on 3/5/06 8:33, David Brown at johnhaleysims@...
> Under French & Spanish rule, Creoles had a distinct and independent society
> with many privileges, including the owning of slaves, not allowed the
> 'blacks' they regarded as inferior. Can these really be termed '
> Afro-Americans' ? I suggest that their culture and aesthetic was far more
> European --specifically French & Spanish---than African.
Cultures are very complex things and not ring-fenced. I would suggest that
New Orleans Creole culture can be viewed either (1) as an independent
entity, which would probably have been their own choice in the nineteenth
century, (2) as an aspect of Franco-American culture or even French culture,
which is how "white" Francophone Louisianians seem to have regarded it, at
least after they needed to co-opt it to play the numbers game against the
American incomers, or (3) as an aspect of African-American culture, which is
how white Americans regarded it at the time New Orleans jazz was being
I would further suggest that all of these perspectives/descriptions are
valid (even true) and that each of them will provide useful insights into
what was going on.
However, if a final judgement must be made, then the fact that the Creoles
were obliged to join AFM Local 496 (New Orleans, colored) rather than AFM
Local 174 (New Orleans, white) says all really that needs to be said.
Under American law anyone with distinguishable African ancestry was an
African-American (not of course the term used then) and this necessarily
threw the Creoles into cultural assimilation with the ex-slaves. Like you, I
strongly suspect that jazz was the result, but don't ask me to prove it. If
I could do that......
It would be fair to say that the New Orleans Creoles only became
African-Americans when whites forced them to. They would otherwise have gone
on playing their chamber music and singing their chansons and generally
behaving as much like their French fathers as they could contrive. (And we
would possibly never have had New Orleans jazz, though something akin to
jazz might nonetheless have emerged in the South-West or out of string-band
music, but, yes, this is futile what-if-ism!)
This is NOT aimed at you, David, but I have encountered Americans who argue
that of course jazz is of multi-racial origin because the Creoles were
really white. Kid Ory is the example most often used. Genetically, he was
white and his minimal African ancestry would have gone unnoticed in Europe.
It was not unnoticed in New Orleans (or Chicago or Los Angeles) in 1920, and
therefore he was an African-American. It's a bit late to change this.
This confusion of genetics and culture lies at the heart of much of the
current revisionism, which essentially seeks to abolish segregation and its
effects retrospectively. This is a political agenda and as far as I can see
it can only be combatted by insisting on the actual history. If that is also
a political agenda, so be it. I plead guilty. Wynton is good company.
(For a full description of how an African-American was defined at the
relevant dates, consult the instructions to census enumerators, which can
easily be found on line.)
> Howard. I think none of us match your vast library, could you just give us,
> at least, a clue on the Blesh/Bix ?
I hope everyone will forgive me if I really do not want to post this
nonsense in a public forum from which it may in due course re-emerge as a
statement of fact. Though Blesh's critical insights into what he liked are
still worthwhile, as I have argued before, other aspects of his work belong
Howard Rye, 20 Coppermill Lane, London, England, E17 7HB
Tel/FAX: +44 20 8521 1098