Unmaking of Stereotypes through black Popular Music in the America


It is believed that the politics of respectability originated with Blacks in the Caribbean and the United States (Pond). Politics of respectability involves a case where the marginalized groups police their own people. By doing this, they display their values as that which is compatible with the mainstream’s. This is contrary to the societal expectation as their values ought to challenge that of the mainstreams’ for what they observe as inability to embrace the difference. This links blackness with shows of high contemporary wealth and its social position in the contemporary society. Afro-modernism, on the other hand, manifests characteristics that are distinct, and those relate to and arise from specific economic and socio-political tussles of African Americans. Guthrie Ramsey writes of Afro-modernism highlighting the various aspect of it in the mid-century (Ramsey). The politics of respectable and Afro-modernism influenced the rise of black popular music. Despite stereotypes that existed in the mid century, many black Americans like Billie, Davis, and Jordan overcame the popular beliefs through their popular culture to rise in music.

According to Ramsey, Afro-modernism basically referred to as how black people in the entire world behaved in response to modernity, anti-colonialism and globalism. Besides, It involved the visibility of the black the people’s culture. Ramsey tried to explore ways in which music was integrated in the African sociopolitical resistance and how opportunities in the area of music and education started to expand for African Americans. As a result of this in view of Ramsey, the influence of Blacks on the mainstream academia went up significantly. Music integrates political, race and cultural aspects. Black music performers rose in the music industry in the 20th century, overcoming the stereotypes that were there. The idea of Art, politics of representation of performers and a discussion using popular culture to overcome stereotypes is the focus of the paper. Music performers such as Billie, Louis and Davis challenged stereotypes through their black popular black music in the 20th century in America.

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The politics of respectability and Afro modernism are related in that the politics of respectability were a reaction to the racial representations of the character, sexuality, and intellect of black women (Tate). They were a way of managing and negotiating for the educational, class and regional dissimilarities within communities of African Americans. The Afro-modernism of the 2oth century as Griffin discusses involved the response of African Americans to the modernity experiences. In the 20th century those who adopted a view of respectability by an old settler aimed at presenting a positive and unified image of the race to counter the cultural conventions of white supremacy.

Farah Jasmine Griffin’s position about the politics of respectability

The politics of respectability is thought to have originated with Blacks in the Caribbean and United States. Griffin based her arguments on the ideology that Respectability functioned in most cases as a litmus test for the inclusion of women in social movements and not plainly around gender issues. Griffin discusses that attempts by Black leaders to pawn racist discourses and their magnitudes continued, the respectability politics also echoed a recognition and internalization of the representations (Griffin, pg. 34).

She argued Black supremacy associated respectability with defense for black women which limits the mobility and freedom of women, both outside and within the movement (Griffin’s pg. 215). According to Griffin the policing of black bodies by other Black women, in a pursuit for prejudice, stifled a dissention that did not match the morality of a white middle-class. It was a way of oppressing the blacks and preventing them from growing in the social arena.

Guthrie Ramsey’s argument about Afro-modernism at mid-century

Ramsey’s Race Music is a finding grounding in the theoretical, familial and amorphous features of Black culture and life: what Ramsey calls the impulse of “Afro-modernist”. Ramsey reasons that the shove of Afro-modernism for African Americans has continually been defined largely within sociopolitical pitch: as the quest for freedom, literacy, and liberation as well as the pursuing enlarged options and upward agility within the capitalist system of America (pg. 106).  Some little importance was attached to forms of Black expensive culture that got into the mainstream culture of the Americans in the early 20th century.  The literature, music, and literature of the blacks were observed as vehicles to thwart racist paradigms of Black Culture.

Ramsey specifically relates Afro-modernism to the strong drive of the sociopolitical advancement during the half year of the 20th century, and the varying logic of that which made up the culture of African Americans at the moment of postwar (pg. 90).  Ramsey also talks of memories which represent a cultural awareness that should be factored when interpreting African American music in the mid-century and thereafter (pg. 94).

In addition, Guthrie Ramsey points out one feature of Afro-modernism as the manner in which African Americans grapple with their position in the contemporary world and dealing with their attitudes, thoughts, stances, and thoughts artistically (pg. 97). In summary, Ramsey deliberates on several processes of the mid-century, their paradoxes and contradictions, including the abuse of black bodies and collective actions. (pg. 99-105).

Challenging stereotypes through popular culture

In the contemporary world, many people have over-generalized beliefs concerning certain races or individuals, but then these stereotypes can be challenged through popular culture.  A look into the following three performers: Louis Jordan, Miles Davis’s, and Billie Holiday support the statement.

Miles Davis

Davis music career majorly on varied blue compositions are linked by the cultural phenomenon of Afro-modernism. His music revolved around the theme of American life postwar (Pond). His music contained creative tension seeds that changed his entire career. Previously he had dropped from formal schooling due to unfair grading. He earned a strong B average despite having been graded D in music history. Davis music teacher, a white woman had the stereotype that Blacks played the music of blues type “since they were poor and had to pluck cotton.” Davis, however, did not view it in that manner.

Davis decided to rise above the belief and pursue music elsewhere after being failed in music history. His music blues became an inspiration to many African Americans who supported him. He musical message were against the beliefs that whites had concerning Black Americans (Griffin pg. 175). His audiences were majorly black Americans at the beginning of his musical performance. With time he was able to influence even whites who purchased and attending his performances. Through the African Americans who were the majority he managed to change the perception of other whites in America.

Billie Holiday

She was born on 7th April 1915, as Eleanora Fagan in Philadelphia. She grew up in Baltimore overcoming various challenges in school and at home. She had no training in music, could not read music and mostly sand slow ballads (Pond). Louis Armstrong a trumpeter and Bessie Smith a singer were her influences and mentors in music. She played music with all jazz artists who were known to be great during her era. She, however, had millions of fans. A set primarily comprised of three discs from the early part of Billie’s life formed her legacy. It comprised of her very first recording, “Your Mother’s Son-in-law” together with Benny Goodman.

As a female producer and performer Belie faced gender, colonial and racial power. Having come from a humble background and born outside wedlock she had to fight the several beliefs that people had about such kind of people (Griffin pg.160). Many had the stereotype that as a black from a poor background she could not produce her own songs and even get the chance to perform. Many whites developed a negative attitude towards her and disregarded her music initially. She, however, had the support of the Black Americans who were the popular culture. Jazz performers who were African Americans gave her the opportunity to sing alongside them and even perform.

Louis Jordan

Louis Jordan was a revolutionary American musician, bandleader, and songwriter who became popular from the early 1930’s to the 1950’s.  He learned music through his father. He became highly popular among both white and black audiences (Ramsey). He was among the most successful musicians of African American Origin of the twentieth century. He was a talented performer with great comedic talent and he faced his own band for close to twenty years. With his band known as Tympany Five bands, he charted out the main constraints of urban blues, classic R& B and rock-and-roll genres of early times.

Louis rose as a revolutionary musician at a time when there was so much racial discrimination and stereotyping in American.  African Americans were, however, a majority in Chicago where he grew up. Chicago was a significant center for the music industry, as much as a musician in African American culture was concerned (Pond). Disc-jockeys of black appeal were inexhaustible in the city after and during the war. Jordan became so successful in the midst of racism due to his musical message. His music was mainly concerned with the mass migration of African Americans and how blacks were being treated in industries. Overcoming the stereotypes that were there then, he paved way for black performers.


Black music forms a larger part of the music industry in America. There is a relationship between music and the identity of African American culture. African Americans such as Billie holiday, Davis and Louis overcame stereotypes and the politics of respectability to have an identity in music through their popular culture of African Americans. The music performers used music like jazz and blues to pass messages of flexible and positive concepts of culture and race. Race, music, politics and Afro-modernism practice related at the mid-century and beyond. Modern identity or personality is revealed in music especially in the African American Culture.

Essays categories: Argumentative Essays.