(Listen to this playlist while you read!)
Black History Month always brings up issues that our American society tends to forget, that’s just the truth. For example, Black Panther was strategically released during Black History Month to amplify the movement it represents and to show everyone that they’re not messing around. This is FOR African Americans, BY African Americans, and all you people trying to make it about you, can sit down, because for once, it is OBVIOUS, that it’s not about you. It’s about all of us. It’s about bringing people together to participate in making history and celebrating this amazing piece of art. Just as the #MeToo movement brought strangers together to form a community of support, Black Panther brings together those who hope for a more colorful future.
Now, just because a bunch of famous people banded together to make it seem like strides are being made for us normal people still dealing with snide comments, disrespect, and the constant battle for success compared to those its handed to, doesn’t mean it’s actually happening. And for those of you who do not know what I’m referring to, this article is not for you. You do not need to be encouraged and stimulated and told you’re not alone – you have that inherited by your gender, by your race, or by the grace of God, you grew up in a supportive, accepting community. This article is for the people who struggle, all the people who struggle. For the people that have to work twice as hard for half the success. For the people who get pity instead of praise. For the people that have to have articles written about them to defend their worth.
My work experience includes industries such as education, non-profits, fine arts, insurance, fashion, travel, tech, app design, and, of course, music. I’m not laying this out to brag about myself, I’m laying this out to explain that my experience with different industries and different people and the stereotypes within those industries and company sizes, has left me experienced in how people treat people like me. I am a 22-year-old woman of color and I get treated as such. I get talked down to, I get ignored, I get stared at when I wear a skirt in the office, and I get typecast into being the “colored” one. (Could a white man write this article? I’m going to go with a NO.) At the same time, I am well-educated (hey NYU Stern), I am loud (thanks mom), I am unapologetic (preach Rihanna), but I am humble (s/o to life for kicking me in the face).
I spent a great amount of my college career trying to break into the music or film industry on the business side. When I was in my last year of college, I took a Women as Entrepreneurs in the Music Industry class and let me tell you, it changed my life. I met so many incredible women and women of color who had killed it in the music industry. From Joi Brown, founder of Culture Creators, to Marcie Allen, founder of MAC Presents, I learned about what it’s “really” like to be a woman in the music industry. Usually in classes like these, for us listening, it doesn’t seem like as much of a struggle because they are where we could only dream of being. It doesn’t seem real because we haven’t truly experienced it.
Fast forward one year, I am just getting comfortable here at PCTV, not my first dabble in the music industry, but definitely the most in depth I’ve been. The team, if you have noticed, is all white except for myself and one other guy. There is nothing shocking about that, it’s a fact of life, they started Power Chord and have brought on new people as we have expanded. The team is full of people that are well travelled, well connected, well educated, and extremely passionate, they just happen to be mostly white. It’s an uplifting environment in terms of passion. Everyone really wants this to work. Where we are now, we also have a majority of men—more than double the number of women. I am not shocked by this either. All of these things are stereotypically normal for the music industry and even more so on the business side. Unfortunately, this is what we’ve been conditioned to accept as a norm.
It’s tough; it’s not just an “oh well, this sucks. But whatever” situation. For Power Chord specifically, I notice a lot of energy spent on balancing how to mix values and viewpoints. While we young people are all about the current news cycle and thinking about what to post and what that will mean, the older team members go for a more carefree, “this is what social media is for” blast method. How can you mix these two without losing sight of the goal but not stunting the creativity? We are still trying to figure that out.
It’s also a mix of tastes. We definitely don’t have a diversity of tastes problem. While some of us couldn’t give a flying hoot about a rock and roll drummer who was really popular in 1973, others don’t even know who the latest and greatest artists of color are. So how do we create content that we, as a whole team, actually want to interact with?
I am not here to tell you how to fix ageism, sexism, and racism in the music industry. I’m merely here to discuss how to push through it and perhaps, make things a little bit better.
Two themes I always keep in mind through all of this: Patience and Strength.
Racism, Sexism, and Ageism are real, and if you don’t believe it you are on the wrong side of the argument, and they are not going to disappear by tomorrow. They’re in every business – whether it’s getting ogled and winked at in an interview, or being typecast as the “affirmative action case“ or “diversity hire”, or not having your opinion heard because you are too young and “what the hell do you know anyway”—these things are not going away. Your patience and strength in yourself and what you know and what you’re willing to learn, will not only help you in your career, but it will inspire your peers, and pave the way for those who are younger than you to enter a workplace where maybe the battle might be a little less intense (which is all we can really work for). All we can do is try to make the world as accustomed as possible to hearing how we think and feel instead of allowing it to swallow us. I, for one, do not want to look back and feel like I should have done more to make my kids’ experiences better. Whether you are just entering the workplace, or you’re a woman, or you’re a person of color, you are in a unique position of having to constantly battle for respect. Use your patience to find your window, paired with your strength to keep yourself from allowing oppression to grind you down, and you will ultimately persuade those around you that yes, you thought this through, and you did the work, AND you deserve a seat at the table.
Do what you have to do. Speak up when you need to, call the old men out when you feel like they’re out of line, speak up for all the people who you feel are forgotten, because the first step to inclusion is actually the act of including (shocking, I know!). Know that every time you stick your neck out for what you want, think, or believe, that you have made a dent in the bigger picture. Every time you tell someone they were being disrespectful, every time you explain why you believe your idea will work best, every time you claim your worth, know that you are paving the way for everyone struggling below you. Because one day you will be the Marcie Allen, or Joi Brown, or the manager of the team, and you will be giving advice to college kids who will then use you as their example of how to act and pay it forward.
The music industry does not have to stay with this stereotype, and we do not have to fall into it the way we always have. Do the work, know your worth, and make some noise, because if we all do it together, we’re actually going to have a lot of fun.