Columbusing & Privilege: Thatmanmonkz Talks To Desiree Reynolds’
The landscape we inhabit is filled with smoke, red with rage, littered with the bodies of ancestors, killed, cutting paths through this landscape just to get through to the other side. Anger is my best dress. What do we do, in a post-colonial traumatised society with white people who love black music.
Music is universal, no one has the right to deny anyone access to it, but what happens when that love turns into, ‘I found it’ or worse, ‘I invented it’? Then a lesson has to be taught, Q-Tip, Iggy Azalea style.
We can continue to school them. We can ignore them. We can reason with them. We can in our collectives laugh at them, yet sales do not reflect our dissent. How do we receive them? It’s tiring, holding our breaths, whilst looking for the exit, when you’re around white people, what are they goin to say, what comment might trip out, as they reach for the glass? Are they going to say, “I wasn’t there”.
My arms are closed, but me and my kind are bound by post-colonial manners, but should we should at the very least react? The problem with that is, by the time we’ve finished reacting there’s little left for anything else, I mean literally nothing, no breath, no air, no time, no space, no patience.
Some of us are like Mrs Haversham, waiting in our tattered wedding dresses for acknowledgement, by the white ones we’ve ‘let in’, disappointed by our decomposing wedding feast. But a divorce has long been taking place. As Fanon said, we don’t like the ones that love us either.
Appropriation comes part and parcel of blackness and brownness, it’s part of the deal we didn’t broker. It’s human nature to desire what we fear, hate what we want and find repulsive what we are perceived to need. That fear can lead to cruelty and then justification of that cruelty and then guilt and then a begging of a something that whiteness doesn’t have to feel. But we all feel. Maybe we should be thinking about feeling for each other. Why is white discomfort and an effort to avoid that, by any means necessary, become a universal goal?
We’re living in a strange time, we’re living in a transformative time: police brutality plays out like the best soaps, Beyonce ‘turned’ Black and people lost their minds, Kendrick never forgot and he got the head nods and gravitas we seem to only keep for men, award panels are being called out, deaths are finally being counted. Black musicians have always been ripped off, the list is too long ‘to mention’, witness Sly Stone, the appropriation of 1xtra, a black music radio station, which is no longer a Black run radio station, the racism vomited out over big lips, plaiting your hair, columbused by a Kardashian, the image of an instrument of torture, used to stop slaves talking and eating, is printed and worn down a cat walk, babies, washed up on shores, are seen as issues rather than the crimes against humanity that it is, misogynoir and Joss Stone wins reggae artist of the year, her album was produced by Damian Marley, so if he’s alright, should we be? It’s war, the battle for good and evil is being played out, right in front of us, on the daily: nazi rhetoric is considered legitimate and the discussion about another wall as a way of protecting whiteness is openly deliberated. Bare bodies, lost in the unfriendly fire. White privilege is on the agenda as it possibly hasn’t ever been before and people aren’t letting that be washed away, with Katrina waters.
Art is an expression of our humanity and that being the one, how can politics be left out of it? This and other things was discussed, between Scott Moncrieff and I, whose debut album “Columbusing”, on Delusions Of Grandeur, dropped on the 29th Feb 2016.
Scott and I have been drunk together, cried together over people we’ve loved and lost and debated, argued and smiled at each other over the things we disagree about. We’ve met in a bar, standardly and I’m asking him about his new suit.
So how does all this feel?
"It’s weird, I’m just lucky to be doing what I love with the people I love and respect, but talking about it, it’s all new. I feel like I’m in a new suit that hasn’t quite worn in yet."
It’s proper spankers mate.
"Exactly. But you know this one well, with your book coming out and stuff."
Yes, it’s true, part of you wants to know why anyone would be interested in you what you have to say and the other part, the one that gets you there, is the part that says, fuck it, I’ve worked my arse clean off and this is where it got me, you just have to hunker down and sport the suit.
His awkwardness makes me laugh.
"I guess I’m wearin' it, but I don’t like it yet. If I'd wanted to be out in the front, I’d have been a singer, luckily I realised, quite quickly that I sounded terrible so I became a producer instead."
And now you’ve got an album out and it’s doing well. Wear the suit.
"Yup, I'm trying, I’m rocking it, kinda."
He laughs a little, nervous, knowing that the suit is bright and loud and he’d rather be in something beige or brown, preferably made of wool.
So come on then, why call it Columbusing?
"You remember surely?"
Yes, we had just seen the Black Panthers film.
"And we were chatting, as we do…"
And I said white people aren’t my responsibility, they’re yours. They aint listening to me cos they don’t want to hear my voice, which is true. You do it. I’m done. It’s you that has to educate them, something like that.
"And that just so struck me, it really did, like of course! And I was struggling for an identity or concept for the body of work that was developing and had been told by a good friend (Pete Simpson, who appears on the album both as a musician and under his 'A brother is…' alias) to make it count and really say something, as in our game there are no guarantees when the next opportunity to do a full album's worth of material to be consumed as one body will come again."
"The first pieces of work and collaborations, all seemed to have a thread, that being the direct influence on my own art, of American dance music and black music, that led me to the conversation with you, about what I wanted to say. And then out of that convo, once you told me about the term 'Columbusing', it just seemed to fit."
