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New Riffs on the Old Mind-Body Blues: “Black Rhythm,” “White Logic,” and Music Theory in the Twenty-First Century


Contemporary music historians have shown how taxonomic divisions of humanity—constructed in earnest within European anthropologies and philosophies from the Enlightenment on—were reflected in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century theories of musical-cultural evolution, with complex and intellectualized art music forms always shown as transcending base and bodily rhythm, just as light skin supposedly transcended dark. The errors of old and now disreputable scholarly approaches have been given much attention. Yet scientifically oriented twenty-first-century studies of putatively Afro-diasporic and, especially, African American rhythmic practices seem often to stumble over similarly racialized fault lines, the relationship between “sensory” music, its “intelligent” comprehension, and its analysis still procedurally and politically fraught. Individual musical sympathies are undermined by methods and assumptions common to the field in which theorists operate. They operate, too, in North American and European university departments overwhelmingly populated by white scholars. And so this article draws upon and tests concepts from critical race and whiteness theory and asks whether, in taking “black rhythm” as its subject, some contemporary music studies reinscribe what the sociologists Tukufu Zuberi and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva have called “white logic”: a set of intellectual attitudes, prerogatives, and methods that, whatever the intentions of the musicologists concerned, might in some way restage those division practices now widely recognized as central to early musicology.

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Journal of the Society for American Music
  • ISSN: 1752-1963
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