Racism is a kind of hatred that manifests itself in obvious and violent ways, and also in ways which are subtle and difficult to combat. The negrophilia of Parisians in the 1920s is one of the less obvious, but still pernicious occurrences of racism. But the question is did this prevent the Parisiens from performing the “philia” in negrophilia. This question of love is a difficult one. First Corinthians 13: 4-5 says that “ Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.”1 Although it is certainly safe to say that racism certainly excludes the presence of love, I would like to suggest that the treatment of African American artists by Parisian critics fails to meet the definition of love as defined by the author of the First Letter to the Corinthians.
After experiencing the dance of La Revue Negre, critic André Levinson wrote about the essentiality of rhythm to the dances: “The undeniable rhythmic superiority is nothing less than an adjunct of their irrepressible animality.”2 While giving accolades to the dancers for their impressive rhythmic mastery, Levinson ends this sentence by claiming that these dancers have “irrepressible animality.” If this statement is not the essence of resentfulness, I don’t know what is. All throughout this course we have seen how much the Parisians desire spectacle and the novel, and I believe that this desire sent them down the path of making African Americans the “other”, in order to achieve a new level of sensationalism.
As modern musicians and consumers of culture, we must do our best to avoid such false philias. As we saw with the music videos by Iggy Azalea and Nicki Minaj, the spectre of negrophilia is still with us. In regard to music that finds its genesis in the African American community, and other communities that have less power than the white community in our country, I believe that extreme caution must be taken. Although concerts are somewhat of a sonic museum, the persistence of racism and hatreds like it demand that steps must be taken to contextualize music that has problematic features or history. This may take the form of program notes, a lecture about a piece before it is performed, or any other way of communicating the intent of such a piece. As with many things in our complicated society, our values do not always align. While we value celebrating music from cultures that are not our own, we run the risk of further entrenching problematic views of these cultures in our society. We must make thorough efforts in our music making to neither steal from, nor imitate communities that continue to struggle for equality in our society.
2. Levinson, André. “The Negro Dance: Under European Eyes.” In André Levinson on Dance: Writings from Paris in the Twenties, edited by Joan Ross Acocella and Lynn Garafola. Hanover, New Hampshire: Wesleyan University Press :, 1991.