Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Classic Rock Racism

What!?!?! Do you know the lyrics to the Rolling Stones classic Brown Sugar? I didn't until I read the blog post listen to racist music from the blog Stuff White People Do.

Tell me what you think:

Brown Sugar
(The Rolling Stones)

gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields,
sold in a market down in New Orleans.
Scarred old slaver know he's doin' all right.
Hear him whip the women just around midnight.

brown sugar
how come you taste so good
brown sugar
just like a young girl should

drums beating cold
English blood runs hot
lady of the house wondrin
where its gonna stop.
house boy knows that he's doin' all right.
you shoulda heard him just around midnight.

brown sugar
how come you taste so good
mmm, brown sugar
just like a young girl should

aw, get down on your knees
brown sugar
how come you dance so good?
aw, get down on the ground
brown sugar
just like a young girl should

I bet your mama was a tent-show queen,
and all her girlfriends
were sweet sixteen.
I'm no schoolboy but I know what I like,
You shoulda heard me just around midnight.

brown sugar
how come you taste so good
aw get down
brown sugar
just like a young girl should.

I said yeah, yeah, yeah,
how come you taste so good?
yeah, yeah, yeah.
just like a young girl should.

logo of the Anti Nazi League by countryscape


Goldie Davich said...

I will let you in on a little secret:

I rarely know the words to songs!

I wonder how many other songs are this f'ed up that I don't know about.

Besides the Pixies.

thg said...

Racist, probably. Misogynistic, definitely. I thought I read the song was called "black pussy" to begin with. or am i making that up?

Goldie Davich said...

Hey! Can I use the cars and trains remix of little spout for my facebook dance video?

thg said...

i said it over there, but i'll answer here for good measure:

certainly. as long as we get to see the results.

Goldie Davich said...

I'm gonna post that shiz all over the place!

Amber Dawn said...

I wish there was some way I could rationalize it as being some kind of critique of something or other, but it just seems pretty sick...

Jess Gulbranson said...

Hi Hiram!

Anyhoo, it's hard for me to believe that the Stones, being such devotees of early blues music, which was not only exclusively 'black' but also wonderfully dirty, would not have picked up some of their progenitors tropes with only minimal filtering. Maybe they felt that as the world's foremost 'white' interpreters of that music, they could write inflammatory lyrics like that and not be racist/misogynist, and perhaps felt that they were only channeling the spirit of Johnson et al in a swingin' 60s rock context. I don't want to seem to be their apologist, but I just think that perhaps they were most likely conscious of the "Mandingo"-esque titillation they were going to evoke. Or, a final option remains... they were/are REALLY FUCKING HIGH and had no clue what they were talking about.

I'll have to consult my racism expert buddy M.J. Brown and see what his thoughts are...

elias james said...

What Jess said, plus, the same reason Elvis Costello dropped the N-bomb on Bonnie and Delanie in reference to Ray Charles: shock value, baby.

Goldie Davich said...

slave rape aside...

Just because they don't profess hatred of blacks doesn't me they aren't part of the problem. It's not like their careers as white British musicians has been a driving force in combating racism.

The white musicians who are devotees of early blues music don't magically turn black. I don't accept the Rolling Stones as culturally sensitive folks.

It might be hard for some of you to stomach the idea that the Rolling Stones could very well have written something racist. One might be worried that it will some how reflect on you.

Most of what is considered racist isn't OVERT and clearly defined. Most things racist are not INTENDING to be racist.

"shock value" doesn't sit right with me at all.

It didn't mean anything. It was just for shock value.

Goldie Davich said...

I am not as articulate as I want to be about racism. I am currently involved in a Facebook group started by damali ayo called WORK, Whites Overcoming Racism through Knowledge:
White people who recognize that building a racially inclusive and equal society is our WORK to accomplish, that we cannot do this through talk alone, and that white people cannot merely be "allies" in the fight to end racism, we must also take up leadership.

