Black Noise/White Ears, the book

social distortion pedal

social distortion pedal, t storm heter 2016


For several years I’ve been researching the subject of jazz and race.  I’m now in the process of writing up my thoughts in book form.  I’m calling the book “Black Noise/White Ears.”  The title is an allusion to the black existentialist philosopher Frantz Fanon, who wrote one of the most important texts of black existentialism in 1952, “Black Skin, White Masks.”

In Black Noise/White Ears , I’ll be using the ideas of Fanon, along with ideas drawn from a long cast of other wonderful (living) thinkers like Sara Ahmed, George Yancy, Lewis Gordon, Ingrid Monson, Martin Munro and Josh Kun, just to mention a few.

I’ve decided that as I write my book I will share my ideas here, in the form of short blog posts.

The motivation for the book is the question: “What does it mean to ‘hear’ race?”

In the United States, race is usually something we claim to see.  But don’t we also categorize each other based on sound?

The writer Gary Younge wrote a striking book in 1997, No Place Like Home where he described the confusion many Americans expressed when they heard a “black looking” man speak in a British accent.

As a philosopher and musician, I am interested in what musical sounds get labeled as “white” or “black” or “Latin” or “Asian.” Where do these genre labels come from and how to they affect the way we think about each other.  For instance, why is the genre Hip-Hop considered “black music”?  Are there particular sounds in Hip-Hop music that are “black” or “white” sounds?

I am a jazz drummer.  I’m white.  Does that make the music I play “white jazz”?

Jazz music originated in black and creole communities, in the US South and West.  But by the 1930s white jazz artists dominated the charts and jazz became the popular music of the United States.  Today, most jazz musicians are trained in conservatories and universities.  Demographically, jazz has become a white dominated music form.  Why?

These aesthetic questions are important.  Music is the one place we talk explicitly about “ear training.”  Maybe we all need ear training.

Within the next 25 years  the US will become a majority-minority nation.  Our racial vocabularies need to be reinvented.  We are not a “post-racial” nation.  We’ve mostly suppressed the hard questions about race and mixture.

We hear a lot about “talking about” race.  I’m more interested in the act of listening.  How can we begin listening to race–and listening to the mixture of race that characterizes both our past and our future?