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DONALD BYRD Twenty Questions 1. Today when we say “black popular culture” do we really mean American popular culture? 2. I used to believe that popular culture was a barometer of the attitudes and values of a society. Should I be afraid of what today’s black popular culture signi‹es? 3. Is today’s popular culture an authentic signi‹er? An arti‹cial construct ? A capitalist invention (a way of selling records, movies, baggy pants, images, etc.)? Or is it an organic, holistic ecosystem that has developed out of a natural mixing of dynamic cultural entities? 4. Does black contemporary popular culture really speak to the common values of most African American people? Should it? Is it supposed to? 5. Is there a singular black culture or a singular black popular culture? 6. Which black are we talking about? Black American, black Caribbean, black African, black European . . . black . . . black black . . . black? 7. Can people of African descent be the only ones to contribute to black culture? Would it still be black if nonblacks contributed? 8. Can white people play jazz? Should they? 9. Can black people dance ballet? Should they? 10. Is basketball a black sport? 11. Is rap music really black music or ghetto music? 12. Is ghetto black or just ghetto? When we say ghetto do we really mean “the projects”? Are black middle-class people being nostalgic for the ghetto when they respond to rap and hip-hop culture? Is it like plantation memory? Missing the “ol’ folks at home?” 13. Why do white people listen to rap and dress like inner-city black boys? Is it penis envy, guilt, or performance? Is it black performance? 14. Do black youth think they are supposed to like rap—that it expresses who they are in de‹nitive terms? Is rap, like ‹fties rock and roll, the music of rebellious and alienated youth—only now the “youth” are black instead of white? 15. I was sitting in the lobby of the Bel Age Hotel in West Hollywood and noticing a lot of well-dressed, baggy-pant-and-too-old-to-be-wearing -that-shit black music artists, wondering and asking myself: are they serious? Who is this show for? When did it start? Is this life or the theater? Can I be in the “gimme some of that money” show? 16. When I moved from New York to Los Angeles, and was stopped by the cops for walking instead of driving, or for having dreadlocks, or for being in the wrong neighborhood, was what I did to avoid arrest performance ? 17. Are black people in America always performing? For themselves? For white people? For the world? Do we always feel like we are being watched? Are we being watched? Are we watching? 18. For black Americans, is performance linked to survival? Is performance a survival re›ex? Is performance a result of genetics, like sickle-cell anemia? You have one gene and you are resistant to malaria or cops? Two genes and you become a dancing and singing coon? 19. Can we all sing and dance? Do we all have rhythm? Are we all God’s chillen? 20. Is being black in America a cosmic performance? A comedy for the gods? A tragedy of Olympian proportions? Or just a sorry show? TWENTY QUESTIONS x ...


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