Interracial Relationship Discrimination Meets the Music Industry
While it can be recognized that racism in America is very much still prevalent, it’s not common for one to consider a special circumstance, blending together two walks of life, regardless of race. Interracial couples are criticized for the one thing they should be criticized for: love. This raises the question – how does society’s view effect interracial couples? Janis Ian emotionally sings about these racial discriminations in “Society’s Child” in her album, Janis Ian (1966), explaining that her own mother wouldn’t allow her to have relationships with someone from a different race. Similarly, in Gwen Stefani’s “Long Way to Go” featuring Andre 3000 from her album, Love. Angel. Music. Baby. (2004), she introduces her first-hand experiences of experiencing discrimination while simply going on a first date. Stefani and Ian, while decades apart, experienced the same discrimination and have continued to promote a different view on this issue for years to come.
Both songs ignite the conversation that challenges societal views of interracial couples, where these views stem from, and what the future holds to erase this bias. In 1966, Ian released the song at the epitome of racial inequality, during the era that brought us the Civil Rights movement. Almost 40 years later, Gwen Stefani collaborated with Andre 3000 to address the ever-present bias against interracial relationships. It was only a little over 50 years ago that the Loving vs. Virginia U.S. Supreme Court case determined that making interracial marriage illegal was a violation of the 14th amendment. According to recent studies, “16%??“37% of White Americans admit moderate to strong disapproval of close relatives engaging in interracial romances with [primarily] Blacks,” which we can reasonably believe was underreported (Skinner & Hudac, 2017).
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However, there was evidence that “bias against interracial romance is associated with disgust,” (Skinner & Hudac, 2017). In the same study, researchers found that these couples are then lead to be “implicitly dehumanized,” and are paralleled with “antisocial behaviors such as aggression and perpetration of violence,” (Skinner & Hudac, 2017). In a previous study, it was also found that caucasians are more reserved when it comes to marriage or having children with someone from a different race, rather than casually dating (Herman & Campbell, 2012). However, caucasian males are more willing to participate in an interracial relationship than caucasian women, while the overwhelming population (38% of Whites) were uninterested and unwilling to participate in a “romantic relationship with a black person,” (Herman & Campbell, 2012). In today’s society, we’re in a day and age where we’d like to say we’re a diversity pool, and an accepting country – but these numbers show that’s not the case. The generations before the Millennial age are still living in the 1950s era, pre Loving vs. Virginia, and seem to have a difficult time standing in an environment of acceptance.
The fact that two people in love evoke emotions of disgust, being looked at as less than, and being disapproved in the 21st century goes to show that we really, truly have years of growth in this area, to work against interracial bias and more towards acceptance. Comparison of Songs In Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child” (1966), the song begins with different levels of pitches – ranging from light and airy to heavy bass. Ian begins sharing her emotion with a beautiful, soft, melody, and then to turn into a pleading tone when singing “Now I could understand your tears and your shame / she called you ‘boy’ instead of your name.” She then enters the chorus, changing into a sorrow, wailing tone when explaining she “can’t see you anymore, baby,” due to her mother discouraging and discontinuing that relationship. Similarly, In Gwen Stefani’s “Long Way to Go” (2004), Stefani expresses her disappointment when singing, “his skin wasn’t the same color as mine / But he was fine” before later comparing their skin tones to cold, hard snow, and dark, hot asphalt with “When snow hits the asphalt / cold looks and bad talks come.” Both Ian and Stefani include the pressure of society’s view on interracial relationships. For example, Ian sings, “Everybody’s acting deaf and blind / Until they turn and say, ‘Why don’t you stick to your own kind.” Stefani expresses the same frustration with, “Now I’m getting dirty looks / I wonder what they’d say if we were blind, we were blind people.” Both Stefani and Ian, interestingly enough, use the same sentence structure to make their point, forcing those around them to take away what is on the surface.
