[Dixielandjazz] Re: Darktown Strutters Ball

Charles Suhor csuhor at zebra.net
Tue Mar 15 12:20:09 PST 2005

On Mar 15, 2005, at 1:23 PM, LARRY'S Signs and Large Format Printing 

> Some people are quick to take offense at anything.

Again, taking general offense "at anything" would be irrational and 
doesn't address real, day-to-day problems. The question, to reiterate, 
is "which claims of offensiveness have moral force, and which are 
capricious?" I happen  to think, for reasons cited, that the "Darktown" 
complaint is legit. For good  (and hopefully, particular) reasons, 
others can honestly disagree. I don't find it convincing, though, to 
say that the song wasn't offensive at the time written, or that Ella 
and Fats recorded it. It's well documented that countless black 
artists--singers, dancers, actors, composers--went along with the 
stereotypes of their era, sometimes unaware, sometimes for economic 
reasons, sometimes "signifyin' " satirically even as they went through 
the motions. But that doesn't mean that the shufflin', eye-rollin', 
yassah gestures and racially demeaning language and themes should be 
acceptable today.

Charlie Suhor

> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Charles Suhor" <csuhor at zebra.net>
> To: "Bill Haesler" <bhaesler at bigpond.net.au>
> Cc: "dixieland jazz mail list" <dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com>
> Sent: Tuesday, March 15, 2005 12:12 PM
> Subject: [Dixielandjazz] Re: Darktown Strutters Ball
> 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
> anti-educational.
> 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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