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I think it's interesting that a straight-forward plug for the Stephen
Foster Museum should turn into a debate on political correctness by the
second post. I'll begin by saying that as a graduate student, I attended
the University of Pittsburgh (on the campus of which the museum is
located), and Dr. Deane Root, a Foster scholar who directs the Center for
American Music (which oversees the museum) was one of my professors. I do
not think that anyone would suggest that we devalue Foster's legacy and
influence. I think we can all accept that Stephen Foster is a figure of
towering importance in the history of American popular music.

However, the fact remains that some people find his lyrics offensive in a
modern context. I am not referring exclusively to the use of a particular
racial slur, but also to some of the songs that attempt to imitate
African-American vernacular usage of his era. Moreover, the fact that this
music was associated with blackface minstrel shows and with what some see
as the appropriation of elements of African-American musical culture by a
white composer is highly problematic for some people. I agree with Tom and
others that it would be a grave mistake and a historical injustice to
ignore this music of this chapter in American history because it does not
comport well with modern sensibilities. But we must also be sensitive to
the fact that it is the corollary to free speech that anyone has a right to
take offense and to air their grievances.

I am a white, middle-class, heterosexual male with multiple graduate
degrees. I have no doubt whatsoever that racial slurs sound profoundly
different to those who have been forced to endure receiving them than they
do to me. What to some people is a charming period piece is to others a
reminder of arguably the greatest tragedy in American history, and I don't
think that anyone is in a position to judge anyone else for their opinion
on the subject. I would argue that attempting to understand this music in
its correct historical context, and to being open to multiple viewpoints on
the matter (including from those who find Foster's music offensive) is
critical to understanding not only Stephen Foster, but the history of
American culture in general.

As an aside, as an undergraduate, I had to write a short paper on the
reception of Wagner in Israel. Barenboim had just broken the moratorium on
Wagner a few years before, and the topic was still fresh in a lot of
people's minds. I was teenage Wagnerite and it bothered me that people
blamed Nazism on a composer who died in 1883, and who lived in an era when
anti-Semitism was basically the rule rather than the exception. The Nazis
used Bach and Beethoven as propaganda as well, and their music wasn't
banned in Israel. But I eventually came to the conclusion that I didn't
live through the Holocaust and World War II, and while I personally had
nothing concrete to connect this music that I loved so much with genocidal
fascism, millions of people did, and it didn't really matter what I
thought. I still believed that Wagner's music ought to be performed in
Israel (and I still do believe this), but I respect the beliefs of those
who disagree and understand that for some people, the association is
impossible to break.

On Mon, Apr 27, 2015 at 4:20 PM, Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>
wrote:

