You should see people’s faces when I tell them what I do for a living. I am a dancing trombone player. I know. I don’t look the part. Because of my average white guy build, most people expect that I would be an accountant, doctor, or lawyer or something. Or that if I am a musician, I’d be one of those that stayed fairly still when they played.
But I am none of these. I am the party starter. When I dance, I dance hard, I go all the way in. Committed. And I’ve got soul. I’ve got rhythm – things often unexpected from a middle class suburban upbringing.
My whole life people have asked me how can I dance the way I do and not be black or gay. I’ve always loved Soul RnB because I find its rhythm is as steadily relentless as my drive to express myself. And there has always been a place in my heart for the flamboyant moves and music of gay clubs and musical theater, where proud vulnerability and shameless softness are powerfully expressive substitutes for being the ultimate macho man and athlete, which I am not.
Trombone in many ways has been an afterthought, though a uniquely defining one. I really only picked trombone because at twelve years old, it was the only instrument available to me and I was insecure about my singing. And while I grew to love trombone, studied it in college, and even eventually won a Grammy as a professional, I was still was always jealous of what other instrumentalists could do and of singers who were more secure in pursuing their dreams.
Nevertheless, I am so appreciative of my experience as an artist – both professionally and socially. It’s truly been a privilege. A privilege. “Privilege” is a word that gets thrown around a lot in our modern age of hyper political correctness.
When it comes to the complex issues involving race, class, sexuality, gender and the like, privilege seems to be a word that’s mostly reserved for straight white upper middle class males, usually referring to having the best opportunities to gain money, quality education, and a relatively care-free life.This is usually the extent to which the word privilege is defined in our modern culture.
My experience as an artist, however, has allowed me to see what’s missing from this popular perception of “privilege”.
We never seem to discuss the privilege to feel.
This includes the privilege to express, everything from rhythm to emotions.
The privilege to have angst, to be warrantably rebellious.
The privilege to be the squeakiest wheel that demands and needs the most attention.
These “privileges”, I can tell you from first hand experience, are often least associated with being “white”.
And consequently these taboo privileges seem to be what white people are the most envious of. We can see this in the phrases, dances, and expressions used both seriously and comically that are culturally appropriated from minorities of all colors and preferences who have the most of these taboo privileges.