Tag Archives: NPR

NPR sort of hates “black music”

by Guest Contributor Kelvin


Last Monday, I was in the middle of my daily ritual of checking on my favorite online newspapers and blogs, when I happened upon a blog post on Slate.com written by Jody Rosen. The title of the post is “The DORF Matrix: Towards a Theory of NPR’s Taste in Black Music”. The author attempts to provide either a social commentary or critique on the selections in NPR’s All Songs ConsideredBest Music of 2009 (So far)”.

Rosen argues that music of black origin usually selected by NPR: (1) tend to be either from obscure or dead artistes black people don’t listen to (2) are restricted based on genre, and (3) heavily influenced by the majority white and male (with beards and guitars) NPR audience.

In the weeks since the publication of the All Songs Considered list, I have been puzzling over NPR’s musical coverage—in particular, its approach to black music. I wondered: Could NPR’s musical taste be as lily-white as the “The Best Music of 2009 (So Far)” list? After scouring NPR’s Web site and studying its broadcasts—All Things Considered profiles, Fresh Air interviews, even the music interludes played between segments on NPR’s marquee programs—I can report that the answer is no. It’s not that NPR doesn’t like black music. It merely maintains a strict preference for black music that few actual living African-Americans listen to.

Now, I don’t have any particular issues with the writers description of the “Best Music of 2009 (So far)”, which is voted on by NPR listeners. If you look at the list itself, it’s pretty lily white and tends to hipster indie tastes. But that’s a topic for another day. My problem with the article is based on a framework defined by Rosen in his article called the DORF Matrix.  Rosen describes DORF as “an acronym for Dead Old Retro Foreign”.

Dead: artists who have shuffled off this mortal coil. There was a significant spike in this category this summer with the passing of Michael Jackson. In general, though, NPR prefers its dead black musicians decades dead. Bonus points are awarded to performers present at the 1963 March on Washington, and to Bobby Short.

Old: musicians of advanced years. Crusty soul-belters on the comeback trail, gray-bearded jazzers, Motown legends, defunct rap groups.

Retro: musicians, young or old, performing in styles two or more decades out of fashion. Sixties soul revivalists; old school rappers who “[stick] with the puns, jokes and silly one-upsmanship that once defined hip-hop …Thank goodness“; Lenny Kravitz.

Foreign: black folks who live in far-flung places. And/or the children of Bob Marley.

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Dispatches from Nappyville: WTF, NPR? Way to totally mischaracterize discussions about black women, hair and Michelle Obama

by Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

That Farai Chideya is no longer holding it down at NPR’s “News & Notes” is abundantly clear. Yesterday’s “News & Notes” segment–” The Obama Effect on Black Women’s Hair Issues–was some serious insipid nonsense. Since the dawning of the Obama era, I’ve sensed a disturbing trend in coverage of black women’s issues by mainstream media. Having a black First Lady seems to have inspired the media to take some notice of the unique lives of African American women. Good. Problem is, the gently increased coverage is shallow and inconsequential, and often has the feel of detached voyeurism–academically peering at the exotic world and strange habits of black women (oddly, this is so, even when the work is presided over by black women). A product of these travel guides to Blackchicksylvania is the “Lawd, us black wimmin’s hair sho is complicated” story, which usually includes the meme that Michelle Obama’s hair is a hot topic among black women. And so goes the “News & Notes” piece by Allison Samuels, featuring celebrity stylist Marcia Hamilton.

Listen.

Says Samuels, “We now have an African American president, with an African American wife and two African American daughters. So now we talk a lot about hair–things we probably didn’t talk about when we had First Ladies who were not African American. So, the conversation has gone from one end to the other. Should Michelle wear more natural hair? Should she cut her hair? Should she have a perm? Should she press and curl? Why do we have such an obsession, even now, in 2009, with black women and hair?”

First, I would love to know where these purported conversations about Michelle Obama’s hair are taking place. Where is this obsession with her tresses flowering? So far, I’ve seen several articles about the phenomenon (I believe Salon has peddled it, too.), but have yet to experience it among any, y’know, actual black women. As far as I can tell, in real life, no one is riding Michelle to bust out the cornrows at the next State dinner. (According to Samuels, black female bloggers are calling for Michelle and her daughters to be champions of black hair. Why’s everybody got to blame the bloggers these days? I’m plugged into the top black blogs and haven’t seen any such discussion percolating. Hmmmm.) Continue reading