Here’s a thought experiment worth investing some time in:
First, let’s consider that from 750 AD on, Arabs kidnapped, killed, and stole Africans. Starting in 1441 or so, Europeans kidnapped, killed, and stole Africans for nearly 450 years. In the colonies, we tend to think that it began in 1619. But by then, there were millions of enslaved Africans in Cuba, Haiti, Brazil, and all over the American territories. Africans were killed and left to die in the act of acquiring them and war and village raids were core sources of that acquisition, leaving sometimes three times the number of people taken, dead.
If you take out an almanac, you get an interesting picture of the situation. In 1650, Both Africa and Europe boasted about 100 million people. Both continents had a similar birth rate. But 100 years later, in 1750, Europe had increased its population size to 140 million people (slaves did not count), while the African continent’s population dropped to 95 million.
One hundred years after that, in 1850, the population of Europe nearly doubled to 265 million people. Africa, that same year, contained 95 million people. In 1950, after most nations had outlawed slavery, both continents doubled their population, with Europe at 530 million people and the African continent at 200 million.
25-35% of slaves died in the middle passage – the trip to the new world – where the survivors were imprisoned, forced to work menial jobs sold, bought, prevented from learning to read or write, maimed enthusiastically, raped, and murdered on someone’s whim.
So here is where the thought experiment kicks in. What would the world look like today without the 400-plus years of colonial chattel slavery that infested the U.S. territory? Without slavery as a discipline worldwide?
The most conservative estimate possible of this period of history suggests that over 100 million people are missing. Taken. Stolen. These were people who were no longer allowed to be people.
But if we aren’t sick of math yet (here’s hoping), we could probably get a sense of just what we lost. How many potential scientists were in that 100 million? How many inventors? How many artists, thinkers, surgical innovators, philosophers, outside-the-box thinkers?
How many Einsteins? Katherine Johnsons? How many Elon Musks, and Grace Hoppers, and Neil Degrasse Tysons, or hell, how many Ava Roberts?
The enterprise of slavery robbed the entire planet of generations of innovation. It was an evil institution in every way, but possibly, its most evil component was its ability to rob history of people who could have made a difference in addressing the very real problems we have on this planet. It literally cheated the future, stole from tomorrow, to feed the sicknesses of the past.
My band played its first show at Medusa’s in Chicago. In the front was a friend of mine in a wheelchair with a deadly appropriate sticker on the back (“Half-Man / Half-Machine”). There were larger people there, shorter, people who didn’t fit in with the jocks at school, along with some people who were the jocks at school. There were people with shaved heads, including a girl with Alopecia, who discovered a few months earlier that this community didn’t care if she had hair or not, or cuts on her arms, or if she didn’t dress right, or that she liked girls. There were men, women, people who weren’t really interested in being either one, shy people, loud people, people in pants, dresses, underwear.
And people of color.
Every one of these people knew… absolutely knew, that this was the right place for them, if the music spoke to them. They were not just invited. They were courted. At the Front 242 show. At the Revolting Cocks show. At the Skinny Puppy show. At the KMFDM show. At the Thrill Kill Kult show. At the Fini Tribe show. At the Acumen Nation show. If you listen to those songs, they weren’t just about tolerating people who were different. They were about celebrating them.
And it wasn’t hard to see why. This isn’t a kind of music made by plastic people who are perfectly made up to represent the statistically average whitebread music consumer. This was the music of fighting back against all that. It was the music reminding people we had a long way to go. That this was a racist nation. That we all could, together, “Rip the System!” As many leather jackets were painted with “Erase Racism” as were illustrated with MINISTRY logos. Tackhead, Fishbone, and Chicago house artists like Lil Louis and Matt Warren’s names showed up on singles and remixes regularly.
This scene was born in the understanding that our culture industrializes, formalizes what is tacitly acceptable and discards the rest. How did we know that? Because we were the rest. Not a single person at those early shows didn’t know what it felt like to be thrown away by a hierarchical culture that didn’t give a shit if you were there or not. We showed up as a commitment to reversing that. And a Skinny Puppy patch or Die Warzau sticker on the back of your coat meant, “Don’t you fucking dare throw people away. Don’t you fucking dare buy into the human assembly line that paints some people as better than others. Don’t you fucking dare laugh at their journey.”
There have been bands that don’t understand this. Bands that engage in casual racism, who idealize fascist imagery, who trivialize it all and laugh. And every year, in response, you see fewer and fewer people of color, fewer LGBTQ people, fewer women at shows… but that’s not the worst thing.
Just as slavery was an evil that robbed the world of potentially centuries of innovation, casual racism in this community is an evil that steals from us the future. Stupid Instagram posts that belittle and demean and attempt to create cartoon caricatures of different ethnicities, clothes that instantly reflect the flags and ideals of fascism, hand-waving around the issues that effect people in groups we desperately need – these steal from us the future. Because not only are we going to see fewer and fewer people of color in the audience; we will see fewer and fewer onstage. And that is where this really should tear us apart.
We’re losing out on the next great band, on the next brilliant song, on the next set of lyrics that will perfectly, powerfully, give us some reason today to see the world completely new. We’re losing our centuries of innovation in music. The next Clipping. The next Charles Levi. The Next Danesha Artis. The next person who loves this enough to do something great.
Or we will… if we continue to tolerate racism in this community; if we let ourselves shrug and act like it doesn’t matter, pick up our tickets, book our shows, hire performers, without asking ourselves if what we’re doing is an invitation… a real invitation.
If we fail to maintain a permanent, real, and ongoing invitation to people of color, to other groups that are already marginalized, we are literally robbing the future. We are stealing from what great things might have been. And if we don’t work to root out the causes of misogyny, racism, homophobia, and classism from the music genre that we love, we are condemning it to end, powerlessly, and abruptly, just as the historical flags supporting racist ideals – the Confederate flag, the Nazi flag – have come through time now to mean, “Hey, we can’t seem to win a war, but you suck anyway.”
Nothing called “Rooting out” is ever fun. I direct you to the dental and plumbing professions for proof. But if forget who we are, if we become the plastic people who are capable of ignoring this, well…
We won’t deserve this and we won’t have it.
-Jim Marcus, May 23, 2017…