[tw: denial of privilege, exotification, use of ethnic slurs, racial slurs]
As many Abney Park fans are aware, the word “Gypsy” comes up in the song “End of Days.”
Nomadic tribes are the last of man
Pulling caravans across the land
Gypsy wives hold their children tight
As the new super-power howls through the night!
Until recently, however, it was not brought to Abney Park’s attention that the word “Gypsy,” when used by a non-Roma or non-Romani individual, is an offensive slur at worst and an unkind, obnoxious stereotype at best. I have a Rroma friend who is very uncomfortable attending steampunk concerts or conventions, due to the large amount of stereotyping that goes on towards Romani culture in the steampunk commmunity. Hearing this song was icing on the cake for her - after the first time she heard it, she started crying and tearfully swore she would not have anything more to do with steampunk. I felt awful.
So, I sent a very polite e-mail to Robert Brown, their lead singer/songwriter.
I expected benevolent indifference or dismissive “Sorry you were offended” responses, honestly. But what I got was much, much worse.
Robert Brown replied very angrily and aggressively, doing what many white people do when asked to stop doing something culturally insensitive: he personalized it. He made it all about himself, telling me how I couldn’t judge him or his life, derailing me by talking about my sources and his experiences, and calling the Roma friend who I have (on whose behalf the email was sent) a “distant relation” who was “looking for attention.”
(Interestingly enough, watch out for RB judging people later - he seems to do it a lot, although of course no one is allowed to do it to him.)
I’m ashamed of what I did next.
I backpedaled and apologized. I really admire(d) this guy, and did not want him to be angry with me. I’m so disappointed with myself for it now, but that’s what I did. He didn’t accept the apology, just said “I just think it means ‘nomad’ so it’s fine for me to use it right.”
I was willing to let it slide. I miserably told my Roma friend (who is the sweetest, kindest person who told me I had done my best, when I hadn’t) I had failed, and I wasn’t going to go the extra mile to find out if Robert Brown, my former idol, sucked just as much as a ton of other white people.
Unfortunately, he proved it to me himself.
A week later, [after I’d let the matter drop, after apologizing, and after hearing no further about it from him] he made this little gem of a story in one of his posts:
One of my friends moved in for a call out, after which he called her a troll and a “suburban white kid with an adopted cause,” deleted and blocked her, and eventually deleted the entire post itself – something the good Captain seems fond of doing, as he’s deleted other posts that caused controversy.
Problems with this post:
- Words don’t come in and out of fashion like the Captain seems to think they do - Gypsy has been used as a slur for a really really long time. No one suddenly decided it’s a bad word to use.
- Up til now, I had done nothing to indicate to him that he was a racist. I still don’t even think he’s a racist, I just think he’s a privileged jerk.
- He acts like that because he’s been to Istanbul and collected a few CDs, he knows everything about “Gypsy culture” (lolwhut!?) and he has a right to use this word.
- He’s lying (to his fans definitely, and maybe to himself) about the content/tone of my initial e-mail
- Golgol Bordello is on record as being disliked by a lot of Romani/Roma folk because they use the “Gypsy” look and culture (Romani) to make money. Their lead singer is 1/4 Romani.
But Santa Maria! I’d love to be the angry, demanding hag of a letter-writer Robert Brown makes me out to be. But since I don’t think I am, I’ll present the facts to the public – that’s right, folks. Fans ands haters alike, here are the emails Robert Brown and I exchanged, for your viewing enjoyment.
Then you can tell me if you think I judged him, called him a racist, demanded he change the lyrics to his songs, like he seems to think I did. Then you can tell me if his actions are justified.
The first email I sent.
First, I apologize for comparing the use of the g-word with the use of the n-word. I have had some people tell me, directly or indirectly, that this is not an appropriate or acceptable comparison, and I will not use it in the future.
Moving on: Yikes.
So… I’m sorry, but where in there:
- Am I angry?
