[The following post is an interview with Kate Aly-Brady, Daniel Budiansky, Adam Lioz, and Rupa Mitra by Stephanie Jenkins about their article, “White Phragility.” The interview is part of an AMA series celebrating the publication of the “Phish and Philosophy” special issue of the Public Philosophy Journal (edited by Stephanie Jenkins and Charlie Dirksen). Kate, Daniel, Adam, and Rupa will also be answering your questions in the Comments throughout the week. Please note that the opinions expressed in blog posts on this site are not necessarily endorsed or shared by any of the volunteers who run Phish.net or The Mockingbird Foundation. This site and this blog rely entirely on the work of volunteers. -Ed.]
Tell us about yourselves? Who are you? When were your first shows? Why do you come back?
RM: My name is Rupa Mitra, and I was born in the US to parents of Bengali ethnic heritage. I grew up in the Northeast of the US but lived a third of my adult life abroad (mainly France and Tanzania). I’m a labor/human resources lawyer. My first show was in 2011. I had to take a hiatus when I gave birth as a solo parent in 2019 but hope to be bringing my little one to shows before long! Nothing can compare to the exuberance of a Phish show.
KAB: My name is Kate Aly-Brady, and I am a cisgender white female who grew up on the East Coast. I moved to the Pacific Northwest after college, and have been a special education teacher ever since. My first shows were in 1998, and I keep coming back because the music, the people, the energy are like home. I’m a part of Phans for Racial Equity (PHRE) because I want everyone to have the chance to feel at home there, too.
ARL: My name’s Adam Lioz and I’m a secular Jewish kid from Long Island who grew up seeing the Dead at Nassau Coliseum, MSG, and Giant’s stadium in the 90s. For my day job I work to promote inclusive, multiracial democracy (fighting to expand voting rights) as a lawyer and advocate. I saw a few shows in 1.0 and 2.0 (including Coventry), but I really got hooked in 2009 when I went to the Gorge and Festival 8. I keep coming back for the music, the community, and that decent chance each night to experience some pure joy and collective ecstatic release. I sometimes think these four guys run the most efficient joy factory I’ve ever seen.
DB: My name is Daniel Budiansky (.net: @climber17). I am a cisgender white male who grew up in the suburbs of Northern Virginia during the 80s. While my first show was 4/20/94, it wasn’t until my second show, when they played University Hall (at UVa, where I was a student) in late fall ‘94 that I “got IT”, during the first set "Maze"…it’s been a long, strange trip ever since. A Phish show will forever be my “home away from home.”
Why did you decide to write this essay? What do you want your readers to take away from it?
ARL: The essay is based on the online reactions to the "Phish Scene So White: Let’s Talk" blog post I wrote in 2017. To be honest I was pretty surprised and a bit taken back by the response – first that it went so viral, with thousands of comments, and then by the vitriol it inspired, both through those comments and through some pretty harsh direct messages to me. Of course, people looked me up and called me a tarper and that was fine, but I really didn’t anticipate how upset people got. But when I started to look at the response through the lens of DiAngelo’s white fragility framework it started to make a lot more sense. A big reason people were so angry and defensive is that we see ourselves as an inclusive, welcoming scene and my essay was a threat to that self-image. Once we started looking at the comments with DiAngelo’s lens it was pretty easy to start seeing a lot of the comments as examples of one or more of the elements of defensiveness and fragility.
Our goal was to encourage people to examine our scene a bit more closely and critically and think about whether we’re quite as inclusive as we think, and whether the kind of defensiveness that is the hallmark of white fragility might be a particular challenge for us moving forward. We also think we hit a neat extension of D’Angelo’s theory by distinguishing between “pillars” of white fragility (which are the false beliefs about race that lead to the fragility) and “manifestations” (which are the various ways that the resulting defensiveness plays out).
Why do so many people in our scene seem so resistant to even discuss race as an issue, as it relates to the phan experience?
RM: I think everyone has their own take on this. Mine is that, because the scene is overwhelmingly white, it has a particular, built-in resistance to questioning the majority point of view and lived experience with regard to race and white privilege. White phans think of their scene as “apolitical”, even though that sense is just a product of white (and socio-economic) privilege to begin with. In addition, a big part of the phan experience is based on a sense of connection and familiarity, and of belonging to a group of people who are “different” from mainstream folk (who are called “normies” in a gently derogatory way). Phans think they are unconventional and have better values than “normies.” Ideas that challenge the status quo of that experience and that sense of belonging are therefore hard to entertain. Also, the phandom seems to generally be politically left-leaning. People in the scene may think they are already “enlightened” when it comes to issues of race and that they don’t need to question their ideas or learn more.
What do you think it will take to push against the myth of Phish shows as apolitical spaces?
RM: It has been helpful to create a forum for the voices of those who recognize Phish shows as the political spaces they are, rather than the little “oases” and “neutral” bubbles that may believe and wish them to be. Tabling and showing our presence as an organization at shows is an important action in this regard, too. And having the band recognize and even showcase PHRE, in particular through their Dinner and a Movie series, is priceless. That makes it harder for people who want to believe that the shows are apolitical spaces to persist in such a belief, and hopefully makes them question the belief at least a little. I also hope Adam will write a follow-up article to his Headcount piece- it would be very interesting to read and weigh the reaction to that, in light of how far we have come!
Would you recommend some tactics when encountering white fragility, anywhere, not just at shows? I know that's a big question, but perhaps a simple first step, where someone can start.
KAB: Sometimes, a statement as simple as, “I hope you’re not saying that to me because you think I agree with you” or “we don’t believe things like that here” is enough to interrupt things. Other times, it might be more important to focus on who might be harmed by the showcase of fragility–maybe there are ways you can use your presence to increase safety, show solidarity, and/or provide distraction. PHRE has developed a bystander training, which we have delivered in conjunction with tabling before the shows
Do the strategies and skills for responding to racism and white fragility in live music environments differ from those in other scenarios? In other words, do concerts present unique challenges? If so, how? And how do we overcome them?
DB: These dynamics are systemic, show up everywhere, and any distinctions of how they show up in different scenarios, are at some level, academic. The personal work and skills for responding to racism showing up are also fundamentally the same. We can be mindful of our surroundings, prioritize the safety of those being harmed, and check our own tendencies towards righteousness (because folks are unlikely to even hear us over the band). In addition to the dynamics described by Rupa, a concert creates a particular intersection between leisure space, including the potential for “accepted” law breaking, and policing.While the band has worked with the communities where concerts are scheduled to ensure a “light touch”, this experience is not the same for all fans. Having a table at shows has created a unique opportunity to create visibility for PHRE’s message, and allows for an intentional “safe” space for conversations and connections.
Let’s say I’m a white person who made one of the comments you cited (or a phan who took a similar action) and, after reading your article, I understand I had a white fragility reaction. What is my next step? Apologize? Delete the comment? Do better next time? Educate myself? Something else?
KAB: Recognizing your own moments of white fragility is a huge step, and a place where immense learning can happen. If an apology is warranted, it’s important to keep it genuine and simple. Overdoing it centers the person who caused harm, rather than restoring things for the person or people harmed. Deleting comments often erases the labor others put into bringing awareness to the reaction, and negates any future impact it could have on others who have similar thought patterns. Educating oneself, in an effort to do better next time, is always time well spent, whether it’s spurred by a fragile reaction or not. The more we know, the more we can do better.
A sincere thanks for the article and for PHRE. I wish everyone would read it. Despite what many phans think, the problems of the world don't stop at the entrance of a show. Question: Ever think about turning this into a book? It could be authored by the four writers here or an edited collection addressing various aspects of race and the jam band scene (or related topics). It could help circulate these ideas/practices in more spaces.
DB: The origin of this article was our paper submitted for participation for the first Phish Studies Conference, hosted by Dr. Stephanie Jenkins, and was part of an entire panel focused on race and social justice issues. Some of these papers were also included on the special edition of PPJ that was dedicated to scholarship on Phish and Philosophy. And while we four authors are not currently planning additional work on the topic, there were quite a few full time academics on the panel, and we are hopeful that these issues will continue to be explored.
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But hey, you've achieved your goal of divisiveness. Oops I mean inclusiveness
Just because Phish shows are amazing, it doesn’t mean they’re problem-free. I suspect that many harassment issues have occurred outside/ inside shows. (See for example articles about the 2018 Gorge attacks). It seems totally appropriate to talk about these. IMO we should listen to perspectives from minority Phans if we want Phish to keep going and evolving.
Trey when asked about the election.
“I’m watching with curiosity, but I have a very strong resistance to musicians taking a side. Because I feel like music is the one thing in my life that, when the band is playing, it feels so spiritual and so open to inviting everyone into the party that anything where it sounds like I’m being the thought police, or Phish as a band, as an entity, where it’s like, “You should think this way,” or “You should vote for this guy.” Or “If you love Ted Cruz, you should feel bad.” I don’t feel that way. I feel like what we do for a living is by its nature the antidote to that kind of thing, that this is a place where you come for spirit and not politics. So that’s why, if you actually look closely, I haven’t publicly supported anyone.”
I, for one, am looking forward to meeting you (PHRE) on the road this summer and would like to engage more with your work moving forward.
Sucks Trey didn’t find a more ethnically diverse group of people in Rural Vermont to follow the band around.
Phish is an inclusive space for hippies of all walks of life. Condemning attitudes of social complacency falls on deaf ears because a lot of us tune into Phish to get away from this kind of rhetoric that pervades modern culture and doesn’t really offer solutions, just guilt and name calling.
Secondly, if I did see any kind of argument or fight breaking out based on if a person or group was being singled out and abused, or made to feel bad because of their race or ethnic group or other characteristic, or a female fan made to feel uncomfortable by some guy's actions, I really would intervene and make it known that is not OK here, and me and everyone behind me is not going to let anything shitty go down. No one should be forced to take that and we all should stand up and make sure it's not accepted. Now, I have not seen that personally myself, but I certainly believe people if they say it happened. No, what I see are the stupid assholes fighting about drinks or space or talking loudly or their own personal shit they should have left in the parking lot, and fuck them, they can go to the back of the lawn and fuck each other up, just don't ruin my time.
What we can do, and what we should do, is what we as individuals can do, and that makes the group better through our actions. Those are real, important things, much better time spent that reading this whole goddamn blog post, ain't no one got time for that shit.
Interesting that you picked Trey to make your point...you obviously don't follow Fishman on social media At the end of the day, each of them, like each of us, is human, and I certainly believe it is essential to our humanity to be willing to look at the facts, and examine our opinions and assumptions in light of new information.
Here is a fact: PHRE has been given space to table inside the venue since 2018, including every stop on last summer's tour.
I can't get down with the narrative in this article, but in a way, I'm glad it was published and real thoughts can be exchanged. The free market of speech, if you will. I guess the million dollar question I have with these themes, which I think warrants a very real and serious discussion: Let us take the position that the author's of this article are valid in their conclusion....how can one appropriately disagree with the conclusion in this article in a way that is accepted as a valid counter-argument? Because if we go with (crude summary here) "well Phish shows are too white and if you are white and don't think so, it's because of privilege and fragility, which is how the scene exists in the first place".....you can't have a serious discussion when the logic is so circular that there are no valid responses, or that any contradictory response is proof-positive of the validity of your argument. It doesn't check out.
PHISH SCENE SO WHITE: LET’S TALK
It had some good points, It had some bad points. So let's get some thinking done... The first three paragraphs written in bold caught my eye. They are as follows:
Our entire scene is built upon a foundation of white privilege.
My white privilege was not so awesome. Arrested for a bag of shake and spent a night in the clink before what was to be my first show in 1992 at the Garden State Arts Center. Shake and underage drinking even without having an open container...cuffs and straight to the clink. No resisting, not driving, no cashless bail. Just busted. No Phish for me.
More importantly, and to your point, anyone at Magnaball could have had a hassle free experience, it was not reserved for one group and not another. And I am so damn sorry that the security force had nothing better to do than make sure the attendees were safe because there was not a bad vibe to be found there.
We’re not immune to racial bias.
Nobody in any class, race, or gender is. It is being increasingly shoved down our throats hourly. The subject of this blog is "White Fragility" so thank you for doing your part to keep kicking this can down the road. Perhaps a bit of racial bias has been deeply rooted in our DNA for millenniums and is not the end of the world, so lets just stop being racist, sexist, and homophobic. That would be a pretty good goal for the next decade or so. And maybe we can start with talking about what unites us, and not what divides us.
It might not be so awesome to walk around a Phish festival or show as a person of color.
Why would it not be? Nobody in the scene cares about who/what/why you are. We only care that you are here, happy, and safe. I don't remember or identify people based on what they look like. I just remember how much fun we had and the time we shared.
In summary, thank you for your essay on Cultural Marxism. But please remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr fought for equality and Nikita Khrushchev fought for equity. Fight wisely and good vibes.
The only example of a violent act at a Phish show was at The Gorge and it was perpetuated by a local who was not a fan. A hired Security Guard by the venue. The band quietly took care of the fan with a private show/soundcheck. Again, the perp was not a fan or affiliated with the band.
I have been to shows with people of different races, sex orientations and with ADA. Hands down the ADA folks are treated the worse.
The community is a very accepting base because many of us have a screw loose in some form or another and try to be aware of each other.
If you look for beauty in the world you will find it.
We should strive to be more race conscious and not "color blind." Of course that means still judging people by the content of their character, but also taking into account someone's race as it may pertain to how they are perceived in a certain setting. The most common example I think I've read on this topic at shows is that people of color are often asked by other phans where the bathrooms are - as if it's just assumed the POC is working at the venue and not a phan. The person asking the question could be the sweetest person in the world without any racist intensions at all, but you can see how the incorrect assumptions in that case would be hurtful to the POC, especially if it happened over and over again.
Remorse based engagement helps individuals reconcile present behavior but the generalization of empty marketing-like terminology to try and help individual guilt through and by trying to 'share the load'.
I'm also a beneficiary of the Mongol dynasty, and they snuffed out civilizations and supplanted their own with great success, altered the flow of human history in many ways - yet I don't bare the burden of the guilt of what came before me, or have some need to reconcile with all that was extinguished to achieve the state of things in the present edge of the flow of time.
skin pigment, geo restricted breeding pools of humans, leading to a predominance of feature traits, does not make us less human or different human. what terminology, what biology, what associations, what alignments of faith, these are all ways to separate us from one another. The individual self must reconcile so much when deciding how connected to all that is, and was, and will be done by our species.
Discussion is good, but you set the stage for failure by all who would engage, by falling into the trap of racial ideology's false premise.
"Until the color of a man's skin, is of no more significance than the color of his eyes, I got to say... War"
That includes prideful recognition of your own skin, not just persecution of another kind of skin with a different pigment than of your own. The same is true of intimacy, organs you have or aspire to have, words to overly classify your distinctiveness can lead down the same path as any other failed supremacy ideology.
Embracing new dismissive pejoratives doesn't make you less fascist or less biased, or less prejudiced than your predecessor generations and their hate speech. Picking up words with less historical baggage doesn't mean the same contents of hate and bias aren't within the load you bring upon yourself to carry.
Do you think a Phish show will ever be as racially diverse as a typical Trump rally?
https://pubhub.lib.msu.edu/read/white-phragility-race-talk-and-backlash-in-the-phish-scene-85f2f5ec-718d-4d3b-b718-6eb2e7854258/section/7d7bcf87-4a24-46af-b6f9-714669df4bc6 Read it here.
I'm afraid that many of the comments are providing evidence for the authors' claims. We can do better.
Tell me you've been indoctrinated by a woke liberal college without telling me.
Time and time again, the most racist people I see are the ones who think they're racial advocates. You people see race in everything and try to make it an issue where it doesn't need to be. Probably has NOTHING to do with your entire livelihood and personality being wrapped up in keeping racism alive and well... (Colin Kaepernick much?)
Gotta give it to you though, you all are masters of co-opting language. You've successfully equated pointing out blatant racism and a desire to not listen to people so obsessed with race go off on divisive rants as "white fragility," just like you've turned capitalism into "the patriarchy" and a "system founded on white supremacy."
Classic argument tactic too, establishing from the get-go that anyone who counters your thesis is automatically labeled an insulting term, and any counter to being insulted allows you to go "see?" You've created a narrative where white people are bad simply for existing and if we point that out or say that it bothers us, we're still in the wrong for doing so - a narrative where even this statement can instantly be disregarded (and with a smug rolling of the eyes) because of my "white cis male privilege."
