Society can brand us as part of a tribe. These tribes have long been assembled through society with already pre-configured requirements which band together physical appearance, the musical genre itself and in some cases class also. The beauty of music however, is that we as individuals are allowed to pick and choose what we wish to listen to, regardless of our gender, class or ethnic makeup. Goth, Emo, Pop, Hip-Hop and more. However, whether you choose to associate and listen to a particular genre or not, the society around you probably has created presupposed notions of the music you enjoy. Stereotypes.
In large, this post is coming into being because of something I experienced firsthand on the Manchester high street. I was on my to a meeting with a friend of mine, who, for the sake of this story, her ethnic background will be disclosed as Black British. At any other time, this would have been irrelevant: we are simply two young women who were about to make our way to a meeting.
On our walk down an extremely busy Manchester high street, we were stopped by a young man. I would say 'we', but it was more my friend was stopped. I was cut across. Why? Because this young gentleman was selling his music on CD's. The genre? Hip-Hop. Why did he cut across me and straight to my friend? Why, because, it could never be that a white person may enjoy this genre of music! And my friend fit his bill quite nicely.
For most, this may strike up many an argument. It did, though I was a lot more interested in why he ignored me which meant he must have been doing this regularly when flogging his music. Which meant a huge potential of fans and customers were being disregarded based solely on the colour of their skin.
I don't mean to take this person as a racist: he isn't. It's simply a re-enactment of what society has come to create of categorising individuals into certain boxes. If a youth wears a hoody and a pair of Nikes, he probably likes that grimy urban music. If a girl is wearing her a pretty dress and make-up, probably pop music. This is just the aesthetics of course. Add ethnic background and race into the mixture and it seems everyone fits into a neat category.
He was taken aback. "She's the Hip-Hop fan. Not me." my friend stated to him. His facial expressions said it all. I questioned him as to why he ignored me. He said it was nothing sinister, and probably a bad judgment on his behalf now that I'd pointed it out to him. It wasn't the first time. I have on a majority of occasions had people say "oh really?" when they find out what I listen to. What music society wants me to listen to, is beyond me.
The individual at hand insinuated that Hip-Hop was indeed "black music, that's all I'm saying". Whether this was to suggest my friend was less of a black individual because she didn't enjoy this music, was something to consider. He quickly turned his attention back to me, but did drop heavily the mention of 'white rappers' who may take my interest more. Music is music, regardless of who is rapping it. Hip-Hop has always been its own culture. Not all of the fathers of Hip-Hop were Black. The original breakers were Black and Hispanic. The first recognised graffiti artist, Taki, was Greek. Hip-Hop bands a culture, not just a music genre and skin colour.
This is not to say that the individual and his friends were deliberately marginalising potential listeners; it's simply a process of conditioning where they have come to understand that certain genres equate to a certain following. Neither, is this to do with the educational background or intelligence of a person. The conscious individual may even slip up now and again and believe the social constructs created for purpose of ease.
Take the example of Historian and Cambridge educated David Starkey. During the 2011 riots, which began in Tottenham and then quickly transcended to other parts of London and eventually the rest of England, Starkey was seen to comment on these acts. Live on the BBC, he became quickly passionate and did not shy away from producing such comments as "the whites have become black", and that "a particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic, gangster culture has become the fashion". Following also with "the black male culture militates against education".
Starkey, as educated as he is, shows on a grander scale, how caught up he has become in the stereotypes available.
The short sociological answer to this situation is, of course, that yes, there are people who live up to those stereotypes about different groups. There are probably some people who fit whatever stereotype you can think of. The problem lies with how stereotypes over generalise about an entire group and blind us to those characteristics in others and other characteristics in the stereotyped groups.
My friend and I probably should have existed the other way round to the wannabe Hip-Hop rapper. This process is insidious and subconscious. We often act on it without thinking.