“As usual, I'll have to take an IOU”: W.E.B. Du Bois, the gift of black music and the cultural politics of obligation

Heffernan, Nick (2017) “As usual, I'll have to take an IOU”: W.E.B. Du Bois, the gift of black music and the cultural politics of obligation. Journal of American Studies . ISSN 1469-5154

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Abstract

In The Souls of Black Folk (1903) W. E. B. Du Bois described African American music as a “gift” to America, contesting the tendency to regard white interest in black culture as appropriation or theft. Yet this metaphor invoked the complex circuits of indebtedness and obligation that are intrinsic to gift exchange in anthropological accounts of the practice, challenging white recipients of the gift to make adequate response. This challenge is most systematically addressed in a sequence of films that tell stories about white enthusiasm for the blues. The Blues Brothers (1980), Crossroads (1986), Blues Brothers 2000 (1998) and Black Snake Moan (2006) depict the blues as a gift and explore how whites might appropriately acknowledge and reciprocate for receiving it in a culture distorted by racial inequalities. The films develop a distinct set of narrative conventions for handling the politics of racial obligation, vacillating between seeing black music as a transracial cultural resource on the one hand and as a racially defined, inalienable possession of African Americans on the other. Using these same conventions, Honeydripper (2007) invites us to see the process of cultural exchange from a different perspective in which the problematic status of the blues as racialized property is diminished.

Item Type: Article
RIS ID: https://nottingham-repository.worktribe.com/output/863069
Additional Information: © Cambridge University Press 2018
Schools/Departments: University of Nottingham, UK > Faculty of Arts > School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies > Department of American and Canadian Studies
University of Nottingham, UK > Faculty of Arts > School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0021875817000883
Depositing User: Heffernan, Nick
Date Deposited: 12 Jul 2018 09:51
Last Modified: 04 May 2020 18:47
URI: http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/52898

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