From the wall-to-wall coverage of Prince's death today, you'd think he was Tupac Shakur or the Notorious B.I.G.
Only black commentators are speaking on the cable news channels, and several are bringing up his support for Black Lives Matter. Only the occasional white fan is heard from. In the afternoon CNN brought in Don Lemon, who is usually on at night, because it would be wrong to have only non-black anchors leading the discussion.
These non-black anchors are paining themselves to give off that defensive vibe of "I know I'm just a goofy non-black person who can't dance, but I too really liked his music. I mean, I'm not trying to culturally appropriate an African-American icon, I'm just sayin' -- I mean, say-inggg, I'm not trying to culturally appropriate your speech either..."
MTV, for perhaps the first time in two decades, is actually playing non-stop music, but they're mostly playing his videos from the mid-'90s onward, which happen to only have black people in them, and are more R&B / soul. As I finish that sentence, they've put on an old Fresh Prince video, "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble" (possibly an error by some intern who didn't know the difference), as though Prince had more in common with Will Smith's goofy rap act than '80s rock. Why not play "Manic Monday," which Prince actually wrote? Oh yeah -- performed by white people. Can't stain his memory with any whiteness.
There's nothing more ridiculous and embarrassing about the state of our popular culture than this Afro-ization of Prince -- a new wave / synth-pop / rock legend from the race-free 1980s. If anything, his persona during his peak was how racially ambiguous he was, and that he was working the ambiguous angle just for the sake of teasing the audience -- not out of any ideology or commitment to identity politics. It wasn't something you were supposed to dwell on or "get," just another little piece of provocation in his stage act.
Here's an earlier post about the lack of "policing the racial boundaries" of musical genres back in the '80s, looking at white hipster groups putting out funky dance classics -- not ironically, and not by qualifying it with "Hey, I know we're white and everything, but..."
During that socially outgoing climate, people felt free to mingle with folks from other groups just because they were all out and about. It wasn't deliberate or ideological -- trying to unite the races, overcome our differences, bla bla bla. It was simply, "We're out playing music, you're out playing music, let's see if we can jam together. If it works out, it works out, if it doesn't, it doesn't." That non-ideological mingling had already begun with disco, but it became taken for granted during the '80s.
Once the cocooning period set in during the '90s, though, the races withdrew into their own little bubbles. Now rock is exclusively white, and (so-called) funky dance music is exclusively black. It's similar to the fate of jazz during the cocooning Midcentury -- what began as racially mixed (without any deliberate ideology driving it) during the outgoing Jazz Age, became separated into strictly black jazz (bebop) and strictly white crooner type music (Sinatra).
When the cocooning phase gives way to another outgoing period, we can all stop walking on eggshells about whose group owns the exclusive territorial rights to which cultural styles. These battles have gone from annoying to silly to ridiculous, so it's only a matter of time before they're no longer taken seriously and we can all go back to normal.