Tuesday, April 12, 2011
The Grammys Are Racist
There I said it. Don't believe me? Observe the categories that National Academy of Arts and Sciences recently announced they are axing from their annual awards:
"Best Latin Jazz Album, Best Contemporary Jazz Album, Best Cajun & Zydeco Album, Best Native American Album and Best Hawaiian Music Album. Seven Latin categories were cut to four, citing duplicate categories in the Latin Grammy Awards ceremony and the English-language awards.
"The three R&B vocal performance awards for males, females and groups have been merged into a single R&B performance award."
It's worth noting the list of performers who wouldn't have been recognized without these categories. Arturo Sandoval, Charlie Haden, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Herbie Hancock, Chaka Khan, Alicia Keyes, Aretha Franklin (who won Best Female R&B Vocal eight years in a row, no doubt helping to solidify her her legendary status), Prince, D'Angelo, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire, the Temptations. The list goes on.
This is on top of several niche categories being eliminated, which affect artists of all races and ethnicities. Meanwhile, a category has been added for Best Video Game Music.
NARAS President Neil Portnow would no doubt love to act like this is all a play at reining in what has become an unwieldy and boring telecast. But most of these categories weren't part of the televised show anyway.
In the end, this is about the music industry acting like an industry. It's no secret that the first folks who get the axe in any business are the people of color. This backward logic has always been a key component of keeping profits safe and high. The round of chops at the Grammys can't be ignored aside from this.
What makes this especially frustrating is this most recent show was probably the least boring in years, displaying a diversity of talent clearly grappling with what it means to be an artist in a time of crisis and struggle. This latest move is going to put a damper on any possibility of a trend.
But it's also worth remembering that many of these categories were added in the first place during the late '60s and early '70s, when the cries for Black and Brown (and even Red) Power were their loudest. In short, NARAS is always going to act how they do. That includes feeling pressure from below. Music is a lot more diverse than any industry will ever understand; this is just another reason to do away with it.