> Hi Aaron:
>
> I think you're correct that we should strive to "do the best we can to see
> that the ongoing dignity of our fellow Americans is central to our purpose."
>
> However, this ideal is not and cannot be the basis of "accepted" or
> "acceptable" artistic creation and expression. Art, as expressed
> historically and definitely in the past century plus, is often about
> offending people or making people uncomfortable, upsetting norms and
> pushing boundaries.  In fact, relevant to our current conversation, I'll
> cite a prime example -- "Huckleberry Finn." That book was none too subtle
> about poking at and mocking then-common perceptions of race and human
> dignity. Ironically, because today some are offended by some language
> spoken by some characters in that book, it is now banned by some academic
> institutions. I'm sure Mark Twain would chuckle at the irony of his art
> being "offensive" to both ends of a spectrum.
>
> -- Tom Fine
>
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Aaron Levinson" <
> [log in to unmask]>
> To: <[log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Monday, April 27, 2015 4:05 PM
>
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Pittsburgh's Stephen Foster Memorial Museum
>
>
>  Dear Vincent and Tom-
>>
>> I think that in reality you are both correct and that what you are saying
>> is not mutually exclusive. I completely agree with Tom and short of
>> shouting "Fire" in a public place the 1st Amendment got it's place in line
>> for a damn good reason. Let's not lose sight of that fact no matter what
>> else we choose to do.
>>
>> But Vincent is absolutely correct in that we need to examine all things
>> about our culture and do the best we can to see that the ongoing dignity of
>> our fellow Americans is central to our purpose.
>>
>> Accordingly we must promulgate the kind of society that is moving toward
>> the goal of equality and fairness for all citizens as it is in fact the
>> cornerstone of what a democratic society is ultimately about.
>>
>> That's not paying "lip service" to anything my friends...
>>
>> AA
>>
>> Sent from my iPhone
>>
>>  On Apr 27, 2015, at 3:36 PM, Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>
>>> wrote:
>>>
>>> Hi Vincent:
>>>
>>> I do respect your point of view, but I think it's wrong to try and
>>> shelter people from hurtful words by censoring free speech. Plain and
>>> simple, free speech should trump any individual's feeling of hurt (and it
>>> does, up to the point of shouting "fire" in a crowded theater, under our
>>> Constitution). I also point to rap/hip-hop lyrics and all too common
>>> vernacular among urban folks of color:  the "N" word is alive and well
>>> there (although some thought leaders in the black community are speaking
>>> out about it).
>>>
>>> Of course it's better when discourse is civil, as a matter of getting
>>> along in a diverse and crowded society. Where I think things go off the
>>> rails is when there are attempted by self-appointed (or elected)
>>> authorities to dictate the terms of discourse. That has to be up to
>>> individuals in a free society (we have to choose to be polite to each
>>> other, by our own free will). Along the lines of what Paul Stambler said,
>>> of course everyone should be polite, but they don't HAVE to be in a free
>>> society. No one may or should dictate what is "polite" and what is "rude."
>>>
>>> As far as music history and historical appreciation goes, we shouldn't
>>> "erase" important figures because someone today is hurt or outraged by
>>> something written or said in a different time and context. Any individual
>>> may decide they are so offended or otherwise put off by the artist that
>>> they wish never to hear, study or talk about their music, but that fact
>>> alone doesn't take the artist out of their historical context. It's also
>>> worth considering the idea that ALL people are flawed, but their brilliance
>>> may shine dispite their flaws. And it gets back to the fact that what's
>>> "polite" to one person may be patently "rude" to another -- look no further
>>> than modern performance-art and visual-arts. Being diverse means being able
>>> to accept that much "rudeness" will exist, because everyone's context and
>>> aesthetics are different.
>>>
>>> Sorry to belabor this point, but free speech (and the underlying concept
>>> of free thought) is really important.  It's a foundation stone of our
>>> country, and it's what is taken away first when despots come to power.
>>>
>>> -- Tom Fine
>>>
>>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Vincent Pelote" <
>>> [log in to unmask]>
>>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>>> Sent: Monday, April 27, 2015 2:24 PM
>>> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Pittsburgh's Stephen Foster Memorial Museum
>>>
>>>
>>>  David and Tom,
>>>>
>>> Hi Vincent:
>>>
>>> I do respect your point of view, but I think it's wrong to try and
>>> shelter people from hurtful words by censoring free speech. Plain and
>>> simple, free speech should trump any individual's feeling of hurt (and it
>>> does, up to the point of shouting "fire" in a crowded theater, under our
>>> Constitution). I also point to rap/hip-hop lyrics and all too common
>>> vernacular among urban folks of color:  the "N" word is alive and well
>>> there (although some thought leaders in the black community are speaking
>>> out about it).
>>>
>>> Of course it's better when discourse is civil, as a matter of getting
>>> along in a diverse and crowded society. Where I think things go off the
>>> rails is when there are attempted by self-appointed (or elected)
>>> authorities to dictate the terms of discourse. That has to be up to
>>> individuals in a free society (we have to choose to be polite to each
>>> other, by our own free will). Along the lines of what Paul Stambler said,
>>> of course everyone should be polite, but they don't HAVE to be in a free
>>> society. No one may or should dictate what is "polite" and what is "rude."
>>>
>>> As far as music history and historical appreciation goes, we shouldn't
>>> "erase" important figures because someone today is hurt or outraged by
>>> something written or said in a different time and context. Any individual
>>> may decide they are so offended or otherwise put off by the artist that
>>> they wish never to hear, study or talk about their music, but that fact
>>> alone doesn't take the artist out of their historical context. It's also
>>> worth considering the idea that ALL people are flawed, but their brilliance
>>> may shine dispite their flaws. And it gets back to the fact that what's
