Sade, a Smooth Operator, sings of No Ordinary Love, and Is That A Crime?
One of the interesting things about Adu is that she hasn’t become negatively entangled in the racial confusions of our time. I’ve never heard her asked to take sides in the usually foolish arguments involving race in America. I don’t know if things are the same for her in England, Spain, Nigeria, or elsewhere. (“I try to write for the world,” said the Nigerian writer Buchi Emecheta, who has long lived in England, when asked about her intended audience. Emecheta’s reputation, based on books such as The Bride Price, Double Yolk, and Second Class Citizen, has not protected her from acrimonious personal and political attacks from fellow Nigerians. See: Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World, edited by Feroza Jussawalla and Reed Way Dasenbrock, Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1992, pgs. 85-87) Sometimes we actually do accept people for who they are—rarely, it’s true—and it’s possible that Adu and her band are one case.
Often it is people of African descent in America who insist on racial allegiances.
People who see themselves as being on the margins of society tend to both fetishize normality—inordinately adore house, family, job and the symbols of security and success—and also have a special regard for outlawry—self-indulgence, sex, violence, excess of various forms: and they understand the acceptance and rejection of social norms but not indifference to them, not genuine independence. The great thing about “white’ history and culture is that there are so many examples and counterexamples of virtuous and vile behavior that one is never in doubt that one is dealing with human behavior, whereas “black” behavior has been so circumscribed, especially in the public or popular mind, between the servile and the transgressive that it is easy to think of an act as very black or not black at all. One can imagine a black man who is heroic or weak by white or black standards but not one who is independent of both standards: it may be then impossible to imagine a genuinely free black man, and that is very dangerous and very sad. Is it possible to imagine a free black woman; and is that what the Nigerian/English Sade Adu is?
What is the burden of “race”? It is entering a discussion about music and transforming it into a commentary on politics. It is the confusion of subject, object, and meaning. This is exemplified by the substituting of political meaning for personal or artistic meaning. The burden of race? It is an attempt to achieve or contemplate beauty that is then distracted by thoughts of slavery and social discrimination, by the horrors of history—the destruction of personal impression by a terrible historical imprint.
And, Kwame Anthony Appiah has written: “‘Race’ disables us because it proposes as a basis for common action the illusion that black (and white and yellow) people are fundamentally allied by nature and, thus, without effort; it leaves us unprepared, therefore, to handle the ‘intraracial’ conflicts that arise from the very different situations of black (and white and yellow) people in different parts of the world.” ( In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture, Oxford Univ. Press, 1992, p. 176)
Yet, the burden of race is often mindlessly accepted.
Sade Adu, a singer and writer and woman who has never slavishly served the market nor politics, deserves better, deserves specific consideration.