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.

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  1. dd wrote:

    That very episode, or something like it, has no doubt been repeated numerous times over the years at various venues. And Reggie is very unwaveringly gracious time after time. Reggie himself brings the obvious skin difference in the room most everytime i have seen or heard him. He knows that its on everyones mind and gets it out of the way if anything its a part of their presentation. Gerald probably would not have been able to say something like that in the first place if Reggie had not, for years, laid the foundation as saying, for lack of a better, more simple interpretation, it’s ok. Besides, the Lord tore down any and every wall for us at Calvary…thank the Lord for that.

  2. wackythinker wrote:

    If what Doug thought he heard, “I couldn’t see you there in the dark,” was what Gerald said, it could be argued Gerald was not referring to skin color at all. I know, whe the spot light is in your eyes, it’s difficult to see ANYONE in the dark, regardless of skin color.

    This brings to mind a s/g awards show taping I attended several months back. Linda Randle was one of the performers, and during a taping break between her songs, she commented something like “look at all the vanilla faces” in the audience. That made me as uneasy as the remarks last night seemed to make others. I guess I’m not sure where you draw the line.

    Maybe I made to much out of Linda’s remark. I love her talent and her spirit, just as I love watching and hearing Saddler or any of the white acts in this genre. I just don’t know how much should or should not be said.

    I grew up in a mildly racist (if that’s possible — like being a little bit pregnant?) Christian home in the 50’s & 60’s. I’ve tried not to teach my children that same mixed message I heard, but they still heard it from grandparents, uncles, school friends, etc. I’ve not always been great about being open-minded (old habits are hard to break, as they say). But I am quite concious that a lot of feeling need to be taken into account.

    I had a co-worker, when asked about the term “black gospel”, whether we should call it that or not, liked to smile and reply, “I know I’m black”.

    Maybe we just need to be sure the feeling of whomever we’re talking to/about before we speak.

  3. thom wrote:

    actually Reggie said he got his tan in Myrtle Beach.

    The moment felt a little awkward to me as if Gerald Wolfe had made some sort of a freudian slip - not really meaning that Reggie and family were dark - but meaning that there was not light over there where he was standing, which was true because I was on the front row right behind the piano and there was not as much lighting over there.

    Then it felt like and looked like that Gerald realized the obvious implication of his remark about “oh sorry i couldn’t see you over there in the dark” and Gerald was immediately struck by the humor of it as was Reggie.

    Gerald immediately said “put a spotlight over here on Reggie…” then followed up with another quip about ‘I couldn’t see you in the dark ’cause you’re so dark or something like that’

    Then from there Reggie just took it and ran with it which was a classy way of diffusing whatever tension there may have been. Gerald starts telling everyone how they have worked together on many cruises, etc, as if to say “it’s ok, I can joke like that ’cause we’re friends.”

    Then for the next 4 or 5 mintues Reggie’s wife and daughter are standing at the top of the stairs waiting to enter the stage as Reggis carries on his comic relief musical variety show. A couple of times I noticed Mr.s Sandler trying to get his eye and motioning to the clock timer on the stage as if to be saying “Reggie you’re using all our time!”

    Everybody knows about the timer on the stage that tells the artists when their time is up. There used to be some heavy monetary fines for going over your alloted time, I don’t know if that’s the case any more or not.

  4. judi wrote:

    Since I wasn’t there, I’m probably not qualified to comment, but i read this on Joel’s blog earlier, and it struck me that here’s a good illustration of the different lens that white and black people can bring to a situation. From the white perspective, a comment like this isn’t racist because it is seen as an individual act, and a well-meaning one. I cannot know how the Saddlers feel, but despite Reggie Saddler’s own habit of making jokes about his skin color to defuse audience tension, many black people I know would see this as another instance of a white culture or institution just not getting it. If the group entertains and or ministers effectively, calling attention to their skin color (can’t see you there in the dark) seems rude, no matter what good intentions a person might have.

  5. RF wrote:

    Like judi, I wasn’t there, but I think it’s much ado about nothing. NQC is a lilly-white event. Everyone knows that and accepts it. I’m sure Gerald Wolfe meant nothing by his comment and I’m also sure Reggie Saddler wasn’t offended. End of story.

  6. Cabell wrote:

    Watching the tv feed last night, I got the impression that Gerald didn’t mean it in a negative, or even racial way. Given the opportunity to do it over I am sure he would choose different words, but I was not, and it seemed that Mr. Sadler was not uncomfortable or offended by it. Many of times, these situations are over analyzed and meticulously deconstructed to the point where it becomes an issue. I think back tot he trouble Howard Cosell got into which effectively ended his career. It was a poor use of words that was turned into an issue because of an assumption that Howard Cosell was a racist. I believe that Gerald and Reggie are friends who can joke about each other without either one being offended. We were just privileged to see that played out on the main stage of NQC

  7. AG wrote:

    #5 You are right RF - It IS much ado about nothing. I heard it on the live feed there was nothing awkward about it. Quite frankly…it was one of the funnier moments of the whole evening.

  8. Dave wrote:

    I agree that NQC is a 99 percent white event. But when the black groups are there, such as Reggie Saddler, Charles Johnson, Gospel Enforcers, Jessy Dixon, Teddy Huffam, etc. the crowd really loves them and shows their appreciation.

  9. Trent wrote:

    Avery, you mentioned “the hand he’s dealt”, talking about Sadler. While I love the Reggie Sadler Family’s singing, what kind of hand has he been dealt? They are a black family singing Southern Gospel music, and, plain and simply, they are one of a handful of quality black groups who are doing that. He’s been dealt no hand. He has been given equal opportunity and stage time and treated respectfully by the fans and industry officials. And I would say that he’s OK with that. So, to infer that any kind of mass black crowd that sings SG music is being dealt a bad hand is a misnomer. There basically aren’t any SG black groups…and those that are black and singing SG are being given every opportunity to excel and succeed.

  10. Wayne wrote:

    Who cares? If Reggie was offended by the remark, I’m sure he would have shown it.

    I remember back a few years ago when the winners of the talent show appeared on the main stage. It was possibly the Gospel Enforcers. It’s been too long to remember, but I do recall there being a full band and a few singers. Anyway, when it was their time to shine on the stage, there was a mass exodus from the auditorium of white people. I even heard some muttering things like “If I wanted to hear jungle music Ida went …..” and “Why do they always have to ruin everything by putting (n-word)s on the stage!”. I was outraged. A couple of hours later I watched as some of these same people were lifting their hands and hankies to the sounds of the McKameys, Cathedrals, and Gold City. I think this is a better example of racism.

  11. jh wrote:

    I really think he just couldn’t see him in the dark….when you’re on a stage and lights are in your eyes it is very hard to see anywhere past the lip of the stage. I think it would’ve been hard to see anybody.

  12. Janice wrote:

    It almost seems like we are over-analyzing this. Have you ever had someone apologize to you for something that you thought nothing about at the time, but the apology gave it importance? After that you realize that there was more to it than you thought. That is how all of this analysis seems.

  13. NG wrote:

    I wasn’t there but it seems relatively tame. Things have improved tremendously over the years. I have tapes of SGM concerts in the 1960s and there is no doubt they would be considered offensive by most folks today. As late as the early 80s, a SGM singer on an album made a watermelon joike before singing a spiritual.

  14. J-Mo wrote:

    Avery, we’ve discussed this in the past, but you obviously have quite an affection for everything Gerald Wolfe. Andrew Ishee, on the other hand, isn’t exactly one of your favorite performers. Have you considered the possibility that maybe, in this rare instance, your feelings toward the individual making the comment might be playing into your assessment of the situation? You don’t typically seem to have any problems evaluating situations objectively, but when it comes to Gerald Wolfe I sometimes think he could say Hitler wasn’t so bad and follow it up with his rendition of “Achy Breaky Heart” and you’d find away to give him a pass.

    On a semi-related note, I notice that L5 singing tired Christmas songs at NQC doesn’t go over with you quite as well as Gerald singing Oh Holy Night at NQC did at one point in time.

    For the record – My personal opinion is that all of these racial comments are unacceptable regardless of their intent and doing an overdone Christmas song at NQC is tacky no matter how perfectly sang it may be.

  15. SPD wrote:

    I love the Saddlers! They’re great! What confuses me is that black people don’t like them, atleast musically! I’ve seen them and Charles Johnson a few times and not always at a church! I saw Charles Johnson at an out door event that was well promoted and not one black person in the audience! I don’t understand why! I love there music!

  16. Angie M wrote:

    #4: You make some good points. I don’t know if Wolfe meant to say what he said or not. I was listening to the live feed, but I can’t remember his exact words. I do remember having an “OMG…did he just say that?” moment. And, yeah, even if such remarks are well-intentioned, they should be avoided. I am blind, and I’ve had people say analogous things to me. They don’t bother me because I’m uncomfortable with blindness; they bother me because they’re the adult version of kids hiding my drink at lunch.

    But again, I’m not sure Wolfe actually meant to say what he said.

  17. TLN wrote:

    I must agree with J-Mo (#14) on this one (”racial comments are unacceptable regardless of their intent”). While I would certainly understand friendly banter/joking of this type between close friends of different races or skin color, etc. in a non-public setting, this should never be done in a public arena, and CERTAINLY never in a “Christian” setting such as the NQC.

    Comments of this type should be deemed just as unacceptale as, say, for instance, a derogatory comment that was directed toward any one of our precious SG artists who happen to be overweight or even obese. Can you imagine what an uproar it would cause if an M.C. or another artist jokingly said something about someone “having trouble climbing the stairs to the stage”, or commenting on how long it was taking them, or saying “half the people in the audience just disappeared when you walked on stage”, etc.? I sure you get my point.

    To sum it up, I believe that we in the public eye should carefully weigh our comments, keeping them in check, and refrain from vocalizing those that may POSSIBLY be PERCEIVED as derogatory or racist. It is our responsibility to always keep the focus on Christ, and if we want to comment about a particular artist or group, it would be much more advandtageous to the cause of Christ to mention how great a ministry this artist/group has or how much of an impact they have had in their ministry!

    Have I analysed this one too much? I hope no

  18. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    I wasn’t there, but it appears that what one person considered to be a “racist” remark was humorous to the other 99.9% of the people in the room, including the black guy.

    Why do some individuals (and organizations like the ACLU) bend over backwards to defend a person who didn’t appear to have been offended? Why should we care if someone got offended on behalf of another person who WASN’T offended?

  19. HG wrote:

    I believe it is more offensive to spell Reggie’s surname wrong ( 2 D’s required) than to make a quip of this type when the emcee knows exactly what his parameters are. Enough said.

  20. DamonfromKY wrote:

    To NG#13: It was not on an album like your example, but the emcee of a Top 5 group was still telling a watermelon joke before singing a “black” song at a public concert as late as 2003. That person is retired now, but I was shocked and very disappointed that this was still part of the script.

  21. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Wayne (#10),
    Your point regarding the truly racist reactions of a crowd some years ago is dead on! I’m all for calling racism by its name when it exists, but this example of Wolfe commenting on the blackness of Saddler is NOT one of those times.

    If stating a fact in a joking manner is considered racism, we’ve far surpassed any rational level of sensitivity.

    As for the makeup of the crowd at NQC, maybe some of those who are offended on Saddler’s behalf should try sitting on the front row of a predominantly black comedy club. Then they’ll see a sharp contrast. Being the easy, obvious target in a room like that can be downright brutal, compared to the way Saddler was mildly joked about for less than 30 seconds and then applauded for the rest of his set.

  22. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    By the way, where is all the outrage when Gordon Mote feigns surprise after being told he isn’t black? Does he get a pass for making a black joke because he’s blind? By the same logic, shouldn’t Kevin Williams be considered to be just as insensitive as Wolfe for pointing out that Mote is blind in a room full of 20,000 people who are blessed with the ability to see?

  23. quartet-man wrote:

    It’s all in Black and White and it’s written in red………… (the title of this topic got me thinking of that song. :-) )

  24. JimT wrote:

    How come no one was offended when Ivan Parker made a joke about Gerald Wolfe being short on the same program? Darrell Stewart has been teased about being bald. JIm Hammil referred to Parker Jonathan as an “injun,” and called Randy Miller “Lurch.” And of course, there is the ubiquitous joke about the femininity of tenor singers. This was no different than any of those. Anyone who considers Wolfe’s remark as racist is pretty uptight.

  25. KRBigley wrote:

    I would say that 99% of the folks don’t know what really happened behind the scenes. From a pretty reliable source, Gerald was looking for The Mark Trammell Trio. According to the program listing at the stage that night (which happened to be an incorrect printing), MTT as next up. So, Gerald was looking for MTT until a stage employee got his attention and directed his attention to Reggie. With all the stage lighting, it was difficult to see who the stage help was pointing to. Before jumping to judgmental conclusions about a person’s racial feelings, it is best to know all the information and be in his/her shoes. I believe that Gerald is totally innocent of any wrong in this particular circumstance.

  26. SgDoc wrote:

    I wonder how many of you would have commented here about Reggie if the subject wasn’t what it is. Can we please talk about his wonderful and talented wife and girls who are constantantly left in the background?

  27. Gerald Rallins wrote:

    I think David Bruce Murray has made the best points yet on here. Reggie wasn’t offended. By the reaction of the crowd, 99% of them weren’t either. Get over it, we’re all equal — right? It seems to me the people making a fuss about it are almost more racist than those who aren’t because otherwise it wouldn’t be a big deal. It’s like joking about someone with a bald head. Is it racist to say someone’s a “chrome dome?” No. If we’re all equal, then saying someone has darker skin than another isn’t racist at all - in fact, it could actually be a compliment. GET OVER IT!

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