- Do I call him a racist?
- Do I demand that he change the lyrics to every song he’s written with that word?
- In fact, I said he didn’t have to do that - I wanted him to just use a different word in future concerts!
But you know how it is. White people will see it how white people see it.
So here’s his first reply. Ugh. Just ugh. Uf. “Words mean different things to different people.”
So… you’re allowed to use the word “gypsy” however you mean it, but when it means something offensive to someone else, they’re “too caught up in semantics”? And what about that bit “in the US”? That’s part of the problem - people acting like Roma/Romani people are “gypsies” who chill in caravans in Eastern Europe all the time and dance and steal and wear long skirts or whatever. They’re not. They’re real people, with jobs and houses and cars and kids and computers.
But as I was contemplating a polite way to respond to this, explaining what’s in the above paragraph… I got this.
/faith in humanity, destroyed.
Let’s run through the checklist of ignorant things white people do in reaction to being called out, shall we?
- Personalising it? Check.
- Hauling out some unrelated story that proves he’s not a word I never called him? Check.
- Hauling out his friends? Check, and interesting because he does it not to justify his use of the term as “I KNOW REAL GYPSIES” but as “I KNOW REAL PEOPLE WHO HATE GYPSIES,” implying his use of them as “caravaners” is nice treatment.
- “I do this and this to appreciate this culture!” Check.
- Tone policing? Check.
- Demanding I explain my authority over him? Check.
- Derailing by making [incorrect] assumptions about my sources? Check.
Congratulations, Robert Brown, you just acted like a doofus!
What I did next I’m not proud of: I backpedaled and apologized to Robert Brown. Apparently, the part where I said “I’m sorry” (though now I’m certainly not) didn’t sink in, because a week later he was making his ugly little post, which he admitted in the comments that the “Gypsy bit” was included as trollbait. Nice.
Here’s the apology e-mail I sent, along with his response.
I do realize there are big problems with what I said in my apology email, and I take responsibility for those and apologize to Roma/Romani people, as well as everyone else who simply tries to be a decent person. It was nothing more than an attempt to save face with one of my idols, and it’s disgusting to me now. I am so sorry for that.
Now for the problems with his response:
- He implies that discrimination against Romani people only happens in Eastern Europe.
- He claims my friend is overly dramatic and distantly related - funny how you think you can judge someone you know almost nothing about, Captain, right after jumping down my throat about judging you.
- BUT WHAT ABOUT THE WHITE PEOPLE!?!??!
- He’s met a few “Gypsies” in Eastern Europe so he thinks he can speak for all of them as “violent and angery” people who would not be “hurt by any words”
His replies are insane to me. Literally, insane. My mind went white at this response, and it did again a week later after he posted his post.
So, now, where do we go from here?
Well, me personally, along with my friends - we’re not buying Abney Park products any more. Not until Robert Brown sees why his response was wholly inappropriate and unkind, and not until he apologizes for and stops his use of the word “Gypsy.”
(In my initial e-mail, I did not demand an apology.)
Meanwhile, I’m not requesting everyone else boycott Abney Park - though that would send a great message. I’m asking for people to be aware of this, and to make others aware - if you would, please reblog this to get the message out.
Steampunk community, collect your captain. Let him know his use of this racially demeaning word - as well as his rude response to being called out in a polite manner - is unacceptable. Search for alternative bands to patronize, and don’t let appropriation slide when you see it in the steampunk subculture. You can contact Robert Brown directly through the e-mail he provides on his website: email@example.com.
Be aware, and most of all, be sensitive. Remember that other cultures are not trends or stereotypes for you to use as you please - and when you buy Abney Park merch, remember that the Captain thinks that they are.
[tw: denial of privilege, exotification, use of ethnic slurs, racial slurs]
Steampunk is often incredibly racist, and this is just another example.
This shit is why the Liberi Lupi exists. As it is, I used to really enjoy Abney Park; no longer.
