‘No Light, No Light’: White Supremacy all dressed up in a pop video is still White Supremacy

By Guest Contributor Julia Caron

Florence + the Machine released the latest video this past Friday, for “No Light No Light,” the third single from their new album Ceremonials. Since frontwoman Florence Welch is known for her theatrical music video productions, the clip was eagerly awaited by her fans.

The video, directed by Iceland-based duo Arni & Kinski, has already garnered over 800,000 views on Youtube, in addition to generating countless responses over the images in the video. It’s actually slightly astounding how much racist imagery they managed to pack into just four minutes and 15 seconds.

You can watch the video for yourself to get your own interpretation, but if you can’t watch it for whatever reason here’s a brief summary: Welch, a thin white red-haired British woman, is the focal point, but at various points, we see what seems to be an Asian man in blackface, misreprentations of the voodoo religion (which of course inflicts harm on the poor white woman). The overall plot of the video seems to be of a white woman pursued by “darkness,” represented by the aforementioned man in blackface, who ends up falling into “whiteness,” represented by a choir of young white boys in a church. Oh yes, that old trope. Black = evil, white = good. Echoes of British religious imperialism and its violent history of colonization abound. You get the picture.

The video has already attracted criticism from around the blogosphere, and Jezebel’s Dodai Stewart mapped out why the representaion of the Voodoo religion in the music video is not only negative, but factually incorrect:

Haitian Vodou is a religion that is very misunderstood. Slaves were brought to the Caribbean against their will and forbidden to practice their traditional African religions as well as forced to convert to the religion of their masters. The Bond movie/Eurocentric/Americanized viewpoint presents Vodou as an evil, primitive version of witchcraft. But it’s a religion like any other, with a moral code, gods and goddesses. Many ceremonies deal with protection from evil spirits.

In addition, the “voodoo doll” itself has been misconstrued. In Haiti, it was traditional to nail small handmade puppets or dolls to trees near graveyards; these small figures were meant to act as messengers to the spirit world, and contact dead loved ones. It’s safe to imagine that European folks didn’t understand this — and assumed an evil intent behind a doll with nails in its body.”

On the other hand, all sorts of defenses and excuses are being pulled out of the hat to try and label this music video as anything other than what it is: racist. Glorifying the white female central character as representing goodness, all while vilifying the evil dark skinned heathen Other. The number of times this has been done in film date back to one of the very first blockbusters, D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, and continue on until today with this latest incarnation. But in this age of “colour-blindness” and “post-racial” talk, we confront a fairly new beast: vehement denial.

That’s where a large part of the problem with the discussions around this music video lie – the desire to talk about anything other than race. Fans of Welch’s have offered their own denials, including:

Even fans who will readily agree that this music video is “symbolic” and uses darkness (in the shape of a, lest we forget, a human being, an Asian man in blackface who practices voodoo and chases Welch) to represent “evil” and whiteness to represent “good” will still find ways to vehemently deny it is racist. “Maybe it looks like it could be racist, but it didn’t mean to be!” they say. When it comes to confronting the argument of whether or not the video was “intentionally” racist, I’ll point to  response for Threadbared to Crystal Renn’s yellowface photoshoot, where she explains:

Racism is so deeply entrenched and pervasive in many societies that everyday racism is often unintentional. On the other hand, what is always intentional is anti-racism. The struggle against racism resists the pervasive ideologies and practices that explicitly and invisibly structure our daily lives (albeit in very different ways that are stratified by race, gender, class, and sexuality). Anti-racism requires intentionality because it’s an act of conscience.

What Pham hits on there is the need to first acknowledge we live in a world where racism and white privilege exist. In the end, the excuses over why “No Light, No Light” is not racist are pointless to entertain if you can’t even begin to acknowledge that. You’d have to live in a very sheltered world to believe that this video is anything other than a giant platter of rehashed racist imagery.

Now, one thing I’m surprised others have not raised in their criticisms of the “No Light, No Light” music video is that this isn’t the first time Welch has been criticized for being “culturally insensitive,” to put it mildly. Her other music videos could hardly be excused as perfect, either.

A quick look at “Dog Days Are Over” (which has over 20 million views on Youtube) features a mishmash of unidentified Othered cultures in the background, such as women in head scarves banging on drums, an all-black gospel choir with silver foreheads, and two blue women (yes, blue). The already very light-skinned Welch is painted an even whiter white, and is featured prominently in the foreground leading the masses of ambiguously ethnic backup dancers in a frenetic crescendo:

At the end of the video, they all explode into bursts of bright colours, leaving the “wild” Welch draped in a furry tattered garment, waving a flag.

What these music videos show is the amount of misrepresentations around race that many (white) artists are able to use, all under the guise of “art.” It happens in fashion photoshoots, music videos, films, books, etc on more occasions than one could possibly count. While it happens all the time, that does not make it any more defensible. And being a fan of an artist who makes a misstep and ends up creating something racist, intentionally or not, does not oblige you to running to their defense. Being a card-carrying fan of an artist or musician does not make them infallible.

Discussions about whether or not Welch is personally responsible for this racist music video have cropped up. When you break it down and imagine the number of people who were behind the storyboarding, choreographing, casting and creative direction around this video, it is slightly astounding that not one person raised concerns about how problematic this video is. Many petitions have cropped up, asking that “be pulled, edited, or reshot and she and her label should issue a sincere apology.” In putting forth this music video attached to her album and her persona, Welch has given it her unspoken seal of approval. In this case, she has also simultaneously alienated any number of people of colour and critical folks in her fanbase.

