This year’s Spring Fling will have the first all-black lineup since 1982, when Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers and Chubby Checker performed at Tufts. The 2017 lineup, which originally consisted of T-Pain, Tinashe and Aminé, was selected amid complaints about inadequate race representation among performers at the annual concert.
When the original lineup was announced on March 13, Tufts University Social Collective (TUSC) Concert Co-Chair Alex Mitchell told the Daily that the past few years’ lineups had been criticized for not having enough representation for people of color, and TUSC Concert wanted to respond to those criticisms.
Since then, T-Pain has cancelled his Spring Fling appearance. Instead, Tinashe will headline the show and Metro Boomin will join as an opener, maintaining the presence of black artists in the lineup.
Jonathan Moore, a senior majoring in Africana studies and American studies, spoke about his thoughts about the lineup and, more generally, the interactions between black art and largely non-black audiences.
“I’m happy black people are coming for Spring Fling,” Moore said. “That’s amazing. I hope that that trend is replicated in other groups. I hope it’s replicated in funding. I hope it’s replicated in speakers that the university brings for its lecture series. I hope that it’s replicated in commencement speakers.”
Moore also discussed the ways that representation can be further improved at Spring Fling and other events on campus. He noted the lack of non-black artists who are not white at previous years’ Spring Fling concerts.
“I can’t think of any Asian artists, I can’t think of any Latino artists, which I think speaks to a larger problem of reducing university concerts or public concerts to independent white people or headlining rappers,” he said, adding that the lack of diversity within Spring Fling’s black performers reflected Tufts’ wider creative climate.
“Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to find black artists … that come from a variety of different musical backgrounds if, through the other nine months, campus organizations were adamant about bringing black artists to campus, whether it’s musicians, whether it’s contemporary artists, whether it’s performance artists,” he said.
Moore cited Trapfest Weekend, hosted by the Africana Center from April 28 to 30, as an alternative event to Spring Fling that promotes the diversity within black music. He encouraged students disheartened with the lack of representation at Spring Fling to donate time and energy to Trapfest.
Spring Fling’s all-black lineup has the potential to raise other race-related questions: What is the role of a non-black audience member at Spring Fling? Which behaviors are appropriate and which are violent or unacceptable? In particular, racial slurs could cause controversy on Saturday, given that Tinashe, Aminé and Metro Boomin all use the n-word in their most popular songs. While singing along to songs like Aminé’s “Caroline” (2016), some non-black students may choose to omit the slur in the lyrics, while others may include it.
In a more recent interview with the Daily, Mitchell and fellow TUSC Concert Co-Chair Gracie Kanigher expressed their expectations for non-black concertgoers at Spring Fling.
“Be respectful. Be a good person,” Kanigher said. “I think that you should just try and be a conscious and responsible person.”
Mitchell added, “Explicitly addressing what Gracie’s getting at, don’t say the n-word in the songs.”
Moore discussed the complex relationship between language, race and music.
“Concerts tend to be public environments where language is contended more so than in other spaces,” he said. “In those environments, people feel entitled to language in a way that they might not otherwise … they’re more comfortable expressing their entitlement than they normally are.”
Moore explained that concerts can cultivate a crowd mentality in which people can feel supported by one another to engage in acts of racism and violence. This group mentality is fueled by an unwillingness of audience members to think critically about the music they are hearing, he said.
“[It] has to do with black art being seen as something that is free for consumption without having any sort of thoughtful relationship,” he said. “At large, I think non-black people have very thoughtless relationships to black cultural productions, whether that’s black writing, black music or feeling that you can inhabit the body of a black basketball player.”
Moore cited a specific incident that demonstrates this relationship of consumption between non-black audiences and black artists. When rapper Noname came to Boston on March 3, she performed her song “Casket Pretty” (2016), which is about her relationship to the black people in her life who have been murdered.
“Non-black people in the crowd were singing along with her and she ended up stopping and saying, ‘Why are you singing this with me? This isn’t your story, I don’t want you to sing this with me.’ I thought it was really powerful, and I wish I had been there,” Moore said.
Moore explained that the n-word has its origins in objectification and violence, leading to a disparity in the relationships that black people and non-black people have with black performers.
“A lot of black people do not feel safe when they are surrounded by non-black people saying ‘n—-.’ Those same people saying ‘n—-’ feel pretty safe. That’s a problem to me,” he said. “When black people go to concerts, we know that non-black people, their relationship to those people on stage is not just one of consuming their art, but consuming them.
Moore described steps that Tufts can take as a community to prevent Spring Fling from turning into a dangerous environment for black people this year. He hoped that, before saying the n-word, non-black people will ask themselves, “Is me saying this worth making a black person uncomfortable? Is me saying this worth evoking and dabbling in a violent history that I am a part of? If I am a non-black person and I choose to do that, am I prepared for the repercussions?”
Moore also urged non-black students to think about where their desire to say the n-word comes from.
“If people just thought where the compulsion to say certain things comes from and thought about it not as ‘Can I or can’t I?’ but rather ‘Why do I want to?’ they might actually get somewhere,” he said.
Associate Professor of Music Stephan Pennington echoed these questions.
“I think people need to be a bit more self-critical about the things that they enjoy,” Pennington said. “Why are you saying it? What charge are you getting out of it?”
Pennington reflected on the enjoyment that non-black people derive from black art and the ways in which this enjoyment can turn into fetishization. He spoke about the ways that non-black consumers can dehumanize black artists and project unrealistic fantasies upon them.
“For me, it’s about fantasy and humanity. This particular sort of fetishization of black pain happens all the time. Black anger, black violence, black pain, it’s a fantasy,” he said. “That’s the story of American popular music. It’s theft disguised as appreciation.”
Reversing these problematic thought processes requires non-black people to reflect on their own position in systems of music consumption, Pennington said.
“I think the only way for people to work through this is to decolonize their mind,” he said. “I think that people have to do a lot of self-work and be self-critical.”
Moore also emphasized the importance of critical thinking.
“Black students and non-black students would benefit from thinking through the type of environment that we create when we have concerts like this,” he said. “I want the community to hold people accountable when [these] things happen, but that requires people to think.”