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I used to think about how almost all the artists I liked seemed to be white, and this fact was most glaring when it came to music.Encountering a black musician who was into the same things as me always involved some sort of complication. I was turned off by Bad Brains after I learned about H. And though I’ve been living in a middle-class suburb of Seattle for almost 15 years now, back then I lived in a housing project in High Point, North Carolina, so there were no cool record stores around for me to find more obscure black alternative and punk artists like beloved Gories frontman Mick Collins.My parents were young when they had me, so it’s not an exaggeration when I say I’ve been listening to hip hop since the womb.
A group prominently staffed with black dudes enters the blindingly white world of indie-rock and enlightens its fans by casually dismissing the absurd notion that African-American men playing guitars is unprecedented and peculiar. Why would anyone assume that just because someone falls under the category of Black People Who Enjoy Noisy and/or Weird Guitar Music, they are a TV on the Radio fan?This was in the early-’90s, before virtually everyone (especially people whose parents signed Section 8 contracts before moving into apartments) had Internet access, so all of my alternative culture came through MTV.So why shouldn’t I have adopted Cobain, MTV’s poster boy, as a role model?But I didn’t want to feel that way." There was no individual precedent for my love of alternative and punk culture. But mostly, it felt like something I could claim for my own, a part of American culture that wasn’t handed down to me or illustrated in history books. It was something that was happening right now, and regardless of the color lines placed between it and me, it was something that I was a part of. With my flat feet, nasal voice, and the crisp pronunciation I learned from watching teen movies on TV, the teasing was almost understandable.My family and neighborhood friends all exclusively listened to contemporary rap and R&B, the former not truly capturing my imagination until a year later (Wu-Tang Clan’s “C. When you’re young, you emulate people you think are cool (particularly, people who look like you), and this game of pretend ultimately shapes your aesthetic and values, if you find a shape that fits. I pored over skateboarding catalogs and begged my mother for Alien Workshop hoodies.
Among hushed whispers, one of them turned around and asked me who my favorite musicians were.