I am a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and journalist. You could say my unlearning journey began about five years ago when I finally accepted my internalized anti-Blackness. And so for a while, I did what I could to find myself.
Eventually, I still felt like I was running. I started wondering if I should have to distance myself from the fact I was socialized in a Western world, therefore growing up consuming tonnes of what many would consider white culture.
Years ago, a job interviewer asked me about music. I told him I listen to Linkin Park – I had Living Things on repeat at the time. His response was skeptical, “you listen to Linkin Park??”
I should have said “well yeah… are they not a popular band? Or do you just think that my Black ears are deaf to the music?” Instead, I questioned whether I gave that response to impress him.
Finding myself as an artist was a long road. I am hyper-aware of the box I’m placed in because of my dark skin – not to mention, expectations around my artistic tastes are usually tied to the predominant conception of Black-American culture: i.e. hip-hop and R&B.
I decided to resist the reality that being Black impacts my claim to Western pop culture. That insight resulted in this article: here is my “how to” on how not to feel like a fraud. This is how I worked out what being a Black Canadian artist means to me.
1. Learn the different types of authenticity
In “You’re Not Supposed to Be into Rock Music…”, Julian Schaap and Pauwke Berkers explore three different definitions of authenticity.
Agentic authenticity: relates to “authentic self-realization.” The search for your authentic self is intrinsically determined and achieved by following your heart.
Dispositional authenticity: a view of authenticity rooted in social position (socio-economic, for example) and its impact on a person’s socialization and mindset. A person tied to dispositional authenticity feels “off” when they experience social mobility. This is explained by the gap between what they’ve always known about who they’re “supposed to be” and their new social position.
Discursive authenticity: being recognized as discursively authentic means that you fit into dominant conceptions (or stereotypes), and conversations related to identity.
Learning this helped me put into words and conceptualize what I’ve always known about the fact that one’s authenticity is not always perceived as agentic.
2. Know your history
I was an adult before I learned of Sister Rosetta Tharpe –a distorted electric guitar pioneer. Had I known the influence of the blues on contemporary rock, as well as the erasure of Black foundational rock ‘n roll figures, I would have been able to reject notions of my incompatibility with rock. By knowing your history, you’ll know who came before you, where you fit into the landscape and where you’ll fit in as you carve out your own path.
3. Knowledge is strength
Explore your craft to know specifically what it is you like about a particular genre or artform. Then, you’ll know exactly what the attraction is – not that you ever have to explain yourself to anyone. I love Billy Talent’s bright and overdriven tones, and guitarist Ian D’sa’s use of “jazz chord[s] but played with punk rock,” as he describes it. Funny enough someone told me that I hated being Black when I excitedly told him about a song on Billy Talent’s – at the time – recently released, Dead Silence. Who’s gonna tell him that Billy Talent is not an all white band?
4. Stop letting people tell you who you are
After being armed with knowledge, and introspection, you’ll understand yourself. You’ll know that your taste is the result of being a product of your environment. Maybe you’ll understand that you like a song because of an artist’s chord choices. Or, maybe you’ll realize you never really liked a particular cultural product and you were just trying to fit in, that’s okay. In that case, you can let go and find something that’s true to you. When someone questions your taste, stand your ground. You are not a poser.
5. Release your self-hate and find yourself by trial and error
I’ve been working on a new setlist which included “rock music’s biggest colonist,” Eric Clapton. Why? Because radio gave me the gift of music. Hearing Layla (Unplugged), after a long time, was a nostalgic trip to those early mornings before elementary school. Too bad I recently learned about his racism and xenophobia – that was a turn off.
As far as my original work goes, I love my early work – some of it, I can’t sing anymore because it came from a place of such sadness. For some of it, the production could use improvement. Regardless, I’m refining a sound that is mine. I’m creating work that is timeless, by my own standards.
The more experimenting I do, in order to deliberately carve out a life and artistic experience that satisfies me, the closer I get to figuring out my place in the world, and in turn, the more agency I have over my own identity. This is what helps me release the shame of feeling like a fraud.
So, what feels true to you and your experience?