We recognize that white people are too frequently looking for a "back door" so that we simply don't have to own our major role in the fight to change our culture. White people must stop acting as if we are helpless, directionless, and capable of only "helping out." White people should do as much if not more work than people of color in creating a cultural shift away from racism and all its systems and effects. This does not mean that we take over, criticize or direct people of color, or reimplement patriarchical domination in any way shape or form

I'm want my focus in this experiment to be on music. I'm not an authority. I am learning as I go along. I am prepared to be schooled, confused, and challenged.

I know this might be annoying and may appear inflammatory BUT these are the kind of conversation I am most interested in hearing and participating in.

Jess Gulbranson said...

"Now she is a little queen of spades, and the men will not let her be
Hoo, she's the little queen of spades, and the men will not let her be
Ev'ry time she makes a spread, hoo, fair brown, cold chills just run all over me
I'm gon' get me a gamblin' woman, if it's the last thing that I do
Hoo, gon' get me a gamblin' woman, if it's the last thing that I do
Well, a man don't need a woman, hoo fair brown, that he got to give all his money to
Everybody say she got a mojo, now she's been using that stuff
Mmmm, everybody say she got a mojo, cause she's been using that stuff
But she got a way of trimmin' down, hoo fair brown, and I mean it's most too tough
Now, little girl, since I am the king, baby, and you is a queen
Whoo hoo, since I am the king, baby, and you is a queen
Lets us put our heads together, hoo fair brown, then we make our money green"


"Let me tell you 'bout this girl, maybe I shouldn't
I met her in Philly and her name was Brown Sugar
See, we be making love constantly
That's why my eyes are a shade blood burgundy

The way that we kiss is unlike any other way
That I be kissin' when I'm kissin' what I'm missin'
Won't you listen?

Brown Sugar babe, I gets high off your love
I don't know how to behave

I want some of your Brown Sugar
Sugar (4)
Ooh ooh

Oh sugar when you're close to me
You love me right down to my knees
And whenever you let me hit it
Sweet like the honey when it comes to me
Skin is caramel with those cocoa eyes
Even got a big sister by the name of Chocolate Thai

Now that'd be how the story goes
Brown Sugar got me open, now I want some more
Always down for a menage-a-troi
But I think I'm a hit it solo
Hope my niggaz don't mind

Stick out my tongue and I'm bout
ready to hit this pretty gritty
bitty with persistence
Yo, I don't think ya'll hear me"

Do these examples deserve censure because of their subject matter? Or are they exempt because of their authors' membership in some arbitrary class of human distinction based on pigmentation level or ancestry? Are irony and taste rendered meaningless by these vaporous constructs? The textual narrative, somewhat ignored because of the inflammatory mode of the "Brown Sugar" lyrics, includes a reflexive mention of the narrator's status as (white) outsider and provide a handle for us to approach this song without lapsing into kneejerk reactionism.

The point I'd really like everyone to get out of this is that 'race' is illusory. Completely made up. Discussion of same is completely useless- but further understanding of our relationship to the concept of race, and how that meme has propagated over the years can be highly useful.

Oh, and here's Jagger, dragging us back on topic- namely, the heroin/cunnilingus double entendre (that D'angelo pays homage to above) with of course the other more shocking elements of the 1971 song never really forgotten.

"That makes it . . . the whole mess thrown in. God knows what I'm on about on that song. It's such a mishmash. All the nasty subjects in one go... I never would write that song now... I would probably censor myself. I'd think, 'Oh God, I can't. I've got to stop. I can't just write raw like that.' "

Goldie Davich said...

Sarcasm. cute.

Jess Gulbranson said...

Wait... what? Head. Asplode.

Goldie Davich said...

Racism is a subtle foe. A case has been presented that these lyrics are not racist. I want to understand why many people feel that they are.

Jess Gulbranson said...

I think you are onto something there, Goldie, and that is a perfect summation is what it is about, the subtlety of this problem.

