The history of Western pop music is a racist and exclusionary one. Beyoncé’s monumental and incomprehensible loss yesterday is symptomatic of a problem with deep, years-long roots, a problem which continues to this day and in which we are all complicit.
But if we are all complicit in perpetuating music industry racism, we all have the capability and the moral obligation to do what we can to challenge it. None of us individually possess the capacity to fully dismantle the racist structure of the Grammys’ voting system. Together, though, we may be able to bring about inclusion on that scale. The #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign led to material change in AMPAS voting and membership policy, for instance. If a similar campaign were organized around the Grammys, I would be very down to support it.
But racism in this industry goes far deeper than the Grammys, and there are thousands of artists of color who don’t have millions of fans to ride for them when they are wronged, when they are given short shrift, when they are barred from pursuing their dreams and making their art.
So this is what we do: show up for those artists.
Look up your local concert listings. Find artists and bands of color who don’t get a lot of press, who don’t have the backing of a label machine. Go to their shows. Purchase their music. Wear their merch.
If concerts aren’t your thing, seek out up-and-coming artists of color, especially in predominantly white genres. Do what you can to celebrate their music and share it with others. Recognize when these artists are being sidelined by the music press, and do what mainstream music journalism won’t.
If a venue persistently books white artists, ask them why, and hold them accountable. If your favorite band persistently tours with white supporting acts, ask them why, and hold them accountable. If a festival announces a predominantly white lineup, ask them why, and hold them accountable. If they refuse to alter their behavior, refuse to buy tickets. Spend your money supporting artists of color instead.
If you are a white person, you have a responsibility to make musical spaces more welcoming for people of color. If you see someone making racist comments in a forum for music discussion, speak to that person, engage with them, and challenge their assumptions and behavior.
I am saying all of this and making all of these suggestions as a white person, with full recognition of the fact that I have not up to this point done everything I can to combat racism in music spaces. I don’t expect that anyone reading this has a flawless record, either, but that’s not the point - the point is to do better from this point on. As I said at the outset, we’re all complicit in this, and we all have a responsibility to reduce racism in our engagement with music.