Dear Race Manners:
First off, I just have to say I am not racist in any way. I love every type of music and type of person.
I'm getting married in June and my co-worker is a DJ and he wants me to use him, but I'm kinda scared of one thing: He's mostly R&B, rap and hip-hop, and most of my husband's guests will be Caucasian, Mexican, etc. His side of the aisle seems pretty calm. Meanwhile, my friends at work are all into rap and booty music, and I really don't know what music to play and what DJ to use with all minorities and nonminorities coming. I want everyone to dance and have a good time.
I'm very sorry if anything I have wrote offends anyone. I just feel so stuck! —Wedding Worries
Is there something more than music you're worried about when it comes to merging your husband's and your diverse friends and families? I ask because, while it's understandable that you want to be a good host and provide all the ingredients for everyone to have a good time, I just don't think that choosing music everyone enjoys will be as tough as you're making it out to be.
The first point to remember is that your wedding guests will be the people who love you and your husband most in the world. They'll be there because they want to celebrate your marriage, not because they're expecting a dance party tailored specifically to their individual tastes and cultural backgrounds.
Even if they were, I don't know anyone, no matter how "nonminority," who dances to "calm" music at weddings. (What would that be, really? Classical? Soft rock?) And there's a lot of room in the old "urban" genre—which vaguely means "performed or enjoyed by black people"—for things other than "booty music" (which, even if your work friends love, doesn't prevent them from loving anything else, too).
When I look at the Grammy and MTV Music Awards performances, the Super Bowl halftime shows that captivate the entire country, the lineups for musical festivals like Coachella, and hits played on Top 40 radio stations, I just don't see people enjoying music based on strict racial divides.
In fact, there's plenty of anxiety to go around about the blurring of traditional musical barriers, with white artists winning in awards categories like rap and R&B. The positive side of the conversations around cultural appropriation, for your purposes, is the perception that nothing really seems to belong to any particular group of people anymore.
A good DJ will be able to read the crowd and take requests. If your co-worker can do that, hire him. And if the overall racial demographics of the dance floor fluctuate with "Living on a Prayer" and "Before I Let Go," so be it.
Not only is it unlikely that a race war will break out before you cut the cake, but I doubt anyone will even be uncomfortable.
What the DJ can't do is ease your stress about all the potential complications of having your diverse friends and relatives in the same place. I wonder whether you have a little underlying anxiety about how all these people will relate to and perceive one another, separate from the music. It's worth thinking about because, while this will probably be the largest gathering you have for some time, a lot of these people are going to be around forever. You'll want to be able to be yourselves with all of them—and trust that they can comfortably be themselves around one another.
Oh, and when it comes to navigating cultural differences beyond the wedding, think twice about any statement you have to preface with "I am not racist in any way." That will do a lot more than any playlist to ensure that you make a good impression on everyone in your diverse circle.
The Root’s senior staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life—and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter.
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Previously in Race Manners: “Should a Black Writer Write White Characters?”