Guest Column: CATwalk's DJ should be mindful of music choice
Saturday morning, from 10:20 a.m. till 11 a.m., those on the UA Mall and surrounding areas were greeted with crass musical descriptions of sex work, female anatomy and people of color, thanks to the music choices of CATwalk’s DJ for the non-competitive 5k and 10k competitive run.
Imagine my surprise, as a female UA student of color meeting with other students of color about academic success with “Pop That,” “Gold Digger” and similar uncensored songs as our soundtrack. I was further surprised when reminded that CATwalk partially benefits cure research for cancers primarily affecting women.
The DJ’s choices were ill-timed at best and microaggressive at worst. Microaggressions are defined as those “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group,” according to psychologist Derald Wing Sue.
In addition to music messages that could fall into the category of microaggressive, these do not seem to support women or those who respect them as more than objects either. I am a big fan of hip hop and its gritty, liberatory appeal. So, while I can appreciate the desire to include music that might both feel celebratory and appeal to hip hop fans, these choices did neither.
There are hundreds of years of African American music as well as decades of hip hop music that do so without insulting women, or relying on racial epithets or other stereotypes. I can imagine several more contemporary choices that might have broader appeal and provide subtext appropriate for the event.
It is worth noting that the DJ chose to play uncensored versions. Whether we use this language in our personal lives or not, we know it is there. Even if he had chosen the censored versions of these songs, we can tell from the rest of the lyrics what the songs are about.
The subtext of hostility and inappropriate name calling were invoked with the choices in songs, not just the language used in them.
In my time there, I noticed that no one — participating student, official or organizer — approached the DJ to suggest or request a change. Even now, I ask myself why I didn’t say anything in the moment. Beyond the need to stay focused on a specific and full meeting schedule, I did not feel that it was solely my responsibility to educate in that moment.
The UA considers itself a community of allies interested in supporting and maintaining respect for the diverse populations which make up the student and working body of the university. With hundreds of other UA students and staff participating in the event that day or in the space in general, where were my allies?
Further, at what point is it no longer the responsibility of people of color alone to remind others about their behavior and choices? I, for one, think that point is now.
Musicians can sing what they please and participants’ tastes may not agree, but I suggest that this fundraising group be more mindful of the music — and messages — used to represent the CATwalk cause and future efforts in such a public forum. Those choices say more than you may realize.
— April D. J. Petillo is an American Indian Studies doctoral candidate and student coordinator for African American Student Affairs. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .