Last Tuesday was Blackout Tuesday, an initiative by two black women at American label Atlantic Records with the aim of stopping work for a day in protest against racism and police brutality in the US - and elsewhere in the world. No new music, no news items, but an opportunity for reflection and discussion. In reality, that meant a lot of black squares on Instagram, statements from bands, labels, brands and (music) media.
We did not participate in Blackout Tuesday with Front, although we doubted it for a long time. After all, if you keep quiet in times of injustice, aren't you siding with the oppressor? It was tempting to go along with the moment, also go 'on black' for a day, also to speak out. We are glad to explain why we did not do that in the end.
The idea behind Blackout Tuesday—forcing people in the music industry (and ultimately far beyond) to think about institutional racism and their role in it—was desperately needed. It was the practice that we ultimately did not agree with. Companies that stopped the content flow for a day (and in many cases only halfway through that day), temporarily put their profile picture in black, only to pick it up again the next day. It seemed too easy, more slacktivism than activism. The fact that the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter is no longer a taboo in the mainstream is a rather late but good development; it is now more controversial for companies not to speak up about it, but speaking up is far from enough. The many black squares and hashtags that flooded the social media completely covered valuable insights and images of protests. In the haste that many were in to make themselves heard, the opportunity for reflection and contemplation seemed to be lost. At least, that's how we felt about it.
Because what became especially clear on Blackout Tuesday, but also during the demonstration on Dam Square last Monday, is that we still have a very long way to go in the fight against institutional racism. The fact that we also have a major racism problem in the Netherlands seems to be slowly getting through to more people. Consciousness is there, more and more in any case. But all the more important and urgent is the question: what next? The regular pace of work resumed on Wednesday after only a day's break, but that does not mean that anything has changed substantially. Just because a statement has been made does not mean that everything automatically gets better.
And now we must speak for ourselves.
We are also making a statement, and we are also asking the question: what is next?
Because we know we need to do better. If we want to fight institutional racism, a diverse reflection of the musical landscape and more visible representation for people of color is of the utmost importance. We founded Front a year and a half ago with the aim of sharing the stories of established artists as well as undervalued and marginalized artists. From Angel Olsen to Ayalaw Mesfin; from French ambient to Russian folk music. The fact that we think it's good music is the most important factor, but that doesn't mean that we can only be guided by that. We want our stories to be enriching; broaden the horizons of our readers – and ourselves. And that horizon is wide, but it can be wider, and above all: less white.
And that is something we will have to work on concretely. We are a small editorial team, only post a few articles per month and try to be selective in terms of content. This selectivity is a luxury and offers the opportunity to actively contribute to the required change. By allowing less established, white artists to speak – artists whose story will already be told elsewhere – and by looking more for voices that can be heard louder, whose insights can be instrumental in the change in mentality that is taking place in the Netherlands, just like in the US, so incredibly much needed.
We are going to work with that, about meetings and brainstorming. This statement is a stub; a statement, a reminder to ourselves that there is work to be done, that achievable goals must be set and monitored. Please keep us to the above, let us know where and how we can improve ourselves, and above all let's start the discussion.
For now, in addition to our individual contributions, we will make a donation to Kick Out Zwarte Piet, The Black Archives and Black Queer & Trans Resistance Netherlands.* We encourage every reader to do the same, support other causes and go deeper. Search. See below a list of relevant links to petitions, websites and articles.
The Front editors
Ruben van Dijk
(*We will not use Patreon donations for this donation.)
An overview of current, urgent and relevant links related to this topic:
Marie Claire: Documentaries About Black History to Educate Yourself With
2Doc: Wit is ook een kleur (Sunny Bergman, 2016)
Stop het legaliseren van politiegeweld
Stichting Kick Out Zwarte Piet, one of the organizational forces behind the protests that are taking place throughout the Netherlands this week, has been committed to visibly changing the racist Zwarte Piet caricature for years.
The Black Archives is a historical archive where people can go for inspiring conversations, substantive activities and books from black and other perspectives that often remain underexposed elsewhere.
Black Queer & Trans Resistance Netherlands
Black Lives Matter
Black Visions Collective
Community Justice Exchange: National Bail Fund Network