I remember when being called a racist was an insult. Now, if you simply live in the US (sorry, a nation founded on white supremacy) and have a job (sorry, "use your privilege and ableist ways to support a system built on inequity"), you're a racist simply for "participating" in that white supremacist system.
You people are hilarious. I love that both white people felt the need to identify themselves as "cisgender" when the others didn't mention gender at all. Do you all get some sort of virtue signal points?
This kind of crap is exactly why so many Phish fans don't like this website.
I really feel sorry for the people who wrote this crappy article and those who believe it. You're clearly unaware and/or ignorant of a great deal of history, have bought in to some really big lies, and have a profoundly negative outlook on the world as a result. So much so you're imagining negativity where it doesn't exist.
I can appreciate to a degree that you're trying to do good in the world as you see it, but please realize that walking into a room generally full of happy people and calling them racist and/or fragile for disagreeing with you is far from the best way to go about it. It's more than a little disrespectful. Also, please realize and respect that Phish shows are the happy place of escape for most who go there. Escape from the various type of BS we all deal with elsewhere in life, especially including modern political BS.
Trey's quote zothound posted above applies in spades, and that philosophy is a part of the reason that many of us love this band. Someone mentioned Fishman's social media as validation for this article, and perhaps any other political crap ever posted here. It's not. Fishman is either smart enough to keep his politics largely away from the scene or Trey and the rest of the band keep him in check. My money is on the former so the latter isn't even necessary. (I have oodles of respect for Fishman as a person, and salute his political efforts away from the scene even when I disagree with them, but if he ever made a point to bring his politics into the Phish world anymore than the band already has (which is to say: not much at all), the band would start losing longtime fans.)
While you may not mean to be, you're close to the worst I've run into on the 'scene'. The worst being a couple of coked up belligerent dudes I've bumped into at a couple of shows. Fortunately though they aren't here pushing their agenda of being coked up and belligerent, and have so far refrained from insulting everyone who doesn't agree with their outlook on the world. You, have not refrained. So in at least that way, you are the worst.
Your preaching philosophy belongs here as much as anyone else preaching whatever. Please do not mistake my criticism of you as just a mere disagreement with your racist philosophy. I'd have as much disdain for anyone coming here to tell us all that we need to support X or not support X that has nothing to do with the music or seeing it, and then telling us if we don't there's something wrong with us. Even if I agreed with what they were asking us to do.
I'm sure a great many other people feel the same, whatever their color, sex, shape, size, or philosophies happens to be.
We are here for the music, and the happy people. Not those who want to live in misery. If you're miserable, find a happy person and let them inspire you.
This is your song too, come out of the gloom please. If you insist on not doing it, please stop trying to bring the rest of us into it, all the while acting like your gloom is the superior place.
While I can stomach a little of it, seeing this more than once now garners a response (the first I saw of this racist crap was in the STTF issue I read on the train to NYC for NYE).
There were a number of great things already said in response to this article, but this I especially think deserves repeating: "...remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr fought for equality and Nikita Khrushchev fought for equity. Fight wisely and good vibes."
If that quote doesn't make sense to you, or your don't understand it's relevance, or if you can't see how the authors of this article are supporting racism, please spend a lot more time than you already so far have in life reflecting. Please also spend a bit more time as well learning yourself what cultural Marxism is.
Now, go faceplant yourself into rock. You need it.
The misogyny is on FULL DISPLAY.
Do the strategies and skills for responding to racism and white fragility in live music environments differ from those in other scenarios? In other words, do concerts present unique challenges? If so, how? And how do we overcome them?
DB: These dynamics are systemic, show up everywhere, and any distinctions of how they show up in different scenarios, are at some level, academic. The personal work and skills for responding to racism showing up are also fundamentally the same.
So many tickets, especially the best seats for significant shows of a tour, are purchased through a lottery system. The people that purchase tickets in this manner are overwhelmingly white. This can be independently verified by looking at who is in the best seats of these shows. What can be done to bring racial equity to the lottery purchase system for Phish concerts? Do any of the three white people, or one asian person have any insight towards an answer for this?
