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Are There Some Things White People Shouldn’t Perform?

I’m still thinking hard about some of the representational issues I brought up yesterday about Gerard Depardieu’s casting as Alexandre Dumas, because the producers apparently didn’t think they could find a biracial or black actor who could a) handle the role and b) be as significant a box-office draw. Part of it is that my friend Rich Byrne forwarded me Robyn and Jenny Wilson’s cover of Saul Williams’ “List of Demands (Reparations).” Other than the line “I’m breaking out my noose,” and the title, the song is not particularly explicitly about race, or even about reparations on the surface. But is it okay for two indie white girls to cover it? Does some of the meaning get lost? For comparison, here’s the original:

And here’s the cover:

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I tend towards an ethos of generosity in these matters. Unless Robyn and Jenny Wilson were in some way minimizing the suffering black people in America have experienced, which I absolutely don’t think they are doing, I don’t see an explicit problem with their decision to cover the piece (which has a gorgeous second verse about the desperation of love). Is the meaning the same when two white girls perform the piece on a European television show? Yes, unquestionably. Is losing Williams’ political meaning a bad thing? Possibly. Could the performance be an act of solidarity? Maybe. It’s just so impossible to gauge intentions here. All I can really discern is that both performances are pretty dope, but then, I don’t particularly have a stake in the reparations fight or a sense of ownership of Williams’ work and message. I’m still thinking all of this stuff through. If I figure it out, I’ll let you know.