We’ll probably be waiting with bated breath, as Welch nor her label have responded to the public outcry so far.

In the end, the most important and all too often ignored factor in the case of this racist music video is just that: calling it racist. The fact that in 2011, a top-selling young creative artist has released a music video like this one means we still need to have conversations about racism, stereotypes, blackface, and impact that images in music videos like these ones have. Let’s take this opportunity to talk about how to hold artists, including pop stars, accountable for propagating racist imagery. Let’s talk about why blackface is always wrong, about why reductive stereotypical misrepresentations of people of colour are harmful and need to be confronted, and why we still have to unlearn colonial histories and legacies.

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  • Sunmelive

    RACISM? WHERE?! Flo is a woman who has just gotten out of a relationship. She still loves this person so she holds on to his memory and all the negative energy that came with their relationship. It is making her self destructive, the asian man painted dark green with bright red lips tries to help her through a Balinese ritual dance called a sanghyang but she refuses because that’s all she has at this point. So he uses the doll to weaken her and force her to see reason.

     

  • Sunmelive

    RACISM? WHERE?! Flo is a woman who has just gotten out of a relationship. She still loves this person so she holds on to his memory and all the negative energy that came with their relationship. It is making her self destructive, the asian man painted dark green with bright red lips tries to help her through a Balinese ritual dance called a sanghyang but she refuses because that’s all she has at this point. So he uses the doll to weaken her and force her to see reason.

     

  • Sunmelive

    RACISM? WHERE?! Flo is a woman who has just gotten out of a relationship. She still loves this person so she holds on to his memory and all the negative energy that came with their relationship. It is making her self destructive, the asian man painted dark green with bright red lips tries to help her through a Balinese ritual dance called a sanghyang but she refuses because that’s all she has at this point. So he uses the doll to weaken her and force her to see reason.

     

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  • Egads!

    I watched the video without first reading the article – sound off as well – and felt it reeked more of Christianity > “Paganism” than it did White > Black, but considering the intertwined legacies of imperialism, racism and religious conversion, that could be seen as same difference in many of our eyes.  Because of that, I feel the author (who is a great writer – I have to say) dangerously toes the line between objective rhetoric and subjective rhetoric with her claim that the only clear, initial interpretation is “racist” (that’s what I took away – don’t want to put those words in her mouth), but I 100%, absolutely agree that the attempt to look past or justify the imagery with its obvious racial connections is just silly and ignorant.  Again, I thought it was more Christianity rules, Paganism drools, but the racial imagery is so obvious and just, well, dumb.

  • Egads!

    I watched the video without first reading the article – sound off as well – and felt it reeked more of Christianity > “Paganism” than it did White > Black, but considering the intertwined legacies of imperialism, racism and religious conversion, that could be seen as same difference in many of our eyes.  Because of that, I feel the author (who is a great writer – I have to say) dangerously toes the line between objective rhetoric and subjective rhetoric with her claim that the only clear, initial interpretation is “racist” (that’s what I took away – don’t want to put those words in her mouth), but I 100%, absolutely agree that the attempt to look past or justify the imagery with its obvious racial connections is just silly and ignorant.  Again, I thought it was more Christianity rules, Paganism drools, but the racial imagery is so obvious and just, well, dumb.

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  • Anonymous

    I am so glad I saw this article.  The other day, a friend offered to lend me her Florence and the Machine albums because she thought I would like them.  I was eager to listen to them because I’m always on the lookout for new artists who aren’t white males, who are WAY overrepresented in music.  This performer, however, is obviously not the kind of thing I want to be listening to or endorsing.  Thank you for spreading the word about this.

  • Dee

    I’d agree.  It is, however, making me seriously reconsider buying her new album.  

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  • Laura Caseley

    It takes a lot to shock me when it comes to pop culture. Usually I’m that person going, “Oh yeah, shock appeal. YAWN.” But the “No Light” video actually shocked me. It’s appalling, and, like so many have said, I’m still trying to figure out how and why it was deemed acceptable. It’s insulting not only to non-whites, but to non-Christians as well, with so-called “primitive” spiritual practices linked with evil and wrong, and with the only way out being Christianity. Oh, and let’s not forget the completely retrogressive and racist happy ending where Florence ends up with a nice safe white man. The real shame to me is that the song is good, and it seems to me that the concept of the video was supposed to speak to unhealthy or abusive relationships. A video on that subject, when handled by Florence’s team, could have been really good, but they made the horrible choice of using racist imagery to express that idea.

  • Pluto

    I am white an I am offended. The imagery in these videos is racist, and unnaceptable. That you for writing this article. I never would have know about this issue otherwise.

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  • Anonymous

    Exactly defenders of the video were saying “well that’s how voodoo is we have seen it many times in the media and that’s what people do”

    um no, that is not voodoo or hoodoo which have been Misrepresented in the media since forever.

  • Eire379

    Wow! I’m astonished! Amazed even, by a collected well written response to what may actually be classified as good art in today’s pop culture. In a time, where so many individuals proclaim that they are open to change and embracing one another, so much energy is used undermining the strengths of another artist’s character. Thankful, am I, to be conscious of the difference between my brown skin and my white light. Cheers today, this day of mourning.

