NQC 07: Black and white
*You know, I regret my use of the phrase “fairly innocuous” in the post below to describe Gerald Wolfe’s remarks. The reality is, the history of race and race relations in our society makes comments like this wrong, despite intentions. Period. Situation and contexts matter to some extent, of course, and this is what I was attempting to convey by placing Wolfe’s remark along a continuum of racial comments from the sg stage. But as my post demonstrated, the risk of this kind of move is that you inadvertently end up seeming to make excuses for people in precisely those situations where the line needs to be held the strongest. After all, sg doesn’t have a good enough track record with inclusion to make this the place to start giving benefits of the doubt. A white man making a joke about a black man’s race in a room full of 15,000 white people in the south is not something I want to seem to condone. I apologize for not being clearer about this in the first place, and I’m grateful to the commenters who called me on it.
Joel Lindsey notes an awkward moment last night that I’ll probably regret opening up to comments, but why start being squeamish now:
Last night at one of the concerts here at NQC, the next group up was a black family group. The emcee introduced them by saying “Ya’ll put the spotlight on (insert man’s name) — we can’t see him in the dark!” To which a hilarious friend of mine responded excitedly, “Ohmygod - Racism!” Hmm. Now, I’m definitely one of those people who thinks we should celebrate diversity, but still that makes me a little squeamish? Or am I being the racist and worrying too much about it. Is it more racist to call atttention to the color of someone’s skin or to just pretend that there’s no difference?
I actually wasn’t as bothered by it as I have been by other racial remarks in the past. Andrew Ishee’s numbskull remark about scalps and squaws or something like that at a JBIF showcase a few years ago, or David Stanton’s cheap Arab-bating (to a room full of white Christians!) last year … now that was offensive. But Lindsey is describing an exchange on the mainstage between Gerald Wolfe and Reggie Saddler that felt fairly innocuous*, at least compared to what could have happened given that this is southern gospel. Wolfe was bringing Saddler on and remarked that he wasn’t sure if Reggie was here yet … Saddler was in fact at the foot of the stairs a few from feet from Wolfe and when Saddler waved his hand, Wolfe made his quip. I actually thought I heard “I couldn’t see you there in the dark,” which is slightly different to my mind than “WE can’t see him in the dark.”
But in any case, at the time I remember thinking that though I certainly was uneasy with it (and that this is precisely the nonsense that makes it s difficult to expose my outsider friends to the world of southern gospel), I think Wolfe was trying in his own clumsy way to diffuse the latent racial uneasiness that I’m certain is still out there among many typical southern gospel fans and performers at the sight of a black family on stage at quartet convention. Which is to say, Wolfe seemed to contemplate Lindsey’s question – acknowledge or ignore the difference – and acted according to the answer he came to. What I’m not sure about is whether Wolfe’s remark says more about his own response to a (barely) integrated NQC mainstage or if he was attempting to speak for the collective consciousness of southern gospel. In any case, I think episodes like this make it clear that the question isn’t so much, should we pretend racial difference doesn’t exist or not, but rather: should we pretend that racism isn’t still alive and well in gospel music, as it is in many other aspects of American life?
For their part, I think the Saddlers do a good job of being themselves without falling too often into the “let us black folks sing for you white people now” role that is a risk in these kinds of situations. Reggie Saddler almost always makes some kind of remark about skin color … last night it was that he got his tan working for Disney back in the day. Though Saddler shouldn’t be entirely absolved of his responsibility for the extent to which these kinds of cracks reinforce old stereotypes (even if and especially because we all enjoy a good laugh over it), certainly it’s hard not to see him working as realistically and skillfully with the hand he’s dealt. What shouldn’t be overlooked in all this though is that he and his family increasingly bring a really fine few minutes of prismatically dazzling entertainment. Full stop. And that will do more than anything else to dissolve some of these old awkwardnesses that still persist around questions of race.
For my part, I guess I hope we get to a place in the near future where the Sadlers (and other non-white performers) are just such a customary part of NQC that no one feels the need – subconsciously or intentionally – to point out that not everyone who enjoys or sings southern gospel is white.Email this Post