Why Are You Listening to Our Music?



Driving home yesterday after a meeting, I stopped at a local farmers’ road-side stand, a wonderful little place that sets up shop about a mile from my house every summer where I like to pick up fresh corn (my husband can easily, if not stopped, consume six ears of corn in one short sitting) and stock up on local tomatoes for our nightly summer favorite salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and basil.

As I was looking over the fruit and vegetables, a woman standing a few feet away from me was asking questions about the peaches.

I over-heard her (I admit it, I enjoy eavesdropping; I learn a great deal that way.) in conversation with one of the high school students who staff the summer stand.

Were the peaches local? What was the difference in the two varieties? And then I heard the woman explain that she was trying to help her son eat more healthily, that they had just been at a nutrition counseling session.

The peach-shopping woman and I stood together to check-out, I was first in line, she was behind me. At the counter, both of us could hear the music coming from whatever device it was that the high school students had put by the scale they used to weigh the produce. A  recognizable Motown song was playing, one by The Supremes.

The woman (who, it wasn’t relevant until this point so I didn’t mention it, happened to be African-American) turned to the two high school students at the counter and remarked –

What are you doing listening to our music?”

One of the (both White, mentioning it here only because it seems relevant) high school students responded:

Oh, we like that music too.”

It was a quick exchange, no apparent rancor, seemingly just chit-chat but it stuck with me, left me wondering.

When I think of The Supremes, I think first of my husband  – who also happens to be White and who is from Detroit; he grew up there in the 1960’s so if you were to ask him about The Supremes, The Temptations or The Four Tops, he would likely call it “his” hometown music.

Yet the peach-shopping woman at the farmer’s stand had claimed Motown as “ours”, that it belonged to her group of people.

Ours vs Yours?

Can we ever truly bridge that divide?

Yesterday at my DC women’s writers group, we talked, as we always do, about what’s in the news, and we got into a discussion about the recent events of racial tension – Baltimore and Ferguson – and the horrific killings at the Charleston church.  I wanted to know what my women friends thought about my overheard farm stand conversation in the context of better understanding other people’s points of view.

(not sure it is relevant, but the women in my writer’s group, also happen to be White like me, but also happen, to be mostly former journalists, very socially aware, smart, kind and thoughtful people).

Dare I discuss this in my Blog, I asked them, without sounding like a naïve yet well-informed White, suburban woman who treads on the edge of things she doesn’t understand?

Well, yes I dare, because I will be the first to admit what I don’t understand. I was taken aback, honestly, when the woman at the farm stand labeled  Motown music as belonging to only a specific group of people, even if it was just a tossed off comment.

Perhaps she meant it only in a factual way.  I know that Motown music originated in the African-American community of Detroit, with Berry Gordy and the record label he founded in 1959. It was music that crossed racial lines to achieve national popularity. I remember dancing to many Motown songs at the Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties I attended as a young Jewish girl growing up.

I had always thought, without giving it too much thought, I admit, that Motown music was something that we universally shared – that African-Americans created it but that both African-Americans and Whites (not to mention people of many other races and ethnicities in the U.S. and abroad) could appreciate and love it.

So maybe I am making far too much of  a lightly meant, innocently overheard, remark. But it did stop me in my tracks. It forced me to delve more deeply, always a good thing – about how much I don’t get, how wide the gaps are, how many more conversations need to be had, how much more listening we need to do to bridge the barriers to racial understanding.

Surely though, we can all enjoy the same music? Perhaps not in the same way. Much to ponder here beyond the freshness of summer fruit and vegetables.






Filed under Communications, Female Friends, friendship, Women, Writing

16 responses to “Why Are You Listening to Our Music?

  1. My first thought was that she meant it as a generational comment – but I have no idea how old this woman was.


  2. Shawn Paulson

    Maybe she just meant our “age group” as opposed to her ethnicity.


  3. I would think it was a generational remark. Why are Hi School kids listening to the oldies?


  4. Kathy

    I agree with Haralee, when I first read this, my impression was that she was referring to “her generation’s music” – as this is often the case with me and my son!


  5. Liz Rolle

    My thoughts exactly! I thought immediately that she was claiming the music to belong to you and to her! LOL


    • Donna

      Ditto what both Harlaee and Liz said. Great music, by the way!


      • Donna, you are with everyone else who thought the comment was “generational” – I didn’t hear it that way, but tone is so hard to convey in words. Also didn’t mention that the woman was in her 40’s with a 10 or 12 year old child. So interesting to me that all the comments I received heard what I heard so differently! Thanks for writing, Nancy


  6. Karen B.

    Glad I’m not the only one who initially thought “our music” meant those of us of, ah, a certain age.


  7. Cathryn Harjung

    My first reaction to “our music” was, “Why are you listening to the music from my era?” If I had been there I would have laughed and remarked about the Supremes being timeless. Good music is good music . . . 🙂


  8. I also thought that it was a comment about the generational divide–modern-day teenagers listening to Motown!? Undeniably, that music is some good stuff!


  9. T39

    I had the same thoughts as you, Nancy, although after reading the two previous comments, I’m wondering what causes the two different perspectives. Am I prejudiced (I don’t think so)? Defensive? Naive? Good food for introspective thought. Thanks!


  10. Add me to the list. I completely took it as “our generation” rather than “our race,” and came directly to the blog specifically to comment. (I usually remain on Feedly.) In fact, from the column title I was expecting a rant about “our” music being used to sell so many different products. Motown is so universally “ours” that I can’t imagine a 40-something being surprised that people non-blacks also love it. I’m a 63-year-old white female and my ringtone blasts The Temptations “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg.” Love it!


  11. Wish we knew what she meant by ours. Interesting to me how words can be taken in so many different ways.


  12. With my fourth novel, I explored this very issue, the divide that continues to divide but is not talked about. The NY agent that turned down Minding Henry Lewis said: old issue, been done, not necessary or interesting to readers. It’s exactly this refusal to acknowledge the awkwardness of the discussion that keeps us from resolving it. Skin color will be with us forever, barring an apocalypse, so we need to find a way to share our future. We had better talk about it, and learn how to celebrate the differences and be grateful for the diversity that makes the world a colorful and interesting place.
    Funny too how age seems our new dividing line, and how sensitive we aging Americans are to the distinction, a very current discrimination, that we baby boomers feel suddenly, a good exercise in social interaction.


  13. It may have been generational, but I have to demur and suggest that it was racial, as well. And I’m glad that woman claimed her cultural heritage. Too often in this country, Whites have co-opted Black heritage. Can you say jazz and even early rock and roll? Black music is awesome and we need to recognize it as one of the many blessings of African American culture. Motown was a major part of the soundtrack of my youth and I am forever grateful to the many Blacks who made it happen.


  14. Rachel

    I read it as generational too. The reference to “our” reminded me of the looks I used to get from my teenager son when he noticed I was listing to “his” music, meaning alternative, which he loves and so do I.Granted, I’d never have known about alternative music without my son introducing (read blasting) it in our car and our home. Never crossed my mind the peach stand lady meant race.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.