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  1. This is from the intro of my new book/reissue project Turn Me Loose White Man, and is printed here because there were some objections to the title: "Is it important to clarify what I mean by the main title of this new collection and book, Turn Me Loose White Man? Given the rawness of our current political atmosphere, yes. And I have to admit I ran the title by a few trusted friends before deciding for certain to use it. There is a recording, from 1902, which fits very neatly into what I would call the immediate pre-history of country music, by the white singing duo Cantrell and Williams, of a song called Mississippi River Song Tapioca. At one point in the tune the obviously-white singer - portraying a black character, and in the midst of warbling about working on the Mississippi River amongst the “darkies” and other happy workers - yells out "turn me loose, there, white man." It is a jarring moment, representing, I would say, a kind of transference of the desire by a white man for artistic freedom onto the 'other,' the black man, in the guise of demanding cultural/expressive liberation. "Set me free," the white singer seems to be demanding, "by making me as black as I am pretending to be." The call is clearly for cultural freedom, though the inescapable minstrel taunt of white men “exposing” black men for their “pretensions” of equality is also obvious. Less apparent is how singer and audience of the time perceived this call for action – was it simply a matter of comic silliness? Of contempt for the futility of any black notion of equality? Was it a stagey impersonation, regarded by the audience as being as good as the real thing but safer and more manageable as long as white people were in charge? Or was it just a good, fun, catchy phrase in the midst of a catchy tune? Given how minstrelsy (not unlike current white representations of black expression in the way white people dress, move, and use the idea of hip-hop time and lyrics) represents a complex love/hate/fear view by white people of African Americans, this is a perfect example of imitation as a protective barrier of privilege. Black me up and I will be free, and then when I am done I will be really free (in other words, white). You have a white man portraying a black man, and the white man is not only in a position of power and privilege but is, ironically or not, expressing something that has historical resonance because it is being said at a time in American life when not only is black music struggling to overcome white hegemony, but Black America is doing same in a political and social sense. To me this, for the white singer, represents a different kind of double consciousness, though we have no idea if the white man who is singing has any sense of the deeper meaning of the gesture or of the nastiness of the irony involved. Minstrels were actors and impersonators, yes, but their manner betrayed a sly - if racist - commentary on their actions, a simultaneous, social call and response, as though they were saying, or, really, being, one thing while meaning another, as part of a "secret" yet openly exposed pact with their equally racist audience. And yet - they were smart enough to create enough distance between their words and implied actions to allow for what politicians now call “plausible deniability:” the singer in this never says explicitly that he is portraying the black character as deluded; his words indicate the opposite. There is no obvious and audible proof, in the recording itself, that this exists in a false and racist reality; in order to know that, you have to extrapolate from not only the whole method of minstrelsy but also from the mass conditions of African Americans at the time – something of which many white people were of no doubt aware, but which probably just seemed to most of them like the natural state of things in the post-Adam and Eve world. If in today’s America millions of white folks can say, as they have, that white people are as discriminated against as black people are (or more so, according to some polls), you can imagine how less evolved the political landscape was 120 years ago. And at the time this was recorded there was no consensus, among white people, that minstrelsy was intrinsically evil; among black people, yes, but not necessarily among black entertainers, thousands of whom made a professional living in the minstrel field . Hence deniability, plausible or not. As for, finally, the title of this book and of this collection, the history of American music, to my ears, is essentially a timeline of African Americans liberating themselves in sound, creating an alternative history to that which has been imposed on them. As a title and reference it is meant to evoke the not-so-straightforward way in which this has been achieved."