A Hair's Difference | Letters | Chicago Reader

A Hair's Difference 

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Rosalind Cummings [Rock Etc., September 30] should be congratulated for discovering a novel criterion for judging artistic value: hair texture. Based on this single physical characteristic, Cummings argues that "black women who challenge white beauty standards are more likely to challenge musical boundaries." This "theory" presumably explains why Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston produce "watered-down," "soulless," "cookie-cutter" music, and why Tracy Chapman, Joan Armatrading, and Me'shell NdegeOcello do not.

Cummings's review of NdegeOcello, who is applauded for dealing "head-on" with "race and identity," is consistent with this racialist and racializing perspective. NdegeOcello's song "Soul on Ice" is singled out for its words of criticism for interracial dating and the "pervasiveness of white beauty standards," words that, according to Cummings, "don't fall easily on white ears."

Perhaps reciting shopworn cliches like "indoctrination" and "self-hatred," as explanations for bodily practices and black male/white female relationships, can be liberatory or even radical for some. However, when such cliches are paraded as basic truths, they should not fall easily on anyone's ears. Cummings is wrong to associate NdegeOcello with Chapman and Armatrading because the latter two artists articulate "differences" without resorting to essentialist posturing. There is more than a hair's difference in whether one's music challenges or buttresses racial boundaries.

Orville Lee

Rogers Park

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