Eric Clapton Was A White Nationalist. Please Don’t Buy His New Christmas Album.

Stop letting white men get away with things like this.  Clapton may be a talented guitarist, but there are plenty of talented guitarists (some of them are even people of color, women, and even women of color!).

Before you add Eric Clapton’s new Christmas album to your seasonal playlist, take a moment of reflection with me.

When it comes to white people who made their careers appropriating Black people’s music, we usually expect at best a benign, paternalistic racism, along the lines of Elvis.  One shade more unpleasant is the appropriative ‘purism’ of people like Ryan Gosling’s character in La La Land, who take a conservative stand and claim to ‘protect’ Black-invented music forms like jazz and rock from often-Black innovators.  And then, there are the Eric Claptons.

Last year, a Showtime documentary called A Life in 12 Bars came out, telling Clapton’s story, as advertised, “in his own words.”  It left me with a strong sense that it was other people’s words, not Clapton’s, that are needed to give context to his life.

The sticking point is this: in the 1970s, Clapton was an avowed, aggressive white nationalist.  At a 1976 Birmingham, England concert, Clapton praised virulently racist politician Enoch Powell onstage and gave a long “keep Britain white” rant.  “I used to be into dope,” he said, “now I’m into racism. It’s much heavier, man.” (You can read a transcription of the rant, with excellent commentary, at The Root).  This speech was heard by thousands, and was, in fact, the catalyst for the formation of the anti-racist group Rock Against Racism.

The documentary covers this moment, but couches it in rhetoric that makes it look like a one-off mistake, rather than the revelation of a hypocritical way of life.  The documentary’s focus is on Clapton’s use of Black-pioneered blues and rock music to make his name as a guitarist, and it largely paints him as an advocate. We see several iterations of interview questions asking a 1960s Clapton how white blues players would affect the careers of Black blues players.  We see him painting himself as an educator, even as a sort of psychopomp for the death of racist cultural bias (and, warning, there’s some antiquated offensive language ahead): “