This Black History Month is different from years past. For one, the shortest month of the year — read into that coincidence however you want — comes as Democratic voters might be nominating the country’s first-ever black presidential candidate. The gravity isn’t lost on Louisvillians, nor are their opinions on how diverse the city is, and what city leaders and residents need to do to foster racial harmony. We hope the discussion continues. —Mat Herron
LEO: Have you ever been a victim of racism?
Butch Rice: Yes, I’ve been a victim of racism but seldom overt. It’s mostly subtle. Overt: As I prepared to play a show a bar in St. Matthews, the bar manager answered the phone, looked upset, and hung up. The caller had seen my picture in the LEO and wanted to know if a lot of blacks would be coming to the bar. Subtle: I’m carrying two acoustic guitars and a female patron looks at me quizzically and asks, “So, you’ll be rapping tonight?”
Subtle: A bar owner once said to me, “So you’re Butch? What do you do in the band? Are you the drummer?” To which I answered, “No.” He then quickly added, “Oh, so you’re the bass player!” To which I answered,” No, I’m the lead singer and I play rhythm guitar.” He walked away looking very puzzled
Overt: A woman asked me to play a song by Al Green. I told her I didn’t know any Al Green. Then she asked for Sam Cooke. Again, I told her I didn’t know any Sam Cooke.
She then said, “What kind of black musician are you?” and walked away.
LEO: What is the role of a musician, or any artist for that matter, when discussing race?
BR: The role of any artist is to create or reveal something new that still echoes of the familiar. It can, and should, embrace any topic, including race.
LEO: Do you think race is a factor in the way we communicate with one another? Do you ever see a time where that won’t be the case?
BR: It’s a given that race is factor in the way we communicate with one another. If not, you would not be asking this question. My parents, grandparents and great-grandparents grew up under Jim Crow. Their schools, entertainment venues, churches and neighborhoods were almost always designated by race and enforced by the legal system. The effects of Jim Crow still linger in several aspects of our society.
However, look at the 2008 Democratic race for the presidential nominee. For the first time in our history, the presidential nominee will be a woman or an African-American male. Great strides of progress have been made, but the journey is far from over. Butch Rice performs Saturday at Wick’s Pizza in Middletown (12717 Shelbyville Road, 213-9425).
LEO: Should race and ethnicity matter today?
TS: Of course not, but there are pros and cons to these differences (in race and ethnicities) in our culture. Race and ethnicity are difficult subjects in our society. Most people act as if (they) aren’t an issue, but there are several recent events that have prove differently, like the presidential election that is coming up.
All that said, if we didn’t have different races and ethnicities, the world would be pretty bland. We’d all be extremely boring and some ridiculous color, like fuchsia.
LEO: What is it like being a musician who’s black in Louisville? Do people treat you differently?
TS: When I first moved here, I thought, “I’m just another female singer-songwriter trying to work her way into the scene,” until a friend told me that maybe me being an African-American woman could work to my advantage, and that my race is a “golden ticket,” so to speak. Initially, I got kind of angry, but I realized that anything that makes you different is a plus. There is so much talent in Louisville, and if me being a minority makes me a little more interesting (because of perception), then I am proud of it. People usually judge me when I walk into a room. I had a guy say, “Hey, are you doing the blues?” I replied, “I’m doing singer-songwriter-style folk/soul.” He goes, “Oh, you’re gonna cover all of Tracy Chapman’s songs?” I said, “Actually, dumb ass, I write my own songs.”
LEO: A woman and an African-American man are running for the Democratic nomination for president. What effect has this race had on you, as an African-American and as a woman?
TS: Oh my God, I am so excited because this Democratic nomination, whichever way it goes (preferably Obama), is finally symbolizing change in the United States. This is the moment that I can tell my kids about one day: “I was there when the first woman/African-American president was elected.” Sanders performs tonight at 9 p.m. at Stevie Ray’s.
LEO: Does Louisville have a race problem, and if so, what exactly is it?
AW: Absolutely. We must consider that when we reflect on Kentucky’s position in the Civil War — that it was both a Union and Confederate state — this indicates to me that Kentucky has a significant amount of residents who were against the freeing of slaves, and their spirit continues to live through many parts of the state. Just a month ago, a man was refused service at a restaurant on the basis that he wore gold teeth. Being an event coordinator, I have had many instances where my money had less value than my white counterparts when doing business with many of the same venues. So yes, race is a problem, because there are people and powers-that-be who have not accepted diversity as the order of the day. For every instance where we have promise, there are those who oppose diversity and stop at nothing to maintain the status quo.
LEO: Do you believe we will, by the end of this century, achieved a post-racial America?
AW: Absolutely not. For us as individuals and as a collective to achieve a race-free America, we have to tackle the three Rs: repentance, redemption and retribution. This country first has to be sorry (repentance) for the hand that they have had in slavery and the class divisions that exist, and also be willing to accept responsibility for all of the horrible side effects of it. When we are truly sorry, we should seek to redeem ourselves, whether it be through verbal apologies private and public as well as many other gestures that promote our repentance. Last is retribution. Retribution is the debt that we pay to society when we are found guilty of disrupting it.
LEO: Have you ever been a victim of racism or a racist act? If so, what effect did that have on you?
AW: I have been faced with racism on many occasions and at many different phases of my life. Naturally my understanding of racism is more informed than it was when I was 10 years old, so I deal with it differently. As an adult, it is very unsettling and has caused me to be extremely cautious of my interactions with people who are not like me. It’s a burden that I doubt that I will ever be free of.