[Dixielandjazz] Re: Darktown Strutters Ball

Charles Suhor csuhor at zebra.net
Tue Mar 15 10:12:56 PST 2005

On Mar 14, 2005, at 10:53 PM, Bill Haesler wrote:
> I was unaware, from this long distance, that "Darktown Strutters' Ball 
> could
> be offensive to black audiences. Ella Fitzgerald and Fats Waller 
> recorded it.
> However, I bow to your knowledge on this one. You are on-the-spot and 
> have
> observed it....I am simply amazed to learn that the song "Darktown 
> Strutters' Ball is
> offence to some Blacks,

Thanks for your straightforward comments, Bill. On this topic, I can’t 
always tell when list mates are being literal or ironic. I hope it’s 
the latter.

Unpacking the “Darktown” word, it’s not surprising in America that the 
word today carries strong resonance of “Darkies,” a condescending (at 
best) name for slaves and later, for free blacks in Stephen Foster’s 
and others’ songs and in literature, movies, and common parlance. This 
is powerful stuff. If folks just want to say that Black Americans today 
“shouldn’t” be offended, they have an arguable point but I think it’s 
arrogant to dismiss others’ sense of their own history and place in 
American culture.

The difficult question is, which claims of offensiveness have moral 
force, and which are capricious? I think the “Darktown” complaint is 
right on, whereas, e.g., a recent demand for an apology for a speaker 
who used the word “niggardly” (a big word for “cheap,” of course, with 
etymology in 14th century Middle English) was unfounded and 

Claiming a general contempt for “Political Correctness,” as some have 
done, instead of considering each case of offensive language on its own 
merit is another way of saying, “I don’t want to deal with this.” PC is 
a genuine category of analysis but it has itself become a political 
tool, a big broom for sweeping away any concerns about bias by people 
of color, women, gays, and others whose claims are uncomfortable to us.

Charlie Suhor

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