“Message From a Black Man” (The Temptations)

Plea for white self-reflection on color question vacillates between advocacy of colorblindness and Black pride (there-is-no-difference versus get-out-of-my-way). Given this uncertainty, overly optimistic assessment of the struggle’s endpoint: “The laws of society were made for both you and me.” Correction: the laws are designed to designate you and me, citizen and subject. Always, in liberalism, a foundational distinction, remaining.

 

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“Black and White” (Three Dog Night)

Written in in response to Brown v. Board of Education (1954), and later recorded by Three Dog Night in the aftermath of the school busing case, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971), this trax seems to be straightforwardly liberal in orientation, emphasizing literacy and integration in equal measure. Most important, perhaps, is the trax’s triumphal relation to Supreme Court decisions and their enforcement in every town, burb, and city in America (“this I the law of ALL the land”). But let’s take a closer look at the scene of inscription: “The ink is black, the page is white, together we learn to read and write.” Songwriter Earl Robinson’s original recording had a later, counterbalancing verse (“The slate is black, the chalk is white, the words stand out so clear and bright”), but Three Dog Night removed it. So the message, on balance, is not quite color-blind: instead, it charts a power reversal grounded in a historical overcoming. Our future, here, involves blackness writing its own story onto the parchment remnants of white supremacy.

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“Karma Police” (Radiohead)

Today, mere bad vibes amount to a dangerous misstep, and an unwillingness to staightforwardly communicate (post-Nietzschean buzzing, white noising, talking “maths”) is the paramount crime. Criminalized bad karma, then, as a break from a  mandated sensus communis, as the police are decoupled from a limited Law. But, in the coda, singer associates the Big Brother-style turning in of cultural refuseniks with a “lost” “self,” suggesting that if we find our true being, singularity might be freed. Actually, this is all backwards: the lost need not be found, nor become founders of some (always retro) polity; rather, one might begin from original foundering (communications breakdown: it’s not always the same).

 

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“Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard (A True Story)” (!!!)

To legally dance in New York City, an establishment needed a Cabaret license until 2017. And when an establishment applied for one, they’d have to be approved by the fire department and a Community Board. With a history often centered on Giuliani’s “quality of life” campaign. the hazy origins of the law—that its institution and enforcement in the early twentieth century is related to segregation—allow alternate evasion strategies to emerge from the shadows, such as how gay bars routinely evaded the law’s enforcement. (And why Giuliani as “Julio”?) With so many layers of approval and overbearing officiousness, !!!’s focus on the “piggiest pig[’s]” stutters when it equates NYC’s situation with Footloose. There’s certainly paternalism in common, but there’s no ban. And there’s no generational conflict to exploit. It is, though, a question of what a just measure is, especially in light of NYC’s selective enforcement. The creation of an illicit dancefloor can be theorized aggressively, as Autechre’s project shows. It can also advocate for counterhegemonic praxis, as with the focus here on dancers sharing “nothing more than this very second” because mortality is always a beat away. Unlike Oliver Wang’s notion of dancefloor intersubjectivity, we shouldn’t claim that we “barely understand” what happens on the dancefloor. We listen and watch for its utopian possibilities and manifold realizations.

 

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