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June 27, 1973 - Image 11

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1973-06-27

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Wednesday, June 27, 1973
pects that characterize much of
Black poetry today.
IN substance, black poetry is
simply the pristine reflections
of a young black generation's
sensibilities. It is not profound in
any sense, and is as unfinished
and as unrefined as was the
ideology of the "Black Revolu-
tion" that inspired it. Rodgers is,
at least, more accurate when she
concludes that "Black poetry is
becoming what it has always
heed (sic).
What the Kochman anthology,
Rappin' and Stylin', does achieve
overall is to first pose a general
question: "What is the content of
'Black Culture?"? What are
"black culture's" norms, values,
aesthetic standards, frames,
forms, etc.? But the Kochman
edition's limited frame for black
culture leaves things hanging-
What is CULTURE after all?
What do Kochman and company
mean by black culture as a com-
parative definition of CULTURE
in a more universal sense? Cer-
tainly, the fact that white na-
tions, national minorities, ethnics
do not define CULTURE in such
limited and restricted class or
sub-class frameworks as do the
authors of Rappin' and Stylin'
throws into question the defini-
tive validity of much of their
findings. Nathan Glazer and
Daniel P. Maynihan are certainly
ethnocentrically wrong as the
Baratz team declares, when
Glazer and Moynihan assert that
"The Negro is only an American
and nothing else. Hhe has no val-
ues and culture to guard and
But this statement merely ac-
centuates the question "What
do Glazier, Moynihan, Baratz,
Kochman et al. really mean by
CULTURE?" The Glaziers and
Moynihan mean that black
Americans have no culture. com-
parable to the cultural achieve-
ments of European Christians
and Jews. The Kochman writers
and social scientists counter with
the fact that Afro-Americans

still bear the imprint of the Af-
rican cultural background in their
speech, kinesics, and music.
However, the Kochman writers
infer that the only class or sub-
class among American blacks
who reveal any of the lineal in-
gredients of African culture are
the street people, or segments of
the "black folk," certain of the
new black poets, some "nonvio-
lent" hustlers; and the jazz (and
other) musicians. In this view,
members of the black middle
class (both lower and upper)
have lost (or are losing) all
"class" identification and/or
ideological connections with this
"black culture." The Baratz
team says that "The biddle class
black man, no less than others,
has been concerned with stereo-
types and not with cultural dif-
ferences. He has been the one
at the cultural crossroads who
has borne the brunt of white mis-
reading of black behavioir: it is
he who has the, identity crisis in
the black community."

tional minorities within white
nations, can claim the sum total
of their artistic, aesthetic, poetic,
musical, literary, and dance
heritage as their cultural heri-
tage (regardless of what class
representative creates it) then
why not black Americans?
NOW it is true that the black
middle-class has found many
avenues through which to defect,
from their "cultural" and other
responsibilities to the ghetto. And
they certainly do experience what
the Baratz team calls an "iden-
tity crisis in the black commun-
ity." It is also true, as the Bar-
atz team says, that "I recogniz-
ing a distinct cultural system, we
also healize how much white
can learn from black culture. Bi-
culturalism is a two-way street."
The fact is, however, that whites
have been "learning from black
culture" a long, long time be-
fore the Baratz team from aca-
demia woke up to that reality.
The whites have learned the
black's music systems and have

relate a description of what is
the true "lifestyle" of the true
class representatives of "black
culture" with what is the true
music of black culture which is,
of course, the blues. As it turns
out, the social scientists have se-
lected the street people, the cool
people, the hustlers, the enter-
tainers, and, of course, the
jazzmen. It is implied that what
Julius Hudson calls the "typical,
impoverished black lower class
might not any longer claim to
be the "chosen" representatives,
having been victimized by the
"culture of poverty" distortions.
However, to the street people
and the hustlers are added the
new adherents of the "black is
beautiful" rhetoric and t h e
"Afro" hair-stylists who sport the
modified African male costume,
the dashiki, with the addition of
"wire-rimmed glasses and tur-
tlenecks." Of this black phe-
nomemon, the Baratz team says
that it the best example of how
"existing cultural patterns ef-

Page Eleven
in a self-imposed bind in their
efforts to keep "black culture"
strictly confined to present day
street people whose liking for
soul music links them to the
black practionioners of the "ur-
ban blues" of Charles Keil (e.g.
B. B. King, Bobby Bland, Lightin'
Hopkins, Ray Charles, Muddy
Waters, etc., and finally Aretha
Franklin of the 1960s). But in his
very learned dissection of the
anatomy of jazz, Keil brings into
play the entire range of his in-
tellectual resources and critical
powers to keep jazz restricted to
the virtuoso level of pure per-
formance, or "music as a crea-
tive act" belonging purely to the
"performance-oriented tradition."
In order to keep jazz separated
and apart from the "Western
tradition" of musical "syntax"
with "form and expression," jazz
cannot (or should not) be con-
sciously composed or "harmon-
ically oriented." It is for this
reason, most likely, that a Char-

UT every middle class has, used it against blacks;
more or less, been sensitive have long incorporated the1
about stereotypes, especially the dance into their American
middle classes of underprivileg- terns, and have used his
ed ethnic minorities. However, tural lifestyles" as theme
sensitivity over stereotypes does literature, etc., etc.
not necessarily denote complete But it is these same whites
alienation from the lower class have assiduously conspire
"culture." The problem here is prevent "biculturalism" fro
that the Kochman writers are coming a two-way street in
imposing on black culture a too relationships with blacks.
narrow and simplistic definition. is revealed most clearlyN
It is so narrow that the poetry ever white anthropologists,
of a Gwendolyn Brooks might sicologists, linguists, etc.,
exist beyond the conceptual with "black folk music" o
range of "black culture" and blues. The blues remains
thus be seen as a creative arti- musical reservoir of the
fact which is the extraordinary "black culture," the true'
poetic creation of an isolated "soul." Thus it follows t
personality who just happens to true "folk" or "ghetto"t
be black. If white nations, or na- tion of black culture must

is he now?

