It’s not all sweet sounds in the music industry’s White Boys’ Club: Part 1

It’s difficult to talk about racial politics, gender politics and structural inequality in South Africa without someone getting offended. It’s difficult to say “White Boys’ Club” without being attacked by white males spitting insults, calling you a “Feminazi” and a “man-hater”.

It’s difficult to get the point across that there is a difference between hating men and a system of structural inequality that is geared towards the oppression of people of colour and women and works in favour of white males.

The general argument against the White Boys’ Club or misogyny or bigotry is: “I don’t partake in this behaviour, so it’s not my problem”, or, “I am not one of those men”. Basically, #NotAllMen.

Unfortunately, white man, it is your problem.

It’s your problem because you are part of that social structure and it is your job to instigate positive change within it, to call out behaviour that is inappropriate, to get involved.

The problem is that white men are blind to these problems. They have no idea what you’re talking about because structural inequality does not affect them. They answer: “That’s the way it is”, or: “You only have yourself to blame, you should work harder”. It’s an easy answer when you live an unaffected life. It’s an apathetic answer. Now factor poor and of colour or poor and female into that sentence and the battle for success becomes far more difficult.

My introduction to the White Boys’ Club was on a trip to Philadelphia in the US. I had been asked to speak at a conference about minority punk groups at the University of Pennsylvania. I was to speak about the South African punk scene in which I grew up, and answer questions alongside musician Ivan Kadey on a panel about South African punk. Ivan was the guitarist for National Wake – a multi-racial band from Johannesburg during the 70s and 80s. He did not speak – his story was told through the documentary, Punk in Africa, produced by Deon Maas and Keith Jones.

My portion of the talk involved playing songs of popular South African punk bands, Fuzigish, The Slashdogs, TCIYF, Brafcharge, and a few others. I used the songs to attempt to explain the political situation in South Africa. Ivan and I were met with animosity on the panel. I was accused of advocating the White Boys’ Club by not talking about black punk bands besides TCIYF. I was asked why I wasn’t black. The audience I was speaking to was made up largely of LGBT, Hispanic, and black women. Ivan was accused of using black people as objects in his white narrative.

I left the conference in a state of anger. Could the audience not see that this was the scene – this is what we had? That there were no black punk bands. I was wrong. I was ignorant. I asked on Facebook: Where are the black punk bands?

The answers came flooding in: BLK JKS, The Brother Moves On, BCUC – while not traditionally punk by white standards, what they were doing was punk – I had played for and toured with The Brother. How they dealt with my ignorance, I don’t know.

I realised I was in denial of my own privilege, completely unaware that I even had it. How could I be privileged and come from the Third World? Surely living the First World affords far more privilege? Aren’t you also privileged if you don’t live in a shack? I work hard for my money, I’m not one of those people that doesn’t have to work; they’re privileged not me. It’s not a problem of race, it’s a problem of class.

I did not understand privilege. I did not understand privilege in the same way so many white South Africans do not understand privilege, in the same way they do not understand the White Boys’ Club.

What is this White Boys’ Club? Why is it detrimental? Why can’t we just let it be because “that’s the way it is?” My experience of the White Boys’ Club comes mainly from music and the film industry. Both are highly masculine spaces.

In 2016, Hollywood was called out for being a “straight, white, boys’ club” with women, LGBT people, and people of colour suffering from an “epidemic of invisibility”. Statistics from The Guardian state that a third of speaking actors across studied films and television shows were female. 28.3% were from an ethnic minority. Only 2% of speaking characters identified as LGBT. Out of the 109 films released by major studios, 3.4% of those were directed by females and only two of those women were black.

In the music industry, internationally, there are hardly any powerful black executives, even though the blues and rap genres changed the face of popular music. Companies at the forefront of the industry are all dominated by white executives, most of whom are from privilege.

But why does it matter? I like to look to Plato for this answer. In his version of a just city the role of art, music, and theatre was one in which the moral stories of the culture could be taught. If this in the case in modern society, all our stories and morals are dictated by white males.

What do white males have to say about women in the White Boys’ Club that is the South African alternative music scene, the pinnacle of white boy music?

Half Price, a popular punk band in Cape Town, are so full of misogyny, it’s difficult to know where to start.

“This girl took me home with her last night / it was pretty fucking cool / I got in a fight, inside her bed because I tried to take her pants off / and that’s when she said… No!”

The obvious belief that any girl who takes you home makes you entitled to have sex with her.

On a similar note:
“You want the cold hard cash no questions asked / I wanna take you home, I want that ass / Designer outfits, Italian Shoes / I’ve got the cash girl, show me your moves / Camps Bay sluts on their knees/ Camps Bay sluts, that’s what I need.”

Perpetuating the belief that women are objects to be bought. I could go on about this band with lyrics like “I like big fat titties in my face…” But I will stop.

How about Desmond and the Tutus – another popular white male alternative band who have had much airtime on South African radio. Again, dictating what is normal for a girl: according to them, it’s out of the norm for a girl to get dirty, to be tough, and that girls need to clean up, wear shoes, and again are there to make men suffer.

“She’s got older brothers / She’s by far the toughest / She doesn’t play hard to get / She just makes you suffer / She’s not scared to get dirty / She cleans up so nice / Put some shoes on Pretoria girl / ‘Cause I’m taking you out on the town tonight.”

While this is not just a problem in white alternative scenes, this is the perspective of women that white males are celebrating. It is problematic. It comes down to white men telling other white men and women how they should behave. These sorts of lyrics leave no room for progressive gender politics. The voices of females and people of colour are completely disregarded in most cases.

Part 2 of this series will be published next week on The Daily Vox.

Cami ScoundrelCami Scoundrel is a Cape Town-based musician, filmy, and circus conspirator. She completed her honours degree in Philosophy at the University of the Witwatersrand and is in the process of completing in her masters degree in Anthropology.