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View Diary: Racist song in my kid's music class, Part 2 (313 comments)

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  •  The good news (4.00)
    is that you and your son's teacher had an honest conversation about what you thought and felt about that song within a social/racial/political context. However, your diary reflects an attitude, all too common, toward African Americans as passive recipients of slavery, Jim Crow, and a legion of racist institutions in U.S. history. Yet black Americans always resisted those institutions and worked to undermine them, or otherwise make them tolerable, in a variety of different ways. One of those ways was through music and other art forms that frequently carried two messages: one for the white ear and one for the black. They created and participated in a counter-discourse that emphasized their humanity and sprirituality through humor, stories, and dance. This song, especially the verse with the n-word, seems to belong in a long African American oral tradition that includes the signifying black masculinity. Discussing it with the teacher, I think, was exactly the right thing to do. I would advise caution, however, in investing this song with one meaning that casts blacks during slavery and Jim Crow as powerless non-agents.
    •  Kum Ba Ya (none)
      is Gullah for "come by here" and provided guidance for escaped slaves.  It wasn't a simple campfire song.  Same for "Wade in the Water," "Steal Away," etc.  These "spirituals" were songs of insurrection and instruction and were essential to the survival of enslaved Africans.  

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