d’bi.young anitafrika on why racism in the music industry can’t be analyzed in a vacuum

The Dora Award-winning dub poet and playwright responds to NOW's cover story on power and privilege in the Toronto music scene


The seeds of racism were planted in a garden of capitalism, so my question is, why wouldn’t the music industry be racist? When did we dismantle racism as an institutional violence?

The 500-year slave-ocracy has not been destroyed, but instead, chameleon-like, changed (and continues to change) its outward appearance right in front our eyes.

You may ask, how can we prove that? Well, just take a look at our global banking and monetary system. All roads lead back to the slave trade: black bodies forcibly moved across the Atlantic in the bellies of ships for Europeans to accrue ridiculous wealth and power on the backs of black people and through the blood of First Nations and people of colour. The driving force behind racism was (and is) economics.

I ask myself always, how could that system have occurred? My answer stares back at me. How is this system I live in currently occurring, even while I am a passive accomplice? Racism and other systemic discriminatory practices are the roadways through which our species continue to pursue wealth and power over each other and the earth at all costs.

We create reasons why our selfish behaviour is humane. Wars are fought to gain wealth and power. Arms are manufactured to gain wealth and power. Sweatshops are created to gain wealth and power. People are displaced to gain wealth and power. The subjugation of womxn maintains the wealth and power of men – and let us not forgot sexism, classism, homophobia etc as co-conspirators of these ongoing crimes against humanity. The bones beneath Turtle Island tell the un-erasable truth of how we got here. Where is empathy?

The music industry is also structured in the pursuit of wealth and power in everything from  how record labels are run to what music gets funding. How do artists pursuing wealth and power (having been taught that this our road to happiness, read: survival) knowingly or unknowingly support these systems?

For the music industry not to be racist, we would need to systematically, consistently, and work without fail together at understanding the roots of racism and how deeply it reaches into all aspects of our today.

We would need to admit that growing up in this society means that we as individuals cannot escape being touched by racism (internalized and externalized, social and systemic).

We would need to admit that we each walk closely with the shadows of our bigotries, impacting the lives of other people through the depth of power that we have.

We would need to be honest about the complexity of our well-honed forms of discrimination that privileges our skin colour in one context and our gender in the next, or our class in one context and then our sexuality in the next. How do I participate in this music industry racism and its other discriminatory practices? It gets real trippy. 

Of course, this deeply important work is exactly what is happening among First Nations people, black people and people of colour as well as white allies in this city and across the land. This makes me excited.

Facing the inevitable racism of the music industry is real facing the inevitable injustices of this world is real. Creating incredible art, living with deep empathy, joy and love, actually form the nucleus of resistance to these old-turned-new systems of imperialism. To continue taking up space (and making creative space) is a part of what it means to be alive. Telling stories to the people who will listen, them filling me and me filling them, is a constant reminder to centre myself, my people to centre love.

This is true even while I admit honestly that racism and other intersecting forms of discrimination are the very foundations of where I call home. If I am a product of home, where does that leave me? Where does that leave you? With work to do.

Read “Real talk about racism in the Toronto music scene” here.

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