This would therefore force passerbys to look at the relationship on a different level, as two young people in love. Ian continues on with, “My teachers all laugh / Preachers of equality / Think they believe it, then why won’t they just let us be?” while Stefani similarly says, “It’s beyond Martin Luther / Upgrade computer” Both artists also incorporate the idea that generations before us are ironically supposed to be laying down the foundation of equality, with the goal of leaving racism behind as we move forward in our country. Ian and Stefani also include the hope for the future, a plea for change. Ian sings, “One of these days I’m gonna stop my listening,” and continues later on with “When we’re older things may change.” This indicates her confusion and hesitation, and not wanting to be viewed differently in society at that time. Stefani also sings, “We’ve got a long way to go,” repeatedly throughout the chorus, reinforcing the idea that until the pressure around her stops, things will stay the same. This repeatedly suggests that society needs to make serious changes when considering this issue.
However, both Ian and Stefani surprise the listener just when the audience believes that they’re going to rise above their adversities. Ian gives into the outside pressure, explaining that the day she stops listening to others’ opinions “will have to wait for a while,” because “Baby I’m only society’s child,” so for now, “this is the way, they must remain.” Similarly, Stefani’s last verse explains that “Lovers in love is such a wonderful thing / Maybe in time, we’ll get together and sing,” telling her counterpart that their relationship will have to wait. Unfortunately, the artists go in the wave of the culture around them, letting go of their frustrations and passively sacrificing their wants. Music/Lyric Connection In Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child” (1966), she uses a variety of musical techniques to portray her emotions to her audience. The song has a heavy use of word painting incorporated throughout the verses. The song begins with different levels of pitches – ranging from light and airy, and then changing to heavy bass. For example, listeners can hear her use of backup vocalists when singing phrases such as “Honey, he’s not our kind,” as a way to incorporate the idea of outsiders speaking into their relationship, inserting society’s view of them, through her. “Society’s Child” is also filled with texture to give the listener a variety of feeling. Each chorus, Ian changes from an intense, heavier-sounding bridge before going into a higher-pitched, slower, somber chorus with a violin-like tune in the background, using range to give the audience a true sense of the sadness she’s feeling after experiencing frustration from the observances. The dynamics vary throughout the song, utilizing a different volumes intermixed throughout the verses and the chorus as Ian shares the story.
Gwen Stefani strongly uses ironic aspects in “Long Way to Go” (2004). The song is centered around a historical issue of racial bias and discrimination, while Stefani expresses, “there shouldn’t be a rule on how you choose your lover.” However, the entire song incorporates fast tempo, upbeat rhythms, and is considered in the dance/pop genre. The beats used in the background give the song some chaos, and really completes the song, as Stefani creates this protest-like experience for the listener. The use of Andre 3000’s voice as a compliment for Stefani’s really brings the message to life, giving the song two different perspectives and blending together their pitch to create a harmony. The male vocal contrasted with Stefani’s voice gives a different dynamic that, along with the upbeat and techno-style notes in the background, give the song a sense of urgency and alarm. Ian and Stefani both use a heavy, ongoing use of metaphor. Ian begins her ballad-like introduction with “face is clean and shining black as night,” in a magical, whimsical tune. Similarly, Stefani uses metaphoric attributes continuously throughout the chorus with her incorporation of visualising “when snow hits the asphalt.” The listener can notice three different emotions as Ian sings – softness while addressing the one who she loves, anger and aggression when outside voices inflict their opinion on her, and sadness when she explains she can’t be with him anymore. On the contrary, Stefani takes a different approach, giving the song a higher tempo with contrasting vocals of male versus female. However, both songs have an intermix of slower verses and quicker tempos. The Conclusion
Gwen Stefani and Janis Ian both challenge the views of society in regarding to interracial relationships using different tools, at different times in history, with different expressions of emotions, all while sharing the view. These female vocalists create stories that encourage the listener to question the dialogue between outsiders and those that fall in love with someone, who happens to be a different race. Their musical talents and gifts meet a serious issue, and the result strongly affects the way we see interracial couples. Through “Society’s Child” (1966) and “Long Way to Go” (2004), we continue to look at this issue through a different lense, while appreciating the artistry that Ian and Stefani create so beautifully.
- Gwen Stefani, Love.Angel.Music.Baby., Interscope (2004) B0003469-02 Janis Ian, Janis Ian, Now Sounds (1966) CRNOW 11
- Herman, M., & Campbell, M. (2012). I wouldn’t, but you can: Attitudes toward interracial relationships. Social Science Research, 41(2), 343-358.
- Skinner, A., & Hudac, C. (2017). “Yuck, you disgust me!” Affective bias against interracial couples. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 68, 68.