human rights, music, psychology

How Not to Talk About “Black Self-Hatred”

I have been studying abroad at the University of Cape Town for five months now, but lectures have been cancelled for over two months due to #FeesMustFall protests. In the past two months, though, I’ve definitely learned more about South Africa and its racist education system than I did in the other three. The situation is very complex and I won’t try to explain it fully here, but I will say one of the things that pisses me off most is the narrative fed to the outside world by South African universities and the ANC government. They paint the protesting students–who are predominantly black–as childish, violent, and inhuman. And people don’t often question it. Even the New York Times regurgitated President Zuma’s propaganda twice before finally posting an opinion piece from a Wits professor who tried to portray the complexity of the situation.

I tell you all this because the racial tensions here in Cape Town informed the following essay. It is my final paper for an English class I’m taking; I chose to write about the black self-hatred theory, racist arguments about “black-on-black crime” in the United States, and flawed critiques of Kendrick Lamar, Ralph Ellison, and Black Lives Matter. But my main points carry over all too easily into South Africa, where the phrase “black-on-black” originated in 1986 and where students of color are still blamed for a racist education system that continuously denigrates them and tries to spit them out.

So here’s what I wrote:

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music, psychology

on music: don’t just listen

Today, the majority of the world listens to music, but the making of it has become something of an expert field over the past few centuries. We imply it in our culture constantly, from American Idol to the radio. The music we listen to must be worthy of our selective ears, and this makes the playing of it much more than the casual family event that it used to be. Music production has become an endeavor in itself, something you can make a career out of. There is nothing wrong with this; I’m not trying to bag on the music industry. I could probably write an entire post dedicated to issues with music and copyright today, and this is not it. I’m simply drawing attention to an issue I became aware of recently.

In This Is Your Brain on Music, musician and neuroscientist Daniel Levitin points out that “music listening, performance, and composition engage nearly every area of the brain that we have so far identified, and involve nearly every neural subsystem.” Music is, in short, a fulfilling experience, something that exercises both the brain and the body, and the sad fact is that only a small fraction of people the world over play a musical instrument. In the United States today, this is probably around 6%. Of course, the number of people within this fraction who actually create music is much smaller.

So why should you play an instrument? I’ll give you a list, just to make things easier on you. (Sources for this information are at the bottom of this post.) Continue reading

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