Emotional Diplomacy, and Where it Falters vs. Folk Music

Our diplomacy suffers while it tries to defend patriarchal underpinnings. Maybe not explicitly excluding fat chunks of American society, but protecting the stability of a system built by and for elite white males who wanted to set up in the New World what they couldn’t have in the old.

Those old white guys thought they were the oppressed; maybe they thought they were being fair. They literally didn’t see as peers all the people who didn’t look like them. There’s evolutionary precedent for that (evolutionary sociologists will tell you all about it) but there’s also empirical evidence that we’ve evolved the ability to get over ourselves. We don't need to serve that mindset.

I'm attending Folk Unlocked online, an annual event which usually overruns a hotel with troubadours somewhere in North America. As a former hotel worker, I shudder but also want to join in.

One of the panels I attended - Anti-Racism: Setting a New time in Folk Culture - included the voices of @joe_seamons and @domflemons. They pointed out that inclusion needs to be better defined: it’s not letting people sit at the table who weren’t allowed before; it’s not even holding the door open and saying, “Come in. What do you want to do with this space?”

 This space was built for someone else, with someone else’s sensibilities in mind. 

Inclusion is asking: What kind of space do you want to build, if we can get funding for it? 

Something's been welling up from my gullet since the beginning of lockdown, and I’m finally finding words for it:  if the extant structure is crumbling, what might you build instead of propping up what was already there?

Folk is the people's music. By this definition, rap is also folk. Punk is folk. We turn to music to find a rhythm when life is failing us, to find a connection when society fails us. And that's ironic, because society *is* us, all of us.

But the social structure in America wasn't created for *us* - it was created for a bunch of guys who could afford to take a boat to The New World and set up their own tiny kingdoms. The invited the (white) religous-oppressed to fill up space with (white) bodies. They brought over the cheapest labor they could find, propping up the industry of human trafficking to such a degree that we had a civil war about it. Yes, actually, it was about slavery

We don't have to match ideals or even wardrobes. We can share recipes, trade licks, taste what's different about those folks over there, and what feels familiar. At the bottom of this page I have a long list of material to get you started. Get your feet wet - keep an eye on your local music scene. When your area is Covid-safe for live venues, find a show that plays music you don't know. Hopefully there's a banjo involved.

People are terrified of change. The surprise will be that people who aren’t like you have similar needs and goals. Listen for the differences before forging ahead. Listen.

I'm grateful to Folk Alliance for the opportunity to take part in this and other panels, see some of my favorite musicians, and learn about others, in the middle of a freaking pandemic. Well done, y'all!

Further Reading: 

Folk Unlocked   Come over. Lose your  mind in it like I am. There are tiers of registration - pay what you can. If you can pay nothing, that's okay. Know that what you do pay goes toward paying the rent of a musician who's impacted by not being able to play out during 2020 and now 2021.1 If you're late to this blog post, sign up for emails.** We're hoping it's both virtual and IRL in Kansas City for 2022.

Lockdown Lemonade  **By the time you read this, Folk Unlocked 2021 is over. Read how some of these folkies have been managing the pandemic in this collection compiled by FAR-West.

The American Songster Dom Flemons - Library of  Congress  Keep an eye on this guy, and his fellow co-founders of The Carolina Chocolate Drops. They're telling a story that's always been America's.

Joe Seamons is a Pacific Northwest musician who's still giving workshops on using root music to confront racism. Please do consider joining a cohort.

Songs of Our Native Daughters is an ambitious and carefully-crafted narrative of African American women recreated from some of their earliest songs, from minstrels to slave narratives. Unsanitized. Ambitious is a word that's sometimes used to assault - I'm using it with intention here. Old white guys aren't the only ones who should be praised for ambition. Just look what they did - Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Allison Russell, and Leyla McCalla made something beautiful, raw, and telling. This project deserves your attention.

Cantina Navarro is a virtual venue which began n years ago in a hotel room at a folk convention. "There's only one way to get in," DFN says, "and that's to be great and be my friend." His friends are great. I think I am one, but even if I'm not I'm sneaking in the back door.

Four Fallacies of Evolutionary Psychology - Scientific American  I once met a guy who explained to me why men were attracted to women with wide hips. If this was a pickup line, it failed miserably.

Lost White Tribes: Journeys Among the Forgotten - Riccardo Orizio  This book tells the stories of white culture as a minority in societies that are predominantly not white: the Blancs Matignon of Guadeloupe; the Burghers of Sri Lanka; the Poles of Haiti; the Basters of Namibia; the Germans of Seaford Town, Jamaica; the Confederados of Brazil.

This handout is from the Racial Healing Handbook  What does it mean to be antiracist? How do you become antiracist as a white person? 

The Scientific Way to Train White People to Stop Being Racist - Quartz   I laughed, but I approve this article. Get a thick skin. Listen. Don't try to explain yourself, and listen some more. 

Mathematics + Art, Lynn Gamwell  I'm sorry I found this book now, in a time of my life when I don't have the available bandwidth to simply wallow in it. I own it, though, and it's heavy enough to serve as a paper press or other useful purpose. This writing is not only substantive, but leaves several secret or not-so-secret pathways to exploration of topics outside the scope of the book. 

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