Can’t Stop the Go-Go: Author Objects When Her Playlist is Put on Pause
D.C.-based author Natalie Hopkinson, a lecturer at Georgetown University, a founding and now contributing editor to The Root, and a former reporter for The Washington Post, explored the city and the music that mean so much to her in a new book, Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City. Published in May of this year, it’s a nonfiction examination of D.C.’s black population through the prism of go-go music.
When she was invited to do an event at Politics & Prose last week, Hopkinson prepared a CD of go-go music to accompany her book talk and signing. But before the CD even got to a go-go song, a store patron objected when she heard the first song on Hopkinson’s playlist: “Chocolate City” by Parliament Funkadelic. According to Hopkinson, the patron said the song was ‘racist.’ The store stopped playing the CD for a moment to attend to the patron, and while the pause was brief and they did resume playing the CD after that patron left, that act of stopping the music spoke volumes to Hopkinson. She did not put her book signing on pause but later went online to voice her displeasure at what happened and a number of news outlets picked up the story.
We corresponded with Hopkinson via e-mail about opening up an online dialogue in response to an unsettling incident.
inReads: Why did you decide to do an original post on your own blog about this incident (instead of contacting a larger media organization)?
Natalie Hopkinson: When I was signing books after my talk at Politics & Prose, a very enthusiastic young white woman, brand new to DC and in town for an internship, asked me for the playlist because she wanted to hear it. I promised her I would post it on my website, so the blog post was really just an introductory explanation of why I was posting this list of songs. I also just wanted to get out my feelings. I bit my tongue at the time of my talk for the most part because I did not want to let this intolerant customer’s behavior to hijack my talk. I briefly pondered sending an essay to The Root but I was not sure it was navel-gazing or it if was actually newsworthy, and I did not want to slow down long enough to find out.
inReads: How did people respond to your biog post and your tweets about what happened?
Hopkinson: I wrote the blog post immediately after the event, and thought I’d sleep on it and review it in the morning before posting it on Twitter. But that morning while I was still uploading the “Chocolate City” [album cover] photo, my wonderful publisher, Duke University Press, was the first to come across the posting, and they tweeted it. Then the retweeting began. By the first day I had 2,800 hits to that post on my website, a number which grew to close to 6,000 unique people who read the blog post a week later. I’m still getting tweets, Facebook likes, and media inquiries a week later—most of them supportive.
inReads: Were you surprised by who responded (or who didn’t respond)?
Hopkinson: Within minutes, I got a phone call from Washingtonian.com; then I did a quick phone interview with The Washington Post‘s Mike Debonis. I also got e-mail interview requests from Washington City Paper, We Love DC, and DCist. And by the end of the day, Politics & Prose posted a statement. It was pretty shocking how fast it was, but that’s the speed media moves these days if they think something is newsworthy. Being part of the story, I wasn’t sure if people would care.
inReads: Online controversies flare up and cool down rather quickly, so looking back just one week, would you have done anything differently?
Hopkinson: NOPE. I originally decided to do the playlist after my Busboys & Poets event on July 16th. The mother of Nile, the adorable kid who is [pictured] on my book cover, made the suggestion that I bring some go-go to the next signing. Everyone who knows me knows how excited I was about putting together my go-go playlist and how tickled I was about the subversiveness of filling Politics & Prose with go-go music…so it was a real slap in the face. As one of the tweets said, Politics & Prose should have “made it a teachable moment” for that angry white woman—right in that moment. But they did not. They chose to wait until she left to play the offending song. I hope that instead, it has been a teachable moment for them, about history, race and the continuing contest over public space in Washington, D.C. That—and don’t mess with P-Funk!
inReads: Have you played go-go music at other signings for this book?
Hopkinson: I played Chuck Brown music all night during a June book reception in New Orleans sponsored by The Root and The Washington Post. I appeared on WPFW 89.3 a couple days after the Politics & Prose event, and they played it right from my CD, no questions asked. The CD is going with me to all my signings from now on (: