folk music and liberalism

I just got an e-mail asking of Defiance, Ohio wanted to do an interview for a zine called Even If Your Voice Shakes which is put out by some folks involved with the Riot Folk collective.  It made me think about some of the discomfort that I have with folk music and that moniker being applied to music I help make (though I also need to think about why I’m more comfortable with the term Punk, maybe just because it feels like more my own, less inherited from a generation I associate with parents and power structures).  One issue with discomfort is regarding associations between folk music and race.  I wanted to learn a little more about this so I found Aesthetic Identity, Race, and American Folk Music, but didn’t yet get a chance to read it.  In the abstract for this article, it talked about folk music being adopted by social movements in the 60s and suggested that while those movements were multiracial, or at least attempted to be, with music being a part of it, that folk music was eventually whitened.  I think I associate folk music with being this very white, safe, established thing, just as some of the more visible remnants of movements of the 60s and the generation that was alive then seems that way.  This made me think about how I categorize the liberalism that I tend to demonize, and this is what I came up with:

Liberalism, as I think about it, is less about a specific set of political ideologies or positions and more about having an affinity to an ideology without being a stakeholder in the realities that underly political or policy questions.  For instance, there are many people in the US who are opposed to the war in Iraq, but I would argue the majority of those people are not necessarily soldiers or family members of soldiers or Iraqi or family members of Iraqis, or in some other way more closely tied with the war.  I am not arguing that one’s political perspective or responsibility rests on the nature of one’s connection to a particular issue, but I think that there needs to be a lot of self-consciousness, and movement-consciousness about how one’s orientation around an issue affects one’s beliefs and actions.  The 60s seemed to be an interesting time because so many more people became stakeholders in the issues of the times.  White, (upper) middle class people were being drafted to go to war in Vietnam, or faced that looming reality.  Similarly, white, (upper) middle class people faced race riots in their schools as students (as my parents did), seeing their schools, neighborhoods, and communities become desegregated and the tensions that came from those changes.  Certainly, white (upper) middle class people are still stakeholders in questions of race and peace in the present, but I think their orientation is much more static and the connections have been effectively obscured.  For instance, with questions of race, I think most liberal people find it easier to identify and critique racism external to themselves or their communities instead of being forced (as I feel desegregation did in the 60s) to come to terms with their involvement in race and power in the US.

memes for media literacy discussions

  • Lupe Fiasco on sexism (from masculinities in media blog). I heard about Lupe Fiasco when someone brought ihis music up in the Q&A after the MED lecture last month. I heard a really great song called Kick, Push about skateboarding by Lupe Fiasco along with a lot of other great music on the Pandora Radio site.
  • Gabriel Teodros (thanks st!) on multi-racial identity and language in Africa East.  More and more I feel like punk music doesn’t speak to the questions that I need help answering, or to my experience, or connecting my experience with bigger things.  If it does connect with my experience, it seems often to link from my intentional investment in a particular subculture.  That’s not entirely true, because I think punk culture and the experience of playing music and organizing shows in a small town was, and remains, so honestly and beautifully linked with my experience growing up in central PA (and my parents as college-educated middle class people and the lifestyle that created for me).  But, that’s not my whole story, and it’s more and more unsatisfying to feel so invested in music that seems to lack a language to talk about some things, or has a political motivation without a complete perspective (say, in punk’s consistent striving to talk about and against racism but doing so without talking about race).  I’m searching for, and would like to think that I can help make multicultural music, not stylistically in the Lotus Fest, Puntamaya sort of way, but in terms of theme and perspective.

Stuff White People Like blog and thinking about whiteness in general

A blog parodying the “park slope parent” (public radio listeners, and myself too), Stuff White People Like is really interesting because I think it frames the activities that me and a lot of my friends enjoy, not just as our choices but as part of cultural forces of which race is a component.  As one caller on the NPR call-in show where I found out about this blog noted, this blog helps expose white privilege because it examines the activities of a subset of white culture from a more removed perspective and a critical one, even if that criticism is tempered by humor.  The blog creator pointed out that, whites often criticize or satirize the culture of whites who live in rural areas, have less money, or education, but that middle-class whites, and especially hip middle-class white culture is not framed as grounds for satire.

I think it’s pretty jolting to look at this blog, because even though I’m not entirely white, and feel like that identity doesn’t adequately encompass some of my experiences, so much of the things listed as likes on the blog are incredibly familiar.

What was pretty interesting was the connection this blog makes to electoral politics and that the blog’s brand of White People like to support Barack Obama.

Link to Stuff White People Like blog
Link to NPR’s Talk of the Nation interview with the blog’s creator

White Minority

Rawny had said that he wanted to play a classic hardcore cover with Disaster, but I don’t want to just play one because people will get rowdy and sing along. So, the idea of playing a cover kind of got put on the back burner. Randomly, I thought about the song White Minority, by Black Flag, which I think was originally intended as an ironic mockery of white power paranoia. For me, I think that punk was, and remains such a white, middle class pursuit, that the idea of of a white minority does seem very paranoid. The title of the song makes me think about a future where globalization has the unexpected effect of bringing about a movement and mixing of people and culture that makes a purely white minority a reality.  A more careful reading of the lyrics makes me see it as an anthem about trying to define an identity that is seperate from what one views as the prevailing cultural norms for one’s race and class.  This is, and has always been, one of the primary functions of Punk music.  And, while suburban, white culture and the history that lead to its creation can definitely be seen as oppressive and a target for critique, simply manufacturing a seperate identity doesn’t succeed in challenging the culture with which punks want to disassociate.  The title itself also makes me think about another likely outcome, where in the US, as in punk, people become a ‘white minority’, assimilated into the prevailing culture, not fully entitled, but entitled enough to leave those unable or unwilling to assimilate left to fight each other to escape being identified as being the most powerless class of people.

Were gonna be a white minority
We wont listen to the majority
Were gonna feel inferiority
Were gonna be white minority

White pride
Youre an american
Im gonna hide
Anywhere I can

Gonna be a white minority
We dont believe theres a possibility
Well you just wait and see
Were gonna be white minority

White pride
Youre an american
White pride
Anywhere I can?

Gonna be a white minority
Theres gonna be large cavity
Within my new territory
Were all gonna die

I also found this really interesting journal article titled L. A.’s “White Minority”: Punk and the Contradictions of Self-Marginalization on JSTOR. I can’t read it all until I can use an IU network connection, but I think it will give me some good context for performing the song with a reimagined meaning.


Thanks to the person who sent me the PDF of the article from JSTOR. The general sentiment of the article can be seen in this passage:

This circles us back to Black Flag’s song, seeing how punk’s strategy is to flip the binary of majority/minority. Minority status is the privileged element for this group as they valorize it into a condition to be appropriated. This recognizes the structural racism in American society, yet it does so by essentializing the nonwhite Other into a victim role-romanticizing nonwhites into all that is simultaneously threatening and threatened.

This is an act George Lipsitz criticizes as “the frequent invocation of people of color as sources of inspiration or forgiveness for whites, and the white fascination with certain notions of primitive authenticity among communities of color, [which] all testify to the
white investment in images that whites themselves have created about people of color” (Possessive, 118). What aims to be a critique of repression in L.A. punk ends up an agent of it, for its rejection of the dominant culture relies on adopting the stereotypes of inferior, violent, and criminal nonwhites.

It was a hard article to read because the critique of punk seems to be applicable not to late 70’s/early 80’s L.A. punk, but to the current D.I.Y. punk movement. It also makes me think about how punk seems to lack an internal language or discourse with which to make this critique internally.