Just to clarify my point as we go forward- and yes, I really want to hear some other viewpoints too- I'm not making a case that the lyrics aren't racist. They're racist as hell. Just not carelessy intolerant or maliciously pointed. Obviously Jagger- lapses of taste or judgement aside- intended to use these tropes to generally offend, and while attempts at shock may not excuse the content, it does change the context. I suppose I should post the lyrics to Patti Smith's famous song as a great example of what I'm talking about, but I think there would be general head asplosion.

We have to be very careful about how we categorize 'racism,' without lapsing into it ourselves. To my mind, categorizing people as 'white' or 'black' or whatever (outside of a referential critical framework), without any thought as to the inherent emptiness of those concepts, is the harmful root of what we know as racism. I'm grateful for my participation in Michael James Brown's project, even though it revealed my extensive ignorance on matters of 'race,' and I'm just glad that my fallback position has been a contemplative and receptive one.

Goldie Davich said...

categorizing people as 'white' or 'black' or whatever (outside of a referential critical framework), without any thought as to the inherent emptiness of those concepts, is the harmful root of what we know as racism1. Having a race is not the root of racsim.
2. Categorizing people is not the problem.
3. "WITHOUT ANY THOUGHT AS TO THE INHERENT EMPTINESS" I couldn't be more blow away at your arrogance right now. FIRST OF ALL - I don't believe the concept of race is empty. SECOND OF ALL - you really suck at posting persuasive comments. If I am so wrong about racism I'm not learning anything from you about it.

Goldie Davich said...

Here is some food from thought about being "color blind" (file under 'unintentional racism'):

Color-Blind Racism - White racial attitudes in the post–civil rights era, Color-blind racism in twenty-first century americaDefinition of Color Blind from The Urban DictionaryInfo about Color-Blindness from the Affermative Action Project (uh-oh sensitive subject... yes I do believe in Affirmative Action)

Jess Gulbranson said...

I'm really scratching my head over this last response- it doesn't really make sense. If you're perceiving arrogance, it's perhaps because of your own- if you'd actually read that last paragraph you'll notice that I don't exclude myself from those needing to fight a tendency towards (let's call it) root-racism. I said 'we.'

Goldie Davich said...

Jess - If you aren't following why I totally 100% disagree with you about your idea that having a race causes racism please indulge me and start with stating your definition of racism.

and then match it up to mine.

Mine you can Google. just use the word: racism

Goldie Davich said...

I'm sorry I attacked you. Please don't stop blogging here.

StevenCee said...

Jesse, I think you are mixing apples and oranges here. What is offensive, in poor taste (altho I'm not sure about their being "racist"), about the Stones' lyrics, at least IMHO, are the references to the slavery-era goings on, not calling a black female "brown sugar".

Women have been given many names, when spoken of in sexual/romantic context, and especially in bawdier music, poetry, conversation, they may not be what you would say in "normal" conversation, and tend to be specific to looks, hair color, body shape, skin color, nationality, etc, even occupation, social/economic position, attire, & on & on...

Had there been some statement made, ironic, or in some way "enlightening", about, or in tone, of the slavery lyrics, it would be a different matter. But the song has always come across to me, (only understanding the chorus the last 35 years or so), as a typical Stones party song, extolling the pleasures of their encounters with sisters.

Seeing the rest of the lyrics in black & white (pun intended), however, was a startling revelation to me, and as I said, one I'm not comfortable with. I wouldn't jump to concluding they are, or were being "racist", as it feels to me, more like extreme lack of sensitivity (thus your note of how high they probably were when they wrote it), than anything else. Also, surprise that the label & others around them didn't try to talk them out of it (if that were even possible)....

So, it's a big deal, only in that we're just now seeing what those lyrics were, but not a big deal, cause I don't think they intended it to be derogatory to black people, but it was VERY clumsily stated, if there was some greater, higher intent.

I'd love to hear Jagger & Richards' comment today, on what their intent was, and what exactly that song was meant to say....

Anonymous said...

I think if you cross-reference this song with the lyrics "Black girls just wanna get fucked all night, I just dont have that much jam" on the 1978 album title track 'Some Girls', I'd argue that the heroin argument is misleading, and that it is hard not see how they were intended as anything other than derogatory.