I was a presenter at the 2019 Phish Studies conference myself and as a white, cisgender jam band fan, I found the presentation made there on this subject to be really eye-opening. This post led me to the full PPJ article, which I found to be really interesting also. I think the work this group is doing is really important, especially in the Phish/jamband space, but unfortunately it's pretty thankless work (as many of the comments here prove). So, I wanted to say "thanks," from at least one fan.
As the post implies, there's a huge difference between being counter-cultural and open-minded. Many Phish fans are proud of being the former, but whenever an issue like this one comes up I realize fewer than I'd like to think are interested in being the latter. Sure, not everyone is going to agree with every claim made in this post, or the original blog post, or the full article, but there's a difference between reading the ideas the group is putting out there, considering them, and disagreeing in a way that adds meaningfully to the conversation versus trotting out the same tired "anti-woke" arguments that already exist everywhere else on the internet (arguments, incidentally, that the post and article largely acknowledge and rebut in convincing ways).
The article received disapproval. Bringing it in here, it also receives disapproval. There is a reason, a good reason, why academic papers are peer reviewed.
"There are several possible explanations for the whiteness of the fan base, but regardless of the reason, Phish shows and the surrounding scenes in parking lots or midtown bars are primarily white spaces"
Nothing deeper about the "several explanations" instead they employ a footnote.
Here is one possible explanation: the music doesn't appeal to as wide a demographic.
Four white guys from a predominately white state making noodley jamband music just doesn't draw in a racially diverse audience.
So the original article omitted the biggest/central question. Why is the fanbase 92% white?
Kind of a head scratcher for me. Maybe one of the scholars can explain why that question was not addressed. Or am I just being phragile? (No sarcasm intended)
Many of us in this scene have experience with white privilege. In particular, I’m thinking about scrubbing off the wook exterior, including a haircut, and continuing to travel with copious amounts of drugs hassle-free.
People came in and downvoted this very rational, well stated comment. I guess the wokesters can dish out the abuse but can't take a very astute observation for what it is, the truth.
I think it shows exactly which group is the fragile one.
Don't often agree with you funkdog but in this case nail meet head.
Look, we go to Phish shows to have fun, not to get lectured about politics. (Gamehendge notwithstanding). We come to these shows, or we go on tour, because we want to have a few hours or days away from our day-to-day lives in America. It's been a tough couple of years for everyone, and I understand why people feel so protective of this space.
But we should be clear-eyed about what's going on outside -- and inside -- our safe bubble at MSG and other venues. Why? Because we don't live in a made-up world called Gamehendge. We live in the United States of America. In this country, and this city, it's still OK to discuss difficult issues, so that we may come to a better understanding of each other, and this world.
I think freedom of speech is important, even, and perhaps especially, on a jam-band website. I thank the phish.net editors for giving us a place to discuss these topics.
Music brings unity, analysis brings division. The choice is ours to make! RTFB etc etc
Here’s a question…. If I were to call you fragile would you take it as an insult? And would you be slightly defensive about being called fragile? Of course you would. Which is exactly why “white fragility” is a bullshit term. You insult the very people you’re supposedly trying to bring to your side and then when they act insulted you point to it as proof of their fragility.
The only way this country will be saved is if liberals and progressives come together and accept each other and stop bickering about pronouns and things like this essay. The ideas often make sense and most people agree. But the constant accusing tone and constantly asking average white people, who have marched with blm and done their part to help stop racism, to prostrate themselves is a recipe for failure. If we’re all equal, we all need to act, and treat each other, as equals. This includes not subtlety implying that all phish fans are racist and non inclusive to people of color and then crying “white fragility” when some take offense to that accusation.
The people on here complaining don't belong at shows. Period. Pick a side. And remember Phish played benefits for the ANC and wrote songs like Dear Mrs. Reagan.
This is not an abstract debate. People who complain about anti racism are enemies of the Phish community.
We appreciate that this blog post, like the 2017 essay that sparked the creation of PHRE, has generated some passionate discussion.
For those who found this AMA, the White Phragility article, or the Phish Scene So White: Let’s Talk essay helpful or eye-opening, we invite you to visit our website at www.PhansForRacialEquity.org to learn how to get more involved with our work to build an inclusive, anti-racist jam band scene that is mobilized as a force for equity in our broader world.
