These Blues Are My Blues

The Author, keeping it real. © Kerima Çevik 
I speak about my stepfather and race a great deal. He was my mentor and guide into the world of being Black in America in the 1970s. My stepfather took some drastic steps to insure we assimilated American Black Culture, in all caps. He took us off military bases for 6 of the most vulnerable and traumatic years of my life, until I graduated from high school. He took me to housing projects and the slums of Chicago’s south side to visit war buddies, friends and family. He wanted me to understand both Delta blues and Chicago blues in the most organic fashion possible. Not for music history appreciation, or the witnessing of poverty, or any of the reasons those who are not raised in a blues culture can understand. He did it to share with me the way he retained his identity and sense of self when war, torture, racism, and injustice sought to tear it away from him. He passed it on to me in the way it was shared by his parents with him. This is my inheritance from him. An incredible gift because the understanding of how our race uses music to empower and heal is one the secrets to how some in previous generations kept their mental health in a stew of institutionalized societal abuse and catastrophic racism that continues to this day. The blues, like Rap, Hip Hop, and Krip Hop, aren’t just musical styles to those who produce and live them. They are creations of unadulterated uncensored free expression made by us for us in order to affirm our identities and voices in the face of overwhelming oppressive factors. They are more than culture to us. They are a survival mechanism and the medicine that heals wounds.

This was the unspoken communication between Prince and the people of Baltimore. The essence of why Prince gave this great gift to our people, of bringing music to us to medicate the open wound of injustice repeated and rampant; that wrongness of justice forever denied that drags us to the edge of sanity. No history lesson, presentation, or appropriation thinly disguised as cultural exchange can impart that communication to those who are not there living this.

On March 23rd  I posted the following Facebook status:
March 23 
Its always a bit odd to me to see people outside my race discussing things that were an intrinsic and organic part of my cultural identity growing up, in academic terms. B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins were part of the emotional fabric of our house, one of many members of the extended roots, and the way my stepfather coped when things overwhelmed, the blues so painfully wailing at times we ran outside to be free of it. The blues are something you either love or hate. For us the blues are a whole host of things that cannot be expressed but must be lived, felt, survived. I don't know, therefore, when these people are dissecting the music, and I am watching it discussed and parsed, how I feel. It is a bit like listening to people talk about and over a member of my family and while no harm is meant, I find it hard to not shout "you don't know or understand them"."They were not part of your family, your culture, and who you were." And they can talk all day, and explain their entire lives to everyone, but they are for us, because they speak to our lives. They are our voices. So I am conflicted"

I was completely unprepared for the bombardment of white voices telling me what they had the right to define about my music and my culture and what I had the right to say and not say about the blues. It was disappointing because many of these are people I respect and I felt should therefore clearly understand the history of cultural appropriation of anything considered Black culture (which occurs with such impunity that the automatic litany of justification comes to the most educated lips). After days of  private discussions with white friends trying to understand me, white folk gaslighting me about how offended they were and white folk lecturing me about the difference between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation, the lines of which they damn well know are blurred, I posted the following status:. “

March 26
For the past four days, I have been having various private messaging exchanges about a status I posted regarding the blues and my racial cultural heritage. All of these exchanges have been from people who aren't of my race. I'm so shocked that I have decided to take my husband's advice and simply write about it and be done with it. I am managing pain and when I feel I am in a good space to do so I will write. I shouldn't have to explain or justify. But I do respect those who have been discussing this privately with me enough to do so in this case.”

Pain brought me back to the blues that week and for two months after. The pain of incredible injustice against our people combined with the pain of old injuries survived and friends presuming to lecture me about a culture they neither grew up in nor were a part of. Never tell someone how to live their own racial or cultural history. Even if you have friends and colleagues who are the same race and respect your authority on a topic that intersects with my racial identity. You have no right, even if you are married to someone my color. Even if you grew up in an area where you witnessed what you thought was a blues culture as the audience who appreciated it. Even if a friend who is my race says what you are doing is not offensive to them. If it is appropriative to me, because the life I lived was different from your spouse, friend, colleague, or topic expert, then you must err on the side of caution and acknowledge my experiencing of that loss. You certainly should not gaslight me. I speak to my experience of the blues. I do not profess to speak for my entire race. This is my right. If you, representing the privileged party, are demanding I acquiesce to your beliefs about my culture you are gaslighting me.

Period.

There is a Turkish expression, which in short translates as “True friends speak painful truths.”  This is mine. If I offended I won’t apologize. The blues are not everybody’s bitch to use as they see fit. The blues are a music style that can be enjoyed by all, but the blues are also a cultural imperative fundamental to those of us infused with the legacy passed on to aid us in teaching our children and their children to survive times like the times we are living right now. Music is our system of survival. To those outside our culture who want to dilute, dissect, analyze, appropriate, or decaffeinate our music and love our culture I say what many others have said. If white people loved black people as much as they loved black culture it would be a safer world.



For my children, Malika and Mustafa, for Henry Frost and everyone else who respectfully asked me about the blues, for my late stepfather CSM. M. Douglas Kendall, and for the late great B.B. King, who got me through many a winding road

Resources
Amandla Stenberg and Quinn Masterson: Don't Cash Crop On My Cornrows: A young voice on the topic of cultural appropriation in entertainment:

 B.B. King teaches his people the blues in words and music
The blues in 1960s 

Prince and 3D Eye Girl's gift to Baltimore and the memory of Freddie Gray 

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