereotypes and said that white is better, smarter, diligent, more intelligent, more beautiful, deserving to be richer and in control. We drew a very close line around us, by defining everyone non-white as black, and therefore less worthy. We white folks have profited from the division between white and black by exploiting black people, with colonialism, slavery and apartheid as all time low. We take the privileges we still have because of this past for granted.
The privileges and stereotypes, just as important, are present in the music industry too. For decades, systemic racism is coloring in the music business. Black music, like gospel, blues, jazz, hiphop, has been exploited by white people in the music industry, such have been black musicians. The music industry as such has not been interested in empowering black musicians, managers, etc.
Begin of June, black music executives in the UK formed Black Music Coalition. In a letter to major companies, they have set standards for the music industry to fight structural and systemic racism in the music industry.
In the USA the Black Music Action Coalition is formed to fight racism in the music business, supported by musicians like Ed Sheeran, Missy Elliott, Lady Gaga and Toots And The Maytals.
After these initiatives, Live Nation has pledged to spend 10 million dollar to work on a more diverse staff, including the very top. 30% of executives should be ‘diverse’ in 2025.
As a white woman, I never thought that I would have to deal with racism in the music business. I work with white artists as well as black artists. I don’t really care about the color of their skin. On the other hand, I have no idea about the daily racism that black musicians have to endure. I don’t have to be afraid to be ‘racially profiled’. I don’t have to fight day after day against all the negative stereotypes associated with a darker skin. No wonder that I experienced that many black artist I was working for, didn’t trust me.
It was quite ignorant from me to ignore the discussion about racism in the music business. It is time for me to WAKE UP!
I am responsible though for my own actions. Where to start?
1. It starts with recognizing the privileges I have, and that these privileges are denied to black people.
2. It starts with overthinking all the stereotypes that live in my head too.
3. It starts with listening to black people with an open ear, without fear of loosing my privileges.
4. It starts with empowering black people to speak up, to share their pain and their anger.
5. It starts with using anger as an energy to change injustice and division in our business.
Los Mocosos sings, that “there is no black or white in color, only different shades of brown.” This is a great point to start, as long as we don’t forget the past and that it’s our task to put it right.
Once I start with the actions above, I do not have to feel guilty, ashamed or responsible for all the atrocities against black people in the past. It is not something that I have done, it is not something that I can undo. I am responsible for what I do now, what I do to create a level playing field.
Once we listen to black people with an open ear, we can start to work towards a music business where the color of your skin doesn’t matter, where it’s-all-about-music indeed.