Music for all: Wale request reflects a larger problem

City Council refused a request for $35,000 to bring Washington, D.C., rapper Wale to Charlottesville to perform during Unity Days. Photo: Australian Press Agency via Zuma Wire City Council refused a request for $35,000 to bring Washington, D.C., rapper Wale to Charlottesville to perform during Unity Days. Photo: Australian Press Agency via Zuma Wire

By Seth Green

On August 5, I went to my first City Council meeting.

I was one of the few people left in the room when local activist Tanesha Hudson made her request for additional funding to bring the artist Wale, a well-known D.C. rapper, to perform in Tonsler Park as part of Unity Days. Councilor Wes Bellamy made a motion to support the request with money from the city’s Equity Fund, but the other councilors declined to support it.

Like others, I was dismayed to see that meeting end with some city councilors being called “best friends of Hitler” or whatever it was. I do not know the name of the woman who was speaking, but to my mind that comment was way out of line.

However…The sentiment and concern that she was expressing was real and, in my judgment, completely warranted. This obviously touches on a much larger issue.

I’m a 35-year-old white man who is a data scientist and software developer by trade. I grew up in western Albemarle County, went to UVA, and have lived within the city limits ever since graduating in 2006. By all accounts, this city has been pretty damn good to me.

Charlottesville is overflowing with culture and entertainment for me. It is overflowing with entertainment for my young children and for my aging parents as well. I invite anyone to take a look at the C-VILLE Weekly events page and do a rough tally in your head as to how many of the events are designed to draw the attention of, and cater to the preferences of, me and my family. Then consider how many of them are targeted to Ms. Hudson and her family and her neighbors and her friends.

To take one small example, I have been enjoying Fridays After Five literally since it began in 1988. It is an event designed for me and my family. We can discuss all the ways and reasons that it is designed for me and not Ms. Hudson, but I prefer empirical evidence. Just go to Fridays After Five and look who is drawn to that event each week. Those are the people it’s designed for. The film festival, the photography festival, the Tom Tom festival–literally all of our city’s flagship public events fit this exact same profile.

As another point of contrast, though, there are literally dozens of bars and music venues around this city, I am not aware of a single “black” bar currently in operation. By that, I mean a bar or music venue that is designed to attract primarily black Charlottesvillians as patrons. Certainly, if there are any that are designed for this purpose, I am not aware of any that are succeeding. The reasons for this are many, and they are not easy to solve with the push of a button. But a good first step would be for the city to help bring some legitimate professional entertainment aimed at Charlottesville’s black community. It is a step that seems very easy to take. But it is a step that I have not yet seen taken in my 35 years in this city.

I heard councilors’ many objections to Ms. Hudson’s proposal, and they were not unfounded. However, they felt to me (and obviously to her) to be in bad faith. What I mean is that they seemed to be coming from a place of “I’m not voting for this and I’m going to think of justifications for not voting for it.” Or, at the very least, “I’m not into this idea, and you’re going to have to seriously convince me if you want me to even consider it.”

The budget for the event, and precise amount for the artist’s fee, was obviously a concern of Councilor Mike Signer’s. But getting a quote for booking a nationally touring artist is far from an insurmountable obstacle. Likewise, Councilor Kathy Galvin’s point that $35,000 exceeded the $25,000 that council could procedurally allocate in this circumstance felt insincere. If she had championed funding $25,000 toward the event, conditional on Ms. Hudson raising the other $10,000 elsewhere, I would wager the evening would have ended very differently. And furthermore, Galvin’s point about the city never paying a “for-profit entertainer” to perform felt to be in extremely bad faith to me. Any nationally known speaker or performer is “for profit,” and cities like Charlottesville subsidize bringing them to town for free festivals all the time.

While I found some of Ms. Hudson’s and her supporters’ wording a bit regrettable, it’s really none of my business how they choose to express themselves; and I am 100 percent on board with their message. What City Council demonstrated in the handling of this issue was the exact thing she called them out for: a devotion to the kind of disingenuous racial and cultural double-talk that we need to move beyond if we would like this city to be known for anything more than just happy-faced hypocrisy.

Seth Green is a data scientist and former bassist for local band Sons of Bill. This piece is adapted from his open letter to City Council. 

Updated 8/14 to reflect that the point about the city never paying for a ‘for-profit entertainer’ was originally made by Galvin, not Signer.

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Bill Marshall
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Bill Marshall

Commercial establishments cater to paying customers. So if there were an unmet need then there would be a black bar or restaurant. I wonder if your band plays music to cater to the black community? Does it make you racist if you do not? The city council was correct to not waste 35,000 dollars as was proven by the success of the event despite the lack of a rapper whose lyrics are not all that “unifying”. The woman who attacked them because she did not get her way was beyond rude by any standard and is a reflection of the… Read more »

Daniel Pribus
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Daniel Pribus

There has been a few in your time here Seth, although they are gone. That you do know of them, or go to them, reflects on who…?

Bo Anders
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Bo Anders

There are no “black” bars in this town because blacks will not support them. Game over. Why can’t “black” rappers/groups play at Fridays After Five? They don’t. Why not? City Council, answers please.

motionman1
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motionman1

Charlottesville’s community radio options (WTJU, WTJX, WNRN) are incredible for a community of this size but when I moved here in 2011 I was dumbfounded that there were no regular hip hop shows on them when the genre is exploding with talent and new horizons. 8 years later, there are still 0 hip hop shows featured on any community radio stations. Community radio DJ’s take note!

Justanutha Geezer
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Justanutha Geezer

Seth I’m looking at the ground rules for a written reply to you, and find that respectful address is required. And that’s a good thing. For the same reasons of respect I find Ms Hudson & supporters’ actions part of my business–it’s my town, and I live & pay taxes here. I’ve got a right, as do all citizens, to expect better from our council meetings. I don’t know how it managed to get put over by Mayor Walker that civility is a hallmark of white oppression but it seems to be sticking–or at least reiterated at every opportunity. So… Read more »

cartajulian1
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cartajulian1

You ever hear about the time Sons of Bill played Fry’s Spring Beach club and a drunken bull rider came over the mountain to attend? Let’s just say it culminated with a navy seal having to choke said cowboy out for aggressive/violent behavior. The night concluded with cops pepper spraying the entire venue. Now that’s some violence. As a local musician who has played numerous white establishments in Charlottesville including expensive weddings, bars, and breweries, I’ve seen a fair share of misbehavior and violence from the white community. I never heard of or witnessed any violence or major issues at… Read more »

Justanutha Geezer
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Justanutha Geezer

Hey cartajulian1 thanks for a thoughtful response and challenge. I was playing gigs before your parents met so I’ve seen all that too–and do note the reference to Country venues/audiences being equally problematic. I could be confusing the Arena with the Outback, so I sincerely apologize if all those Main St Arena shows went well–it’s hard to correlate memory to online sources. But as a matter of record: “The now infamous Outback Lodge also shut down its weekly ‘Underground Hip-Hop Night’ after violence kept erupting, culminating in a shooting that took place in the club’s parking lot in 2007”. (https://www.cville.comLocal_MCs_struggle_to_maintain_the_scene_without_regular_venues/)… Read more »