Wow, I’m really disheartened to learn about this. It’s one thing to disagree and be defensive, but it’s another to make a personal email into a public matter.
There’s another steampunk band who uses the word “gypsy” and this makes me wonder how they would respond. I know them personally so I guess I could bring it up at some point. I feel like I’m not the best person to do it because I learned about the offensiveness of the term not too long ago and am still working on removing it from my vocabulary. My own ignorance keeps me from articulating exactly why the lyric is hurtful.
I also have an issue with confronting people whom I consider “higher up” than me (and they helped get me into steampunk so they fall into the sempai/advisor category of higher ups). Steampunk friends, what would you do?
Oh, we’re talking about Robert Brown?
This is like the same giant asshole who’s such a shit to his band that it has a huge turnover, right?
And this is the same giant asshole who decided to take a shit on Janus Zarate because Janus only mentioned Abney Park in passing as “being seen as steampunk by mainstream media”? And retweeted every single fan-tweet that grovelled to suck his
And this is the same giant asshole who took a shit on the steampunk music community by implying they weren’t ~professional enough~ and needed to ~step up their game~ to be taken more seriously as real musicians?
And this is the same giant asshole who deleted a fan image from Mexican steampunk magazine El Investigador off his FB wall because “if I can’t read it, it’s spam” sparking off a huge fight in which shittons of racists came out of the woodwork to be all AMURRCA, yes?
Yeah, looks like it.
I WAS UNAWARE OF THIS OTHER STUFF
Robert Brown has a really bad habit of deleting shit that makes him look bad/invites anything but approval. I have a folder on the computer full of screenshots of his controversial facebook posts that, were you to look now, can not be found on his timeline. This probably accounts for why newcomers and other people who don’t see stuff before it’s deleted don’t realize he’s such an ass sometimes.
I’ve always wondered why his band has such a large influx/outflux of members. As for him shitting on Vernian Process, he can take a fucking seat. VP over AP, any day. [Though they’ve used to G-word too!!! Uf!]
And wtf is this garbage about the steampunk music community not being “professional enough!?” Half the time he’s half-drunk onstage! He makes indirect live-journal posts complaining about the actions of his band members (when instead he could try, I dunno, talking to them?)! He can’t talk about a lack of professionalism.
Not to mention, I contributed illustrations to his stupid lyrics book and he still hasn’t contacted me about me getting a free copy or discount. Completely ignored my emails about it, but as far as I can tell used my illustrations and didn’t credit me.
Yes, Robert Brown has thoroughly annoyed me on all counts. And now that I’m no longer blinded by my fan-approval for him, I realize that some of his music is serious shit as well. [Can we PLEASE talk about Ancient World? Or better yet, let’s not.]
His problem is he’s been wrapped in this little white cocoon of fan-approval for so long, he no longer thinks there’s room for improvement. He thinks he’s got it right on every aspect. As a result, his intellectual pursuit and growth, as well as his musical career, has plateaued.
I have issues with a couple of VP songs (notably “Delta Queen” which is so incredibly sexy but god does it ever trade in with some hideous voodoo queen stereotypes, so I’m glad the couple of times I’ve seen them perform, they’ve never done that one), but the difference is that VP will actually do something if you critique them. And I know Josh has updated the VP website to take a stand against white supremacy when he caught whiff of white supremacists trying to use his songs for their cause. They’re not exactly a band that shies away from politicization, although good ol’ Captain Robert has shit on them so much in public, many AP fans are unaware of just how talented VP actually is compared to AP.
And there’s this today:
So yes, they do try, which I would expect of them, since two of the three head honchos are actually POC.
(Now, I don’t know why he has to ask me to send him my email, when it’s perfectly Googleable and I’ve emailed him some three times in the last two years with no response because he’s a bit careless with emails but whatever.)
Every once in a while, steampunks remind me why I never got into them in a big way.