In that spirit, we’d like to address some of the most common objections here in the comments in hopes that we can continue a productive dialogue.
“This is too political, and I come to Phish to avoid politics.”
Many of us, including the authors, see Phish and the surrounding scene as an escape from the pressures and pathologies of the outside world. We come to escape, so the last thing we want is someone confronting us with outside unpleasantness.
The challenge is that for everyone to be able to have that same, blissful, ignore-the-outside-world experience, there is work we must all do to ensure that those external problems don’t show up for some members of our community as obstacles to the great time we all want to share.
It is easy to assume everyone’s experience is similar to our own. But, while we are certainly having a collective experience at Phish, each person is also experiencing their own unique version–and this is shaped by lots of factors, including how we move through the world as a cluster of various identities.
Our fellow phans who are Black don’t leave behind what it means to be Black in America when they come through the turnstiles. When someone experiences racism on lot, or even face ignorance that doesn’t come from a place of hate (“where’s the bathroom” or “is this your first show”, along with other examples cited in the original 2017 essay), it means that same blissed-out, outside-of-politics experience we crave is not available to them. Since its founding, we’ve had phans of color come to PHRE with other experiences, including being harassed by venue staff, and we’re working on a feature on our website where phans can tell their stories about race in the scene–good and bad.
So, this raises a question: is one person’s “right” or wish to not face some unpleasant realities or “politics,” or have to look critically at the scene, more important than another phan’s“right” to enjoy a show in a safe, comfortable, and inclusive environment?
“You’ve set it up so if I disagree with you I’m “fragile,” so it’s heads you win, tails I lose.”
By talking about white fragility it can seem like we’re accusing anyone who disagrees with us of being fragile. But, if you read our essay, we’re actually saying something different.
When we say in our paper that many of the online comments posted on the original 2017 essay, and the AMA comments here are examples of fragility it is precisely because they are reflexively defensive, often without engaging with the actual material with an open mind. In some cases, the comments suggest that the very titles of those essays were perceived as accusations. One can disagree with PHRE on the factual premises of our work (e.g. “no, cops don’t treat us better because we’re white”) and certainly on our strategy (e.g. posting an AMA with the authors of the paper on Phish.net) without exhibiting fragility.
A good example of this is the poster who suggested the ideas in these essays might be right, but the messaging and overall effort isn’t helpful to achieving long-term goals around progressive politics and racial equity. That is certainly a reasonable thing to question and can lead to a productive dialogue. One could also question the factual premises behind our claims and ask for more evidence.
But, instead, there are numerous comments accusing the authors, and by implication anyone who shares our perspective, of being “new age wokesters” who will “ruin the scene” or similar because we’re raising uncomfortable questions And, it appears that several of our harshest critics are reacting without having read either the original 2017 essay or the academic journal article that forms the basis for this AMA series. This is apparent because posters have imputed to us goals we have explicitly disavowed (for example, it is not PHRE’s goal to diversify the scene; that could simply be a happy secondary result of our work), or made points we have addressed without engaging with our arguments.
“By making everything about race, you are the ones being divisive, even racist.”
Some folks suggest that focusing on (or even noticing) race is divisive, sort of like picking at a scab that would heal if we just left it alone. This is often associated with the notion that “I don’t see color” and that to notice race is actually a form of racism.
There are a few challenges with this line of thinking. First, race has been made salient / significant by societal forces that are beyond our individual control. While not noticing race or seeing color might seem like a noble aspiration, it’s simply not how the human brain functions. We’ve evolved over thousands of years to categorize people in groups and tribes, and plenty of studies have confirmed that we all harbor biases and assumptions about various groups, many of which we are not conscious of holding. In other words, one does not need to be an avowed racist for race to shape how we perceive people or situations. This is true for *all* of us, no matter our race or ethnicity.
So when a White person tells a Black person in America that they “don’t see color,” what we’re really saying is some combination of “I’m deluding myself into thinking that I don’t notice that you’re Black”, thus avoiding the opportunity to think proactively about whether we’re carrying any unexamined assumptions; and b) more importantly, “I’m refusing to acknowledge that you may be having a different experience than I am right now” because of the way race shapes American society in ways beyond any individual’s control.