s for
s who
d to
m be-
r the
s the
hat a
I cor-

fect the. adaptation of new
forms, (of how) . . - Afro-Amer-
ican culture in the United States
has dealt with efforts to infuse
African styles into the Creolized
culture." We know, of course,
that many of the black youth who
exhibit these adaptations are not
street people but students, many
of whom are the sons and daugh-
ters of the "black middle-class"
and do not have too much iden-
tification with the doings of
street people. (And how much do
these new, young Afro-blacks
really identify with the blues
these days?)
CHARLES Keil explains a lot
but doesn't help us too much
in hisarticle "Motion and Feel-
ing through Music;" for in this
contribution Keil is dissecting
various styles of pure black jazz,
which represents another depart-
ure from the content of his Ur-
ban Blues. It would seem that
Kochman as editor accepted the
wrong theme from Keil for Rap-
pin' and Stylin' Out. For unless
one starts with the stated pre-
mise that jazz is an offspring of
the blues, then the Kochman
"class" thesis regarding the
roots of black culture further
distorts the problem of what is
black culture. The class of ur-
ban blacks described by the
writers of the Kochman antholo-
gy are, generally speaking, de-
votees of present-day "soul mu-
sic," which is a derivative of
classical blues. However, one
cannot avoid posing an embar-
rassing question for the Kochman
writers: Why is that the street
people and the cool people of
the late 1960s and present 1970s
generation do not generate
much "motion and feeling" for
the jazz musicians of whom Keil
writes--Kenny Clark, Philly Joe
Jones, Art Blakey, Max Roach,
Charles Mingus, Miles Davis,
John Coltrane, Duke Ellington,
and others.
IT IS Charles Keil who most
graphically points ttp the
flaws in the white liberal (or ra-
dical) conception of "black cul-
ture." His contribution to the
Kochman anthology concentrates
on jazz, not blues, and jazz is
not the favorite black musical
idiom of the street people of the
black ghettoes today.
Keil says that all music
has syntax or embodied meaning
or some kind of "syntax or gram-
matical rules of (a) musical sys-
tem or style." However, "black
music" (and by inference, other
expressions of black culture or
life style) is "music as a crea-
tive act rather than as an ob-
ject." And he reminds the read-
er-critic that "Outside the West
musical traditions are a 1 m o s t
exculsively performance-oriented
traditions." And he cites as ex-
amples-"African and African-de-
rived genres," specifically, in
these instances, blues and jazz.
And it is on the "cultural" im-
pact them of blues and jazz that
the entire black "class" theses
of both Kochman et al. and Keil
go awry.
The Kochman anthologists are

les Keil cannot cope with a jazz
musician like Duke Ellington, and
does not mention a number of
very famous jazz musicians who
were thoroughly trained in the
Western musical tradition before
they became jazz musicians, e.g.
Jimmie Lunceford and Fats Wal-
ler to name a couple. These black
musicians actually consciously
composed jazz music which was
not simply "performance-orient-
ed" in the way Keil describes it.
Moreover, the Harlem hepcat
class mentioned at the outset,
who were the street people or the
cool generation of the 1930s and
1940s, contrary to Kochman's
contributors and Charles Keil,
were more sophisticated devotees
of jazz than are the cool genera-
tion of Rappin' and Stylin' Out.
With regards to jazz, the hustlers
of the thirties and forties were
not only "performance oriented"
but their "motion and feeling"
toward jazz was also tampered
with the same "syntactical" re-
sponse to the harmonic and com-
posed elements in jazz that West-
ern devotees reveal in the re-
sponses to Western-styel music
forms. In other words, the Har-
len hepcat and his subclass so- -
cial types who were not prac-
ticing jazz musicians were very
perceptive and articulate jazz
critics who could dissect the
"syntax" of an Ellington, a
Fletcher Henderson, a Chick
Webb, a Louis Armstrong, a Jim-
mie Linceford, a Tiny Brad-
shaw, a Claude Hopkins and
many others. They also knew
that a Fletcher Henderson or a
Teddy Wilson were responsible
for the jazz arrangements that
made it possible for Benny
Goodman or a Tomimy Dorsey to
attain their jazz performance
levels. Moreover they had a
word for the "syntax" of jazz
and that a "riff," and they could
recognize "riffs" and also whose
"riffs" they detected. They could
also offer sophisticated criti-
cisms of the structure of "white"
jazz as differentiated from black
WHAT DOES all of this imply
for the Kochman anthology?
It means that they have made
but a halting, half-hearted step in
the direction of a "new social
science" free of the eth-centric
hangovers. By restritirg them-
selves to much toSnso interpre-
tation of black cultrrc behavior,
they have as a result mited the
concept of people's culture to a
study of behra'ior 'l -atterns when
culture, assi' h, is exressed on
many mer 'reatie, -esthestic,
form;listi:, artistic, literary, and
critical l e v e l s. White social
scientists (along with a number
of blacks), having accepted the
challenge of examining black cul-
tural norms, are contriving to
keen black culture "class-bound"
to the ghetto. This is not to imply
that Rappin' and Stylin' Out has
failed to help point the way to-
ward the "new social science"
methodology, but t h e y have
chosen to take off down a dead-
end street falsely marked "This
Way" if they do not see the
ethncentric mote in their eyes.

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