Actually, on second thought, I don’t think that the critique can be applied to the current D.I.Y. punk movement in exactly the same way. While the current punk subculture does self-identify with a marginalized Other and romanticizes the lives of the economically marginalized or racial minorities, it does not neccessarily attempt to do so by embracing a lifestyle that interprets negative stereotypes about marginalized groups. Instead, D.I.Y. punk subculture romanticizes poverty or racial oppression in such a way that trivializes the reality of race and class in US culture. There is a hopefulness that suggests that one can be happier or more spiritually or even intellectually full living a life that exists without many of the elements of white suburban culture.  The experience of white, middle-class young people who choose an identity that they see as putting them in the same space as many low-income or racially opressed people is read by the punks as an authentic experience of class and race which alienates people from non-white, non-middle-class backgrounds from the punk movement and misses an opportunity for white, middle-class youth to explore constructive possibilities for applying their race or class privilege.

I thought about this a lot in reconsidering academia for myself and a perceivable backlash against formal study in the D.I.Y. community. A punk lifestyle is often articulated as a more authentic, more liberated alternative to attending college.

I think I wrote recently about seeing an awesome exhibition titled Who We Are. The exhibition is a documentation of writing from participants in the Prison University Project, a California program that offers some men incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison the opportunity to participate in higher-education coursework and obtain a college degree. I thought some of the writing was very good, and it was clear that the program and the college-level coursework was something that was empowering to the men who took part in the project. The contradiction of the experience articulated by these men and the by many punks who escew higher education is so apparant and frustrating. It seems to suggest a lack of imagination on the part of middle-class youth to envision college as only a means to perpetuate racial or class norms instead of an experience that might transcend the boundaries of those expectations.

Actually, the article goes on to address this:

This pursuit of authenticity, no matter how sincere, is as insulting a gesture as playacting when compared to those who cannot escape. That they would freely opt to live like oppressed groups formed by historical and social conditions they cannot claim says much about the political dedication of some punks, but it also speaks to how people of their social status understand their relationship to the notion of freedom. As Grossberg proposes, mobility and access can be configured spatially, for where one is placed on the map of the social totality “define[sl the forms of empowerment or agency . . . available to particular groups” (“Identity and Cultural Studies,” 102). Such places are constituted in a way that can offer either emancipation or further repression-a large number of punks enjoy the former. The crushing realities of racial and/or economic subjugation are trivialized in their search for autonomy. They become mere adornments for differentiation to be discarded when no longer useful to the new subjectivity-just one more brand in the supermarket of identities.

As an aside, I wish I could find a link about it at hand, but I remember an act in a This American Life story that documented the difficulties that an African-American boy from Washington DC faced when he tried to cross boundaries of class and race the other way around and attend a prestigious University. Again, I think the difference in the permeability of cultural membranes from different directions is something that is ignored by punk politics.

Reading further …

Acquiring symbolic capital is how the appropriation of otherness “pays,” and it becomes the imperializing gesture in punk’s tactic of escape. Representing themselves as the same tears down the barriers of difference but as a by-product of self-aggrandizement.


By treating them as an exploitable object enabling punks to achieve their own desires, this re-othering allows the center to continue speaking for the Other. By eliding the heterogeneous hopes existing in the sub-urban, they silence the marginal subject’s own viewpoint on marginality.

who i am …

Who I am is a transcultural, multicultural, interracial, hybrid, bridging worlds, being. I am Hollee McGinnis also-known-as Lee Hwa Yeong. I have an Asian face, an Irish last name, a blond-haired mother.

But who I am is not just about who I know myself to be, but who I want to also be known as in this world. At its best, intercountry adoption demonstrates to me the greatness of our human spirits to love across race, nationality and culture. But I also know that it takes a lot more than just love to make a success; – it requires courage, honesty, and commitment.

This means we must be willing to talk about the hard stuff – the discrimination, inequalities, and prejudices that exist in the world. We must also be willing to change and challenge our societies so that the gift we give our children – adopted or not – besides the love and security of a permanent family is a world that values them for who they are and who they will be – regardless of race, nationality, culture or circumstance.

This is from a great NYT op-ed piece about intercountry, transracial adoption, race, and complicated identities.


media check for the week of 2007-08-19

I decided to go to the IU library to check out the book The Suburbanization of New York: Is the World’s Greatest City Becoming Just Another Town? (ISBN-13: 978-1-56898-678-4) and found a wealth of other interesting books in the HN80.N5 section on the 7th floor. I also checked out There Goes The Neighborhood (ISBN-10: 0-394-57936-4), a book about the politics of race and class in Chicago neighborhoods, and passed on Praciticing Community (ISBN-10: 0-292-73118-3), a book about similar dynamics, but in Cincinatti, though it also looked good.

I heard an interesting recording of a Michael Parenti talk on Alternative Radio on WFHB on Monday, 2007-08-20 that was kind of all over the place, but mostly about how identity politics are exploited to divide people who are marginalized by race, gender, or sexual orientation. He also suggested that the division of power in this country often finds people with very different ethnic, gender, sexual, or other cultural identities on the same side of that power divide.

I read this article by Dave Zirin, author of What’s My Name Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the U.S., Welcome to the Terrordome, and other books about sports and politics. Zirin writes about the difficulties in sending copies of his books to a Texas death row inmate because

“It contains material that a reasonable person would construe as written solely for the purpose of communicating information designed to achieve the breakdown of prisons through offender disruption such as strikes or riots.”

The offending content, according to the TXDOC, included quotations such as this from baseball great Jackie Robinson:

“I felt tortured and I tried to just play ball and ignore the insults. But it was really getting to me. … For one wild and rage-crazed moment I thought, ‘To hell with Mr. Rickey’s “noble experiment.” … To hell with the image of the patient black freak I was supposed to create.’ I could throw down my bat, stride over to that Phillies dugout, grab one of those white sons of [expletive] and smash his teeth in with my despised black fist. Then I could walk away from it all.”

I use for managing my bookmarks. Often, I want to access my bookmarks through my browser instead of having to visit the site. The Bookmarks Firefox add-on lets me do just that.

Roy F. Baumeister’s talk, Is There Anything Good About Men? is really interesting. It talks about the different ways that culture have used men and women to achieve its ends. It also talks about how a fundamental difference between men and women is that men favor wider, shallower relationships and women prefer closer, more intimate relationships and how this has driven the different cultural realms that are inhabited disproportionally by men and women. At the base of this, claims Baumeister, is the evolutionary reality that far more women reproduce than men. The wider, shallower, relationships or more risk-taking activities favored by men, in general, facilitates the differentiation that will allow some men to reproduce.

On a somewhat related note, this is a program that my friend is working with. The program is trying to organize
Men of Strength (MOST) Clubs in DC and other communities. A friend who works with the Middleway House, a Bloomington shelter for women and children affected by rape and family violence says that young men who stay in the shelter really lack a community of other males to critically examine their ideas of identity and masculinity and to model ideas of gender or relationships that differ from the violence that they’ve experienced. These clubs seem like a rare example of something that might begin to provide this support/education. The clubs are described as:

Men of Strength (MOST) Club has provided young men in Washington, DC and California high schools and colleges with a safe and supportive haven to connect with male peers while exploring masculinity and male strength.

Exposing young men to healthier, nonviolent models/visions of manhood, the MOST Club challenges members to define their own definition of masculinity and to translate their learning into community leadership, progressive action, and social change.


  • Provide young men with a safe, supportive space in which to connect with male peers through exploring notions of masculinity and male strength.
  • Promote an understanding of ways that traditional masculinity contributes to sexual assault and other forms of men’s violence, perpetuates gender inequity, and compromises the health of men and women.
  • Expose young men to healthier, nonviolent models/visions of manhood.
  • Build young men’s capacity to become peer leaders and allies with women in promoting gender equality and preventing men’s violence.

I have Debian Etch with KDE installed as my workstation at work, and I had a hard time figuring out how to make Iceweasel (Debian’s all-free software version of Firefox) the default browser instead of Konqueror.  Turns out it was as easy as

$ update-alternatives –config x-www-browser