>>> "polite" to one person may be patently "rude" to another -- look no further
>>> than modern performance-art and visual-arts. Being diverse means being able
>>> to accept that much "rudeness" will exist, because everyone's context and
>>> aesthetics are different.
>>>
>>> Sorry to belabor this point, but free speech (and the underlying concept
>>> of free thought) is really important.  It's a foundation stone of our
>>> country, and it's what is taken away first when despots come to power.
>>>
>>> -- Tom Fine
>>>
>>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Vincent Pelote" <
>>> [log in to unmask]>
>>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>>> Sent: Monday, April 27, 2015 2:24 PM
>>> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Pittsburgh's Stephen Foster Memorial Museum
>>>
>>>
>>>  David and Tom,
>>>>
>>>> As one of the pitifully few members of ARSC who are of African descent
>>>> ('Black" if you need me to spell it out), I must say that I always find it
>>>> interesting that the most outspoken critics of political correctness are
>>>> usually NOT the people for whom political correctness was meant to shelter
>>>> from racist speech, images, etc. I happen to have a thicker skin than most,
>>>> yet I find myself subconsciously cringing every time I hear the so called
>>>> "N" word no matter what the context (and I don't buy that clap trap that
>>>> the "N" word wasn't offensive in the day). Since neither of you gentlemen
>>>> will ever have that word hurled at you the way it has been at me, I think
>>>> your calling political correctness a "cancer" instead of racism interesting
>>>> and while I understand that political correctness can go overboard at
>>>> times, I see nothing wrong with trying to ease the years of hurt that
>>>> certain people in this society has had to endure for so long when racist
>>>> words and images were "acceptable." Think about it gentlemen. Do we really
>>>> need to call a football team the Washington Redskins, if it offends Native
>>>> Americans? Just my 2 cents worth and I really don't want to go into a long
>>>> series of emails about this.
>>>>
>>>> Vincent Pelote
>>>> ----- Original Message -----
>>>>
>>>> From: "Tom Fine" <[log in to unmask]>
>>>> To: [log in to unmask]
>>>> Sent: Monday, April 27, 2015 11:38:28 AM
>>>> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Pittsburgh's Stephen Foster Memorial Museum
>>>>
>>>> Hi David:
>>>>
>>>> This is the politically "correct" thought police at work. It's a cancer
>>>> on American society, created
>>>> and nurtured in academia. It's disgusting to me, because it's dishonest
>>>> and anti-truth. It's
>>>> straight out of George Orwell, as are most far-left academic notions.
>>>> Totally agree about Stephen
>>>> Foster. He was a major part of American musical and cultural history,
>>>> whether his lyrics "offend"
>>>> people whose default stance is moral "outrage" or not.
>>>>
>>>> -- Tom Fine
>>>>
>>>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "DAVID BURNHAM" <[log in to unmask]
>>>> >
>>>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>>>> Sent: Monday, April 27, 2015 11:21 AM
>>>> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Pittsburgh's Stephen Foster Memorial Museum
>>>>
>>>>
>>>>  I think one of the sadest developments in American musical history is
>>>>> the ostracizing of Stephen
>>>>> Foster's music because he is described as being "racist". Stephen
>>>>> Foster wrote prolifically about a
>>>>> period in history which was cruel to African Americans, (although, of
>>>>> course, he never used that
>>>>> expression), but he always described them as honest, God fearing,
>>>>> family oriented, loving people.
>>>>> Sure, some of his songs containg the "N" word, but he lived in a time
>>>>> when that word wasn't used as
>>>>> offensively as it is today.
>>>>> Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan was a very morally upright person who
>>>>> would not knowingly offend
>>>>> anyone, but he used the "N" word twice in "Mikado", (which is
>>>>> occasionally described as offensive
>>>>> to the Japanese).
>>>>> "Showboat" is often described as racist. When it was to be shown in
>>>>> Toronto to open a new concert
>>>>> venue over 20 years ago, there were huge outcries from protesters who
>>>>> obviously didn't understand
>>>>> the work at all. "Showboat" was a curageous statement AGAINST racism
>>>>> at a time when racist
>>>>> sentiments were quite acceptable, (late '20s). The very first word in
>>>>> "Showboat" is the "N" word,
>>>>> (I'm not spelling it out because I don't want to offend anybody and if
>>>>> there is automatic
>>>>> monitoring of ARSC posts, the presence of the word would cause the
>>>>> post to be rejected), and that
>>>>> word is used throughout "Showboat", but anyone who knows "Showboat"
>>>>> knows it's anything but
>>>>> racist. Paul Robeson was a very outspoken critic of anything racist
>>>>> and would not participate in
>>>>> anything which was offensive to anyone, yet he was proud to appear in
>>>>> "Showboat" and "Old Man
>>>>> River" almost became his theme song.
>>>>> db
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>> On Monday, April 27, 2015 10:56 AM, "Williams, Tim" <
>>>>> [log in to unmask]> wrote:
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>> Though not as big or eccentric as the Bayernhof Museum, Pittsburgh's
>>>>> Stephen Foster Memorial
>>>>> Museum is much more accessible and quick to tour:
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>> http://www.pitt.edu/~amerimus/Museum.htm
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>> It's on Forbes Avenue (lots of buses go from Downtown up Forbes) in
>>>>> Oakland, at the foot of the
>>>>> University of Pittburgh's gigantic Cathedral of Learning and across
>>>>> the street from the Carnegie
>>>>> Museums and Library and the Dippy the Dinosaur statue.
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>> See lots of you folks a month from now!
>>>>>
>>>>> Tim
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>> Timothy R. Williams
>>>>>
>>>>> Librarian
>>>>>
>>>>> Music, Film & Audio Department
>>>>>
>>>>> Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>> Check out this list of Pittsburgh jazz musicians:
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>> http://carnegielibrary.org/research/music/pittsburgh/pittsburghjazzmusicians.html
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>
>>>>
>>>> --
>>>> Vincent Pelote
>>>> Interim Director
>>>> Institute of Jazz Studies
>>>> Rutgers University
>>>> Dana Library
>>>> 185 University Avenue
>>>> Newark, NJ 07102
>>>> phone: 973-353-5595
>>>> email: [log in to unmask]
>>>>
>>>>
>>
>>