  • Eire379

    Wow! I’m astonished! Amazed even, by a collected well written response to what may actually be classified as good art in today’s pop culture. In a time, where so many individuals proclaim that they are open to change and embracing one another, so much energy is used undermining the strengths of another artist’s character. Thankful, am I, to be conscious of the difference between my brown skin and my white light. Cheers today, this day of mourning.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that the no light video is very racist. The choice of imagery on the directors part was very poor, not only the color of the man but the fact that they brought in voodoo, a heavily stigmatized religion, and perpetuated the same old stereotypes. I don’t see the racism in “dog days”, the article states ” The already very light-skinned Welch is painted an even whiter white, and is featured prominently in the foreground leading the masses of ambiguously ethnic backup dancers in a frenetic crescendo”. She is in the foreground because she is the singer, as far as “leading the masses”, I don’t think dancing around like you are having convulsions conveys leading the masses.

    • http://twitter.com/TheSuperAmanda Super Amanda

      “The choice of imagery on the directors part was very poor, not only the
      color of the man but the fact that they brought in voodoo, a
      heavily stigmatized religion, and perpetuated the same old stereotypes. ”

      Interesting that you pass the buck to the director.  Do note that Welch is considered an “artist” with her own Liberty print fabrics and high fashion tie ins, in control and “innovative” etc.  I’m just not seeing how this was the director’s fault. As for Dog Days etc, her black gospel choir fetish makes me uncomfortable. Very disappointing. I was never a huge fan but thought she at least had something new to offer. I think it went all wrong when she went “Vogue”. The high fashion world is VERY racist and constantly uses stereotypes and offensive imagery to get attention.  As many of us have noticed, just because  people of colour and Gay men are a large part of that world sadly does not make it progressive.  It stays apolitcal and when valid complaints are issued about 10 years olds in lingerie, black face models, severely thin models and tired and degrading images the fashion world collectively finds it amusing and funny that people are so “PC”.  As if to say “oh sorry, we’ll have an all Black or plus size cover next month or something, please do not get in the way of our narcissistic materialism till then…”  Florence Welch sadly seems to have latched onto that world of faux art / tired stereotypes because unlike Adele she’s not a diva who can rely on sheer vocal talent and unlike most of the others she’s not day glo bubblegum.

  • Gibwa Kironde

    I love your article because at the end you have a suggestion for *what we should do about it.*  

    We need to talk about this. Rather than telling people we don’t agree with to shut up and stop defending/allowing/accusing/overreacting we need to TALK IT OUT, as painful as that may be, until we can at least see where the other is coming from.  Without discussion this is all pain, no gain.

  • http://twitter.com/TheSuperAmanda Super Amanda

    Yes. Endorsed by the President himself, Woodrow Wilson no less. Mind numbingly frightening.

  • http://twitter.com/TheSuperAmanda Super Amanda

    There were  plenty of Blackface minstrels shows here in the UK and Al Jolson was huge in his day so “we have no Blackface in the UK” is simply false.  As Bell Hooks pointed out over two decades ago, Madonna has been doing this for ages; using Black people as props (Secret, Raiding Malawi); artistic objects to shock (Like A Prayer) and when not using Black people as as objects, for repositioning herself  on the Right.  Hard Candy was originally going to be Madonna in Blackface and called “Black madonna”. Florence like Madonna has no basis or experience to be playing with racial imagery and it is simply a very cheap PR tool.  She wants to play race and culture than be Boudica or a historical religious figure from HER background.  And let’s be honest; she became absorbed in the whole Couture d fashion house vortex (which we all know is really white , really racist and really unoriginal) because she’s not conventionally attractive nor that great of a singer.  She has to keep all the bells and whistles , Kate Bush rip off going to look less homely and dowdy that’s fine  and a time honoured tradition of show business but sadly to exploit and “kistch-ify very serious and destructive racial themes is not campy or quirky-just ugly.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_POZN7DB2VG25LOOXENCUWHGR4Q Ellington

    I am a big Florence + The Machine fan. I do love her music but this video is just off.
    As for the people in Britain do not know what Blackface is, is a lie! They use to have a very popular show called The Black and White Minstel Show which featured white people singing in black face.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_and_White_Minstrel_Show

    Like I said I love Florence + The Machine’s music, for me she is very talented and creative musically like Kate Bush, but this video is just jank. 

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  • http://tigergray.blogspot.com/ Tiger Gray

    Exactly. I think doing so wouldn’t have taken away from the point of the video either, so it’s not as if someone should be throwing around an omg you’re tainting the art for the sake of your preferences argument. I don’t consider many things sacred and I am all for the right of artists to be provocative, but what I think a lot of artists don’t consider is that including these kinds of triggers actually DIMINISHES their message. Hang with me through this analogy: I am a professional editor. When I get an author’s work and it’s not up to standard, I have, in essence, two choices. I can come down hard and ask what the hell they were thinking with this trite, steaming turd, or I can say, I feel the tone isn’t quite working here because of this or that, maybe you could try *suggestion* ? Now, which one do you think the author is going to respond to? In the first example I’ve tasked them with wading through my nigh-cruelty to get to the part of my advice that may in fact be helpful to them. Faced with that kind of task, many would simply turn away and never do the required work. I feel that videos like this, where the racial statement isn’t even a conscious artistic decision (at least, it doesn’t read that way to me. Sometimes artists and comics include racial stereotypes for the purpose of skewering them or questioning them, but I don’t get that from this video) are much like that. If someone has to wade through hurtful things to grasp the heart of what you’ve created, it’s possible that you, as an artist, have failed. 

