A central criticism emerging from Black and Creole thinkers is that mainstream, white dominated, culture, consumes sounds and images of Creole and Black people in music, theater, and the white press, while ignoring critiques of the white consumption of black culture. Ironically, critiques of whiteness are found not only in black literature and media, but also within the blues, jazz, and spirituals that whites listened to, loved, collected, and archived. This book argues that whiteness is not only a visual orientation; it is a way of hearing. Inspired by formulations of the race and whiteness in the existential writings of Frantz Fanon, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, Lewis Gordon, Angela Davis, bell hooks and Sara Ahmed, T Storm Heter introduces the notion of the white sonic gaze.
Through case studies and musical examples from the history of American jazz, the book builds a phenomenological archive to demonstrate the bad habits of ‘white listening’, drawing from black journalism, the autobiographies of Creole musicians, and the lyrics and sonic content of early jazz music emerging from New Orleans.Studying white listening orientations on the plantation, in vaudeville minstrel shows, and in cabarets, the book portrays six types of bad faith white listeners, including the white minstrel listener, the white savior listener, white hipster listener, and the white colorblind listener. Connecting critical race studies, music studies, philosophy of race and existentialism, this book is for students to learn how to critique the phenomenology of whiteness and practice decolonial listening.
T Storm Heter is professor of philosophy at East Stroudsburg University, where he is also director of the Frederick Douglass Institute for Intercultural Studies, and co-director of the Race Relations Program. He co-edits, with LaRose T. Parris and Devin Zane Shaw, the ‘Living Existentialism’ book series. He is a jazz musician and enthusiast and teaches a range of music and philosophy courses, including Philosophy and Hip Hop.
Heter is both a philosopher and a museum, and on the first page of this volume announces his main argument: people "make race with [their] ears." He theorizes critical whiteness studies to distinguish how “racialized listening orientations … form the background of experience” (p. 8). In this he joins other musician-authors who have effectively addressed this issue in other disciplines, e.g., theoretical physicist Stephon Alexander. Though still timely, the book is overdue, for Africana and Creole people know well the "white gaze" into Black music. Heter interrogates the colonial history and continuum of aural racialism. The Sonic Gaze is a bravely written and provocative text. If Heter’s critiques appear self-destructive, his voice is from within his community. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers.
The book continues the project of bringing sound studies in conversation with the critical philosophy of race. Revealing how sound and listening function as racializing tech in the specific kinds of literatures analyzed, The Sonic Gaze makes important contributions to both philosophy and sound studies.