Monday, April 27, 2009

Music Profiling

(The following thoughts and/or reactions are soley my response to what I saw today. I have not looked into any factual basis for what I experienced/observed. In other is totally from my perspective.)

I had some time to kill after an appointment in Burnsville today. Nothing like a mocha and some browsing at the local Christian bookstore to make the time fly by so I ventured into Northwestern Bookstore in Burnsville.

I have recently been worshipping at Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis and they will often have worship times that include hip-hop, latin, gospel flavored music and I am more of a "The Refuge" (contemporary Christian / Alternative Rock) kind of guy so I thought I'd expand my musical base a little....and maybe start to recognize more of the music I'm listening to and trying to participate with.

First I browsed the "new artist" section and picked up a Remedy Drive CD. Then on to the Gospel Section and picked up The Essential Fred Hammond. Next I ventured into the hip-hop section and...didn't pick up anything at first because all of the cases were empty shells. (Sort of like at Blockbuster when you are looking for a movie!) It was very noticeable because the hip-hop section is pretty small, on it's own rack set apart for the rest of the CD's and is the only section that was presented this way.

Oh yeah, and then there was the sign over the rack that said "Thou Shall Not Steal" - God and NW bookstores.

I don't think this would have bothered me a couple of years ago...but recently God has been opening my eyes to people who are different than me in new ways. And this little "empty shell" display that required you to get your CD from the clerk up front, combined with the "Thou Shall Not Steal" sign made me angry....and sad. I eventually grabbed the Urban D Unorthodox shell (he had come to Sanctuary a few weeks ago and led some worship time) and went to the front counter. I asked why they had they had the hip hop section displayed this way - and the clerk said that it is because "a lot of those types of CD's get stolen".

Okay, I get that. It makes sense to me for the store to notice that a certain item is more likely to be stolen and try to do things to protect their products from being lifted. But this just struck me as over the top.

First - it seems to say people who listen to hip-hop CHRISTIAN artists are more likely to steal. And I don't think it is a stretch to connect that with specific ethnic people groups/cultures. I know my first reaction when browsing that section and seeing it is the only "product controlled" section was wondering if people were watching me extra close as I browsed. It made me feel uncomfortable just looking at the CD's. (Apparently people who buy contemporary Christian, gospel, latin, alternative or any other genre of music are less likely to steal?)

Second - the bright neon green 8.5X11 "Thou Shalt Not Steal" sign. C'mon. Really? The product has all been removed anyway so what is the point of the sign? All it does is further communicate to people wandering around the store the assumption that people that listen to hip-hop are likely to steal and need to be reminded that God (and NW bookstore!) doesn't want them to. The sign is what really put the whole experience into the category of "stereotype" for me. (To me the sign and way the CD's are displayed is basically silently and indelibly screaming - if you stand in front of this section you better not be one of THOSE people that listen to hip-hop and steal CD's. You should know better and in case you forgot we, the good people of NW bookstore, are reminding you. Oh, and everyone else is watching you as well at this point!)

The whole thing just made me feel icky.

Of course the other part of the ick was that after I left and started thinking thru it all....I thought I should have asked to talk to the store manager - to find out why they had the CD's displayed as they did and then share how I felt as I looked at the CD's. My bad...'cause nothing will change without conversation and engaging people. Okay - fine. I'll go back and talk to them....and blog about it later. Hold me to it tho....I am SUCH a conflict avoider.

I'd love to hear your thoughts as well. Keep in mind - this is ALL told from only my perspective and is subject to over-simplification on my part.

But how does this strike you? And thoughts about how I should follow up?


Paul Prins said...

It does bug me, in the same way that KTIS only plays music sung by white people. There is a non-explicit racism in some of our non-essential practices as a christian community that are pretty startling.

It's been forever since i've stepped foot in a NW bookstore (and no plans in the works) and this only grieves me as I imagine the 16 year old kid driving over there to get a cd. Then to be told that these christians who run this store think he's a thief. I pray kids like him are able to cope with it, and forgive NW for their judgment.

Anne said...

Maybe it's just my analytical (and optimistic?) nature, but I would have assumed there was data to backup the store's actions. Perhaps they had a string of customers that decided to steal their favorite music (which happened to be Christian hip hop). I agree the sign was probably over the top and unnecessary. And I think you should go back and ask to speak to the manager if you still feel strongly about it. At least to give him/her the perspective of a paying customer.

I think what bugs me more though is that I never once pictured someone other than a caucasian as the person targeted by that sign. I was surprised you jumped to your conclusion about ethnic/racial groups. Why? Because I don't think I have ever seen anyone other than a caucasian in a NW bookstore. But maybe that's just the Edina location...

I don't know, Dave. I don't think I would have been particularly bothered by all of this if I had been you. Sometimes I think society creates situations of discrimination where none were intended in the first place. It certainly gives me something to think about.

David Moss said...

Paul - thanks for sharing your thoughts! I appreciate you bringing up how we can be creators of "non-explicit racism in some of our non-essential practices".

David Moss said...

Anne - thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! And I also feel that at times "society creates situations of discrimination where none were intended in the first place."

Just FYI, I went back to NW Bookstore today and did talk to the store supervisor. (I am a TOTAL chicken in these situations so that was a good step for me!) I shared with him my experience and how the signage made me feel. He shared that they indeed had "thousands of dollars of movies stolen in the last four months." Regarding the sign he said it had been present for the past 5 years and was not new. We had a good, albiet brief, discussion.

He thanked me for my input, said that he was sorry that I had had that experience, but that they wouldn't be taking the sign down.

So for me the takeaway was:
1) I'm going thru a period of my life where I'm trying to ask more often "is this right" - and that is making think in new ways. (Not always correct...but differnt!).
2) I still feel the sign was over the top.
3) This was the first time that I had noticed the sign in the 15 or so times I have been in the store in the past 5 years. It is also the first time I had looked for a hip-hop CD.
4) It was a good experience for me to dialogue with the supervisor, listen, and then share my thoughts as well. Conversation and engaging others to "hear" each other better is something I need to work on. So it was a good building block for me.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts as well!