    (not to mention if she’d only considered the race of the choir, the pursuer, how she herself presented, it could have been something very worthy, interesting, and perhaps appropriately provocative. The missed chance is a bummer in and of itself) 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=515664187 Ari Curtis

    I’ve come to this blog for a breath of fresh air from the ignorant masses. It’s very alarming the way people attack anyone who calls out racism, especially when it is this overt. Like Lyonside, I’ve unwittingly wrapped myself up in battles I can’t win with people who don’t care to see things from a marginal perspective. It’s a shame that people feel so comfortable calling people who try to address the problems of society as “overly sensitive” or “overly PC.” I wish more people like the commenters below would make their voices heard among the vehement deniers of racism. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=515664187 Ari Curtis

    I’ve come to this blog for a breath of fresh air from the ignorant masses. It’s very alarming the way people attack anyone who calls out racism, especially when it is this overt. Like Lyonside, I’ve unwittingly wrapped myself up in battles I can’t win with people who don’t care to see things from a marginal perspective. It’s a shame that people feel so comfortable calling people who try to address the problems of society as “overly sensitive” or “overly PC.” I wish more people like the commenters below would make their voices heard among the vehement deniers of racism. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=515664187 Ari Curtis

    I’ve come to this blog for a breath of fresh air from the ignorant masses. It’s very alarming the way people attack anyone who calls out racism, especially when it is this overt. Like Lyonside, I’ve unwittingly wrapped myself up in battles I can’t win with people who don’t care to see things from a marginal perspective. It’s a shame that people feel so comfortable calling people who try to address the problems of society as “overly sensitive” or “overly PC.” I wish more people like the commenters below would make their voices heard among the vehement deniers of racism. 

  • Facebook User

    I have never understood why the remade the “Dog Days” video. The first iteration was perfectly fine. This 2nd one really bothered me.

  • Facebook User

    I have never understood why the remade the “Dog Days” video. The first iteration was perfectly fine. This 2nd one really bothered me.

  • Facebook User

    I have never understood why the remade the “Dog Days” video. The first iteration was perfectly fine. This 2nd one really bothered me.

  • Anonymous

    A_Nonny_Moose brings up a point about Florence+ concerning the CONTENT of her previous song,”Kiss With A Fist” that had apologists and explainers and defenders falling all over themselves rationalizing how the song was obviously not about domestic violence — even though it could not be more plainly so. I really like how her music sounds — but this burden of problematic content should be addressed. It is not happening in isolation or coming from nowhere.

     There are a ton of people behind the product of Florence and the Machine. This is not the output of one independent artist making DIY recordings and video. Management, the record company, the video director, the writer,the art director casting agents, stylists, make-up artists,choreographers, etc.etc. all participate in creating this mess, which again highlight the bigger social problem that exists: people don’t seem to “get” that while they feel they are above the problems of representation, that they continue to perpetuate it.

  • Anonymous

    A_Nonny_Moose brings up a point about Florence+ concerning the CONTENT of her previous song,”Kiss With A Fist” that had apologists and explainers and defenders falling all over themselves rationalizing how the song was obviously not about domestic violence — even though it could not be more plainly so. I really like how her music sounds — but this burden of problematic content should be addressed. It is not happening in isolation or coming from nowhere.

     There are a ton of people behind the product of Florence and the Machine. This is not the output of one independent artist making DIY recordings and video. Management, the record company, the video director, the writer,the art director casting agents, stylists, make-up artists,choreographers, etc.etc. all participate in creating this mess, which again highlight the bigger social problem that exists: people don’t seem to “get” that while they feel they are above the problems of representation, that they continue to perpetuate it.

  • Marinary

    I have to say that I am white and a great fan of Florence, but even I could see the racism in Dog Days Are Over and No Light, No Light. I still love the songs, but I refuse to watch those videos and I support any attempts to get those videos taken off the internet. Probably too late for Dog Days Are Over, but No Light, No Light’s video was deeply horrifying to me and I wish that someone had stopped this from being made.

  • Marinary

    I have to say that I am white and a great fan of Florence, but even I could see the racism in Dog Days Are Over and No Light, No Light. I still love the songs, but I refuse to watch those videos and I support any attempts to get those videos taken off the internet. Probably too late for Dog Days Are Over, but No Light, No Light’s video was deeply horrifying to me and I wish that someone had stopped this from being made.

  • guest

    you can’t say that it IS racist, just that that’s the way you’ve interpreted it, to me it just looks like simple light/dark imagery, i’m pretty sure no-one involved intended it to be offensive

  • guest

    you can’t say that it IS racist, just that that’s the way you’ve interpreted it, to me it just looks like simple light/dark imagery, i’m pretty sure no-one involved intended it to be offensive

    • Winn

      There are many Racism 101 sites you can visit to help you to engage in discussion in spaces like this.  You did read the site description, right?  Dissenting views are fine, but a simplistic “that’s just the way you’ve interpreted it”  and “no-one involved intended it to be offensive” on a site that engages in critical dissection and discourse of race, gender, sexuality and disability issues in pop culture is just lazy and unproductive. 

    • http://twitter.com/TheSuperAmanda Super Amanda

      @Guest:  You know this how?  Insidious commercial arrogance perpetuates  just as many harmful stereotypes as blatant racism does.