Why did you feel it necessary? Aren't you doing what traditionally, other white producers have always done?
"Absolutely, yes. Personally I needed to be honest and on some level explain that I was completely aware of what I was doing, and that I was and still am a little conflicted by the notion of it. Not that me and my internal conflict is the most important thing here…"
"There’s no point in me feeling guilty for being white, it’s an accident of birth and it’s self indulgent if I do, you told me that. I can recognise that there’s a sociological and economic disparity that’s unfair and that it’s my responsibility as a human being to address that, and think about it but we don’t yet live in that fair world. I’m fully aware of who I am, and check my privilege."
But aren’t you columbusing, columbusing?
"That's a really valid point and one that is, again, really conflicting. Yes, kinda, but I feel acknowledging it, giving props where they are due, means that I’m not randomly just stealing. I’m putting my hands up and saying yes, I’m columbusing, I’m not pretending to not. I'm not saying that I have any answers, more questions really."
I’ve always felt that my art has a responsibility, not to necessarily educate, because that positions me as knowing what the hell I’m talking about, I’m just saying I do not live in a vacuum, consumed with myself, if I have a voice, I best use it. Try and leave the place better than you found it.
"Exactly, this is what I’m saying. With 'Columbusing' I'm trying to exercise the 'white privilege' I have, to start this dialogue with my peers. Given the state of the world, art and artists have a role to play."
It’s getting dark outside, how long have we been in here?
"Another drink, m’lady?"
His chivalry throws me off, I would be rude to say no…
Er yes, thank you.
When he comes back, he clearly has something on his mind.
"I’ve given this a lot of thought. Saying that that you’re non racist is kinda the same as saying I’m a good father, er, well done but you're supposed to be, like Chris Rock said. Don’t claim you’re doing anything. Now what? You can’t be non-racist and beg, steal and borrow, you are culturally appropriating, you can’t be non and use. It's about being active and anti."
The album is Scotts love letter to the music he grew up with, it’s filled with almost oblique references that if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know. It’s the story of a boy from Melton Mowbray, in the heart of Leicestershire, getting to grips with his outsiderness, learning what it is like to feel out of step with everyone else and hanging onto something that grounded him.
"There was only one place you could get hip hop from nearby, import record shop y'know….. I waited every week for new releases. The posters on my wall changed from Kylie to Chuck D, and I listened and learned. One of the drivers with the composition of this record was my relationship with Black America through music."
What do you think Black America will make of it?
"I really don’t know. I hope those guys see the respect is there."
What do you think of Macklemore's 'white privilege pt.2'?
"I thought it was a necessary and a thought provoking piece of work. I respect him for doing and saying what he did. It needs reiterating. It’s the elephant in the room…."
People cyan’t move fi elephants up in here!
People come up to him in the bar and shake his hand and tell him well done, he goes a bit red. They hover a bit, his words hover a bit and he says thanks, almost sorry for having to say thanks to some people that like his work. He sees me scoping the whole thing. That suit gets a bit tight in places. But my anger dress fits perfectly, it seems to get bigger or smaller, depending on what I’ve had to swallow and cake. It’s still my best one.
This might be tough, this one, but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t ask it.
"Oh blimey, go on then…."
In writing this, I had to ask myself some questions, ones that will not let the silence of a vacuum exist. Blackness holds cultural currency, no matter the banker.
Do you feel you need approval from black and brown people?
"Fuck! Your goin' in! I feel I need another drink! Errrr, I seek approval from my peers and teachers, within the areas and genres I work, irrespective of their race. That's if you believe the idea of race is true…."
Isn’t it funny, though how all kinds of people that you might’ve liked or respected are suddenly coming out demanding not to be blamed for their whiteness and you think, rarse, I used to like them. It’s not shocking, it’s just…
"Disappointing! I know, right! It’s like finding out that uncle you loved is actually some horrible fella that everyone says to keep away from. I say once they’re out of the closet, keep the door locked, we need to know who they are! Unfortunately, it’s the stupid ones that get air play, I guess the clever ones know how to stay hidden."
Yes! Keeping those stings pulled though.
We’ve reached that point in the evening, where we either drink more or go home.
"What do you reckon?"
Er, well, I don’t know…
"I’ll go to the bar…."
He gets up and someone else approaches him, he looks over at me and winks. I think that suit is fitting better now.
If a man steals a womans purse and tells her he’s stealing her purse, whilst doing it, does it make it a better experience for her? Of course not. But what we’ve been used to, as Black and Brown peoples, for thousands of years is the shrill shriek of, ‘but, it’s mine’, to ‘it was always mine’ and then ‘what purse?’ And the purse, is in plain sight, being used by the teef, every day, knowing that a system will uphold his claim on it. thatmanmonkzs, wants to make a difference, he wants debate and conversation and dialogue, he wants questions and a collective search for the answers. He’s asking white people to think about whiteness, that’s not something they’re used to….and I wonder how they’ll receive him.
Desiree Reynolds’ novel "Seduce" is available now from Peepal Tree Press and Amazon HERE.
thatmanmonkz debut album, "Columbusing" is out now, on all formats, on Delusions Of Grandeur, HERE.