Second, this line of thinking contains an underlying assumption that ‘usually things are not about race, and only occasionally does race rear its (ugly) head.’
But, this is typically the lived experience only for White people. This is because White folks tend to move through contexts (work, social, etc.) that are specifically constructed for them, and that center them, as the norm.
ARL: The first time this really hit me (Adam) was through a conversation I had with a Black friend in law school. At that point I thought most discrimination in our society was based on economics–so if poor Black people experienced prejudice and a harder path it was mostly because they were poor. Surely, wealthy, well-educated people of color are doing fine. Then my friend told me that he (an Ivy League graduate and Ivy League law student) was reliably followed in stores; and described how being Black in America is a central aspect of his lived experience every single day.
As White people, we (as three of the four authors experience) don’t have to think about race, how we show up, how we speak, etc. in most circumstances. Black people and other people of color, on the other hand, experience race constantly in American society.
RM: As a brown-skinned woman of Indian origin, I look different from about 95% of the people at Phish shows. At shows, I have experienced being invisible to people (such as not getting introduced in a group setting and being skipped over, when everyone else, who all happen to be White, does get introduced), to being objectified as “exotic” because I look different (Adam was a witness to one such experience!). Sometimes people at shows can’t pronounce my name or remember it (and not because of altered states!) because it is “different.” Although I have not experienced the worst of the micro- and maco-aggressions and “othering”, possibly because I am a lighter-skinned brown person? Many Phish fans understand what it's like to be judged based on appearance, but for most of the community that's based on the choice to dress a certain way or take on a certain image. What many White phans may not realize is that no matter how hard I rock my Kasvot Vaxt t-shirt and telegraph that I'm part of the scene, I still feel judged and placed in a category of outsider for something that is beyond my control. I could go on, but I’ll stop here. It’s a complicated subject that’s a lot easier to talk about in person than to write about in a short and limited forum like this one - as grateful as I am to have this forum!
If you find it exhausting to talk about race all the time, consider how exhausting it is to live with race forming a central part of one’s experience walking through America every day, just trying to live, work, and maybe see a concert here and there.
“White fragility is itself a racist term, since it’s an accusation made based on race.”
The term white fragility does acknowledge race and power structures in the U.S., but it does not paint all White people with a broad brush by suggesting all White people are fragile. Rather, it describes a particular set of defensive reactions (that we argue are triggered by false beliefs) that White people may exhibit when confronted with difficult or uncomfortable conversations about race.
Although not everyone agrees, many scholars define racism as the combination of prejudice and power, either by individuals or through systems. In this view, the term is not racist because it is a critique of a behavior exhibited by people at the top of the power hierarchy, that itself plays an essential role in maintaining that hierarchy.
What makes the concept both interesting and especially applicable to the Phish scene is that avowed racists may not experience much fragility about race. As both DiAngelo and our article explain, it is precisely people who see themselves as more progressive on race that tend to become most defensive when discussing it.
In a space that centers white, male, able-bodied, and hetero/cis folks, even well intentioned fans "step in it" quite a bit. This is not unique to the jamband scene, nor is it anything to be ashamed of. It's just unfortunately how most of us who are not not straight, white, cis men experience the world on a daily basis. Those who are part of dominant cultures are, in my experience, generally unaware of how they benefit from/within them, and are often surprised or embarrassed to learn when they've done or said something that was "othering" or exclusionary. Unfortunately, bringing this to someone's attention often results in defensive reactions, especially since most of us consider ourselves and our scene to be so enlightened.
Is the Phish scene a bastion of joy and positivity? Absolutely. Is the freedom and ease of access to that "love and light" we all cherish the same for everyone? Absolutely not. Some of us more than others have a much easier path tapping into and remaining in those experiences of bliss, and others have to navigate a minefield of interactions and obstacles that can quickly pull us out of that happy place. Learning about and being mindful of the differences in how folks are treated in and experience our scene is not a burden. It's just part of being good pham.
I'm super grateful for the many fans and fan groups that actively work to build community and provide allyship to a wider diversity of folks. Groups like BrianRobert, Mike Side Dyke Side, PHRE, GrooveSafe, The Phellowship, Access Me, and Queer Deadheads are all great examples of how we can work together to make the scene a more welcoming space for everyone...