It was the summer of 2009 and I was on my way to show choir camp.
In the heart of the urban and sprawling mecca that is Illinois, lay the city of Decatur. The scent of the air was a startling and confounding nexus of the infamous soybean processing plant, mixed with the neighboring city’s fossil fuel refinery. I awoke to this pungent yet signature smell on the floor of a Greyhound bus. I had been tossing, turning, and soaking in the low, dull roar of the engine for the last 8.5 hours on my way to the most intense week of singing, dancing, and spirit-fingers that I had ever experienced.
During these summers, I attended Show Choir Camps of America, a camp designed to bring the most ambitious performers and accomplished vocal directors and choreographers into a single cesspool of jazz-hands, sweat, and smiles.
As with other experiences from my youth, this was an all-too-perfect opportunity to shatter the fragile boundaries of my comfort zone. I was hemmed in by kids who were very different from my own high school. It was here that I learned the “damnright” way to do the “Cupid Shuffle.” (For those of you who know the CWalk, you know what I’m talkin’ about.) It was also the first time I was told I was too white. Admittedly it was just about my taste in music, but it stuck with me.
Many people don’t have the same privilege as me. For many African Americans, listening to rap and hip hop music brands them with a slew of stereotypes. Regardless of acute knowledge of a person, listening to rap might make them a thug, vandal, or a likely criminal in our minds.
Music is a powerful communication tool, but shouldn’t be a proxy for getting to know someone. I know my own personal bias of genre has caused me to make snap judgements of people, and I like saying that the most satisfying thing is when I’m fl at out wrong. Like finding out that the most passionate Beethoven fan also shred-the-gnar on their stickered up longboard. People are much more complex than our Spotify history, and our taste in music shouldn’t be a springboard for judgment.
Let’s share music, teach streetwisee dance moves, but please—let’s leave the racial stereotypes and internal bias at the door. They do no one— including yourself—any good.