    • Anonymous

      Regardless of intention, that is exactly what it is. And no defense you or anyone else can offer excuses it.

  • Alexa

    The more and more I think about this video the more it bothers me. Mostly because Florence + the Machine’s music is heavily influenced by gospel, particularly on Ceremonials, and in listening to it I wondered what kind of relationship Welch has with the genre. Now I know – flimsy, at best, as she clearly has little understanding of the culture and background such music came from, and it does not take much to see what’s wrong with this video. It makes me feel sad and icky that music I adored a week ago is starting sound more and more like trumped up appropriation.

  • Alexa

    The more and more I think about this video the more it bothers me. Mostly because Florence + the Machine’s music is heavily influenced by gospel, particularly on Ceremonials, and in listening to it I wondered what kind of relationship Welch has with the genre. Now I know – flimsy, at best, as she clearly has little understanding of the culture and background such music came from, and it does not take much to see what’s wrong with this video. It makes me feel sad and icky that music I adored a week ago is starting sound more and more like trumped up appropriation.

  • Alan Wexelblat

    Oh holy fuck me for blindness. I’ve watched the vid twice before and not paid enough attention. I think watching it with the sound off helps, but… um, yeah.  Embarrassed now I didn’t see it. This is bad.

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  • http://alagarconniere.wordpress.com julia

    it’s partly why i felt like i absolutely had to write about it elsewhere! i was so frustrated with their comments.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jacob.t.mccall Jacob T. McCall

    I agree with frowner. I’m also disgusted by the ending when all the people of color are being destroyed at the music apex.

  • http://andreeazup.wordpress.com Azzandra

    I love F+TM, but I go out of my way to avoid looking at her music videos, because they’re invariably the same low-budget surreal imagery used as a backdrop for Welch to do her bizarre interpretive dance to. Not really much to look at.

    Then I saw the music video for “Dog Days Are Over” and I was glad about my decision.

    I wonder if whoever came up with the concept for this video listened to the song even once? Because it’s a song about having a lover fall out of love with you. Oh! But maybe they did listen? Maybe in a clever parallel to the song, this music video is meant to make fans fall out of love with F+TM? Brilliant! Mission accomplished!

  • DamnDamnDamn

    The Dog Days video was so hard to watch. I am so tired of people like Florence Welch and Gwen Stefani aligning themselves with things that are “ethnic” just to show how different and special they are. How different are you if you have to steal from other cultures? It’s just another case of how hard it is for whiteness to mingle with anything else without trying to own or steal from it. For the record, I love Florence’s music….but after seeing these two videos I am so confused an disappointed.

  • Anonymous

    Racism aside, the video’s just boring. Seriously, can there be choir boys standing under some fancy stained glass ceiling thing without someone falling through it? I guess it wasn’t cliché enough on its own so they had to throw in a scary blackface man.

  • Anonymous

    Racism aside, the video’s just boring. Seriously, can there be choir boys standing under some fancy stained glass ceiling thing without someone falling through it? I guess it wasn’t cliché enough on its own so they had to throw in a scary blackface man.

    • laprofe63

      EXACTLY!! I mean no imagination whatsoever, recycled, reused shit that is so over-used that it’s trite and, frankly, pathetic. You know what I kept thinking about? The Madonna video with the Black Jesus! Been there, done that.

    • laprofe63

      EXACTLY!! I mean no imagination whatsoever, recycled, reused shit that is so over-used that it’s trite and, frankly, pathetic. You know what I kept thinking about? The Madonna video with the Black Jesus! Been there, done that.

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  • Nanette

    Part of what I imagine to be a goal was accomplished. I’d never even heard of Florence + the Machine before this video came out–but now I have. Mind, I’ll never even think of purchasing, or even listening to, anything of hers as a result of this, but I suspect that, as usually happens, multitudes of “it’s not racist, stop persecuting her!” type folks will be rushing to buy it and show their support. 

    A time honored marketing ploy that, sadly, works. 

  • Nanette

    Part of what I imagine to be a goal was accomplished. I’d never even heard of Florence + the Machine before this video came out–but now I have. Mind, I’ll never even think of purchasing, or even listening to, anything of hers as a result of this, but I suspect that, as usually happens, multitudes of “it’s not racist, stop persecuting her!” type folks will be rushing to buy it and show their support. 

    A time honored marketing ploy that, sadly, works. 

    • Anonymous

      While also speaks volumes in their confidence in the performer. If they ‘have to’ create a controversy with this kind of crap, then the performer can’t be very good to begin with.

  • Anonymous

    I’m glad I’m not the only one whose antennae was pinging. I mean “Kiss with a fist” is a song that glorifies domestic violence, absolving the perpertator, and blaming the victim because “she fought back”! I think I can quite happily not buy Ceremonials after this.

    • Ctcentralinfo

      Maybe she was dedicating it to Sean Connery.

    • http://letterbyafeminist.blogspot.com/ Feminist Avatar

      I actually think the racism in this is probably intentional. I think it’s so overt that she hopes to subvert it through representation. I think this because she seems to be trying to do something similar in ‘kiss with a fist’, which is a song I just hate. I get the impression that by vocalising the ‘uncomfortable’, she intends to be transformative. Unfortunately, I just don’t think it works, because she leaves no space for that transformation- there is no code here for us to read this in alternative ways. And, I think as a white artist – or perhaps more than that- an artist for whom whiteness is central to her representation, she doesn’t have the authority to do that.

      Just as a silly fact: the reason that Europeans read sticking pins into dolls as malignant is because pin-sticking is malignant in the Western European witchcraft tradition. In other words, they were imposing their own understandings onto another culture. Huge surprise there.

    • TeakLipstickFiend

      What do you think about “Girl with One Eye”? I find the lyrics of that rather disturbing as well.

  • Anonymous

    I’m glad I’m not the only one whose antennae was pinging. I mean “Kiss with a fist” is a song that glorifies domestic violence, absolving the perpertator, and blaming the victim because “she fought back”! I think I can quite happily not buy Ceremonials after this.

  • Anonymous

    To all the fans of Welch:   this isn’t music.  It’s cross burning with a beat.  

  • Anonymous

    To all the fans of Welch:   this isn’t music.  It’s cross burning with a beat.  

    • guest

      …that you can dance to.

    • guest

      …that you can dance to.

    • guest

      …that you can dance to.

  • http://twitter.com/TheDayLighter Iris Chevalier

    I adore(d) Florence and have been OD’ing on Ceremonials since late October, but that video is so racist–I (like the author) can scarcely believe it actually got made. The amount of unconscious privilege and ignorance Ms. Welch must possess… it’s really disturbing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fragglera Rachel Kantstopdaphunk

    oh my. someone in blackface sticking pins in voodoo dolls. wow. that’s just. wow.  well that’s the thing about art, it has always relied on some idea of ‘individual creativity’ to guard itself against the critique that would call out racism and exotification and all the other isms which are quite apparent should you begin to read images critically. I think a critical reflection about all kinds of art reveals a lot about society and how it thinks. This video sort of lays bare some of the undigested racist mulch that underlies western culture as a whole.   And i think its a great question to say, yeah why didn’t someone tell her, ‘hey, chick remember when madonna had that black man/statue  in the  ‘like a prayer’ video and how incredibly problematic that was? this is just much much worse’ and that really means what needs to happen on the ground, is that we need more diversity everywhere. Imagine if there’d been just one  or two poc in the initial stages, this crap would never have happened.

  • Neurochick

    This video is both racist and stupid.  The video doesn’t even go with the song.  “No light in your bright blue eyes.”  So why have a POC in the video at all?

    • http://tigergray.blogspot.com/ Tiger Gray

      I wonder that too! It doesn’t even fit. I’ve always interpreted the song as being about a failing/abusive relationship and they simply went too far into stylistic nonsense. I doubt Florence herself had much control over the video, but it’s amazing that no one else in her orbit put a stop to at least some of this. I feel like there are such simple things they could have done to keep the video largely intact and yet have nuance and not be this over the top racist/sexist, that it’s really sad it stayed as is. 

  • Anonymous

    I was visiting my boyfriend in the UK a few years ago and saw a clip of the show and my jaw dropped to the floor. Then I saw that was still being shown during the late 70′s-really? Wasn’t there someone on Australian TV last year that went in blackface to do the Jackson 5?  I mean, really, if blackface needs to be a part of your costume or tribute, maybe you should think twice.

    • Anonymous

      I love this idea that Brits don’t understand imperialism or racism. Um…in what universe?!

    • Anonymous

      I love this idea that Brits don’t understand imperialism or racism. Um…in what universe?!

  • k.eli

    “… it is slightly astounding that not one person raised concerns about how problematic this video is.”

    Is it really though? These kinds of productions usually aren’t very rich in terms of diversity behind-the-scenes so I have a hard time imagining there were many (or any) POC with a position of authority that could have called out the troubling themes. And since the people working on the video probably have the same ideologies as the fans defending it, it really would come as no surprise to me that not a single person raised concerns about the message the video was sending.

  • k.eli

    “… it is slightly astounding that not one person raised concerns about how problematic this video is.”

    Is it really though? These kinds of productions usually aren’t very rich in terms of diversity behind-the-scenes so I have a hard time imagining there were many (or any) POC with a position of authority that could have called out the troubling themes. And since the people working on the video probably have the same ideologies as the fans defending it, it really would come as no surprise to me that not a single person raised concerns about the message the video was sending.

  • Anonymous

    I am glad that you did a post on this too. The amount of foolishness I have seen on tumblr has made me tired. Some don’t even see the voodoo thing as a problem. Voodoo and other African originated religion has been demonized so much and misrepresented that nobody can even tell what is real voodoo. That stuff wasn’t even Hoodoo.

    Someone called it Birth of Nation condensed into a Music video.

  • Anonymous

    I am glad that you did a post on this too. The amount of foolishness I have seen on tumblr has made me tired. Some don’t even see the voodoo thing as a problem. Voodoo and other African originated religion has been demonized so much and misrepresented that nobody can even tell what is real voodoo. That stuff wasn’t even Hoodoo.

    Someone called it Birth of Nation condensed into a Music video.

  • Winn

    I didn’t even know about this video, but I am appalled and not surprised.  “Dog Days” was bad enough, and then on SNL this weekend, she trotted out the black gospel choir for “Shake It Out”.  That has become such a ridiculous and transparent musical trope for white artists; apparently all you need these days to inoculate yourself from criticism about appropriation or cultural insensitivity is to sprinkle a few black musicians into your backing band (drummers are always a good option), or back yourself with a gospel choir, complete with robes and everything.  I’m so sick of people using the cry of “Art” as if its some shield, with all critique about race, gender, sexuality or culture just bouncing off.  And of unthinking and uncritical fans, who don’t admire these artists as much as they claim, or they would be capable of taking an honest look at their work and consider critical opinions. Just because the word fan has its roots in ‘fanatic’ doesn’t mean you have to be fanatical in your defense, especially when you have to be willfully obtuse to ignore the problematic elements of this video. 

    • Soulsentwined

      I think the black gospel choir trope functions the same way as  Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku girls:  special unique snow flake white person standing in front of identically dressed OTHERS whose sole purpose is to make the white person look culturally hip.

      • Winn

        You are absolutely right!  Black back-up singers serve the same purpose, but are less obvious and obnoxious.  When you don’t notice or care that you are using HUMAN BEINGS as props and the artistry of another culture to give YOUR work cultural cachet, hipness is the last thing you achieve.  Lazy, casual racism is more like it.  

      • Winn

        You are absolutely right!  Black back-up singers serve the same purpose, but are less obvious and obnoxious.  When you don’t notice or care that you are using HUMAN BEINGS as props and the artistry of another culture to give YOUR work cultural cachet, hipness is the last thing you achieve.  Lazy, casual racism is more like it.  

        • Love is the Root Politic

          Exactly. That reminds me of when John Mayer had his bout of racist sexist diarrhea, and then faced his black back-up singers with his tail between his legs.

  • Anonymous

    Amazing post. I’d also written about this, but you really hit the nail on the head. Especially this:

    What these music videos show is the amount of misrepresentations around race that many (white) artists are able to use, all under the guise of “art.”

    Because art has never been racist! I can see why people are trying to deny it though: the racism is so overt in this video that it’s hard to accept that it’s real, and not some sort of bizarro parody.
    Here are my thoughts, if you’re interested: http://theoncominghope.blogspot.com/2011/11/well-lets-see-asian-man-in-blackface.html

  • Anonymous

    Amazing post. I’d also written about this, but you really hit the nail on the head. Especially this:

    What these music videos show is the amount of misrepresentations around race that many (white) artists are able to use, all under the guise of “art.”

    Because art has never been racist! I can see why people are trying to deny it though: the racism is so overt in this video that it’s hard to accept that it’s real, and not some sort of bizarro parody.
    Here are my thoughts, if you’re interested: http://theoncominghope.blogspot.com/2011/11/well-lets-see-asian-man-in-blackface.html

  • http://twitter.com/danthrasher Daniel Thrasher

    I love Florence + The Machine, but this video is so racist.  So, so racist.  I can see where the people were going – the man is supposed to be a demon, maybe?, not an actual human.  The religious imagery would support this.  But then, instead of painting him red and making him look like a non-human figure, they dress him up in blackface and throw every uncivilized/animalistic/dangerous to white women/heathen racist stereotype at him.  I want to believe that what they were going for was far from what they ended up with, but like the author here said – with all the people involved making this someone should have noticed the racism.

  • http://twitter.com/danthrasher Daniel Thrasher

    I love Florence + The Machine, but this video is so racist.  So, so racist.  I can see where the people were going – the man is supposed to be a demon, maybe?, not an actual human.  The religious imagery would support this.  But then, instead of painting him red and making him look like a non-human figure, they dress him up in blackface and throw every uncivilized/animalistic/dangerous to white women/heathen racist stereotype at him.  I want to believe that what they were going for was far from what they ended up with, but like the author here said – with all the people involved making this someone should have noticed the racism.

  • Sarah Morehouse

    Whether or not they *meant* it as a racist statement, the key thing is that they accept that whatever they meant is drowned out by the racist meanings embedded in the symbols they used. We may like to think that when we’re making art, we’re expressing ourselves as individuals… and we are… but we have to do that using tools that belong to everyone. Some of those tools are gunked up with foul, poisonous stuff. Best not to use those ones unless you want that foul poisonous stuff all over you and your attempted message.
    I could accept the cluelessness defense from them, provided they pull the video, make a simple and subdued apology (not a non-apology, and not some tearful over the top attention-grab either) and go about educating themselves so they don’t make similar mistakes in the future. (Easy enough to do, with all the 101 blogs around!)I have been guilty of clueless insensitivity an embarrassing number of times (probably everybody is, unless they’re the magical person at the intersection of *every* ism.) Gradually I’ve learned that while the mistake can’t be unmade, it’s not the end of the world. But you have to be open to being removed from the center of your own universe. It’s a panicky feeling, but it’s good for you.

  • Sarah Morehouse

    Whether or not they *meant* it as a racist statement, the key thing is that they accept that whatever they meant is drowned out by the racist meanings embedded in the symbols they used. We may like to think that when we’re making art, we’re expressing ourselves as individuals… and we are… but we have to do that using tools that belong to everyone. Some of those tools are gunked up with foul, poisonous stuff. Best not to use those ones unless you want that foul poisonous stuff all over you and your attempted message.
    I could accept the cluelessness defense from them, provided they pull the video, make a simple and subdued apology (not a non-apology, and not some tearful over the top attention-grab either) and go about educating themselves so they don’t make similar mistakes in the future. (Easy enough to do, with all the 101 blogs around!)I have been guilty of clueless insensitivity an embarrassing number of times (probably everybody is, unless they’re the magical person at the intersection of *every* ism.) Gradually I’ve learned that while the mistake can’t be unmade, it’s not the end of the world. But you have to be open to being removed from the center of your own universe. It’s a panicky feeling, but it’s good for you.

    • k.eli

      “We may like to think that when we’re making art, we’re expressing ourselves as individuals… and we are”

      Great point. I think what a lot of people don’t realize (or don’t want to) is that who we are as individuals is in part shaped by society and since we live in a society where racist imagery and beliefs are rife, it’s really no coincidence when such garbage is expressed in supposed works of art.

    • k.eli

      “We may like to think that when we’re making art, we’re expressing ourselves as individuals… and we are”

      Great point. I think what a lot of people don’t realize (or don’t want to) is that who we are as individuals is in part shaped by society and since we live in a society where racist imagery and beliefs are rife, it’s really no coincidence when such garbage is expressed in supposed works of art.

    • Anonymous

      Or as Tolstoy would argue, if your art is misinterpreted, it’s bad art and you as an artist have failed.

      • Anonymous

        And sometimes a cigar is actually a cigar.   

    • http://twitter.com/TheSuperAmanda Super Amanda

      I just don’t see Welch as an artist.

      • Matthew

        That has no bearing on the current presentation. And I’m sure almost everyone who has heard her music would politely disagree.

  • Frowner

    With that “Dog Days” song, it’s not just that there are a bunch of ambiguously racialized Others in the video – it’s that they are multiples, duplicates, almost clones meant to celebrate the white woman’s glorious individuality.  People of color are all the same, and they’re dressed in what are obviously intended as cultural costumes, ie, clothes that signify some kind of “my people have always dressed like this since the ancient times because we are pre-modern/earthy” while the white woman’s clothes are individual/fashiony.  Also, the blue women do a lot of namaste-y stuff, which is probably meant to link them with Hinduism.  I mean, you could certainly have blue women with bee hives and glittery shift dresses – they’d be campy B-52s aliens – but this isn’t that.

    And this is totally the outcome of lower-powered, lower-profile hipster racism and appropriation – everyone was always like “oh no, it’s just coincidence that I’m wearing a headdress, and I’m totally 1/16 Cherokee” or “I just happen to like this form of African music” but what was lurking underneath all the time was the lust to do something as repulsive, monstrous, Birth of A Nation-like as this dreadful thing.  And it is repulsive and monstrous – a white woman and her record company want to profit off of years of lynchings of black and brown men, of racist sexual panic (because it is a sexual threat in the video), of the hysterical climate of racism and Islamophobia that is even now gaining ground in Europe. 

    Honestly, I had no idea the video would be so bad – this leaping grotesque of a man of color, animalized if not insectized, isolated and working evil against the innocent white world, causing the “fall” of a white woman (from virtue? white women will “fall” if they have social or sexual contact with men of color, which anyway is always already unwanted?)

    It’s a disgusting and shameful spectacle.  Apology be damned – this should end her career.

    • Bernardo Soares

      I absolutely agree. I find the Dog Days video in a way worse than the No Light racist crap, because it is more subtle (ok, well, only slightly so). I think that the Dog Days imagery actually says a lot about what has to happen to make what these people imagine as a “post-racial” society possible: the Other has to be eliminated.

      I mean, they literally explode, leaving an aesthetically pleasing colorful blur for the white woman to dance through! That blur, that’s post-racial. And the only person still standing is the white woman, colored up by having “appropriated” the dust left behind by the eliminated Other.

    • Bernardo Soares

      I absolutely agree. I find the Dog Days video in a way worse than the No Light racist crap, because it is more subtle (ok, well, only slightly so). I think that the Dog Days imagery actually says a lot about what has to happen to make what these people imagine as a “post-racial” society possible: the Other has to be eliminated.

      I mean, they literally explode, leaving an aesthetically pleasing colorful blur for the white woman to dance through! That blur, that’s post-racial. And the only person still standing is the white woman, colored up by having “appropriated” the dust left behind by the eliminated Other.

  • Anonymous

    Uh, the Brits don’t know about blackface? They had a TV show called The Black and White Minstrel Show that stayed on well into the 70′s!    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoYOraDt1_k
    I swear I think people like being willfully ignorant.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jacob.t.mccall Jacob T. McCall

      Yeah and the had a line of dolls based on a man in blackface that persisted to the 90′s. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golliwogg

    • http://twitter.com/TheSuperAmanda Super Amanda

      THANK YOU!!

  • guest

    great post

  • Lyonside

    I spent what felt like ALL WEEKEND LONG playing Racism 101 with Florence fans on Facebook. I have a severe case of Racism Fatigue, and I’m in the bitter barn, because I enjoy her music an unreasonable amount, but am starting to hate her videos (except Drumming Song and Shake It Out) and am strongly ambivalent about buying the new album as a result.

    I even used Jay Smooth’s technique – calling out the racist images as racist, without calling anyone A racist… even when I suspect it’s the case. And as usual, rules of the internet mean that most people didn’t give a rats arse. Seriously demotivating.

    But thanks for bringing it here – those conversations do need to happen, any time, every time.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002629591663 Shahed Kadem

      As much as I recognize your efforts; based on my experience and what I have read, resisting people who are adamant about something not being racist will actually wear you out. Then it can make you an apathetic- where you don’t care anymore. I wouldn’t waste my time on people saying it’s not racist, they’ll wear you out.

    • TeakLipstickFiend

      It was a relief to see comments like yours amongst all the “OMG this is the bestest video ever” and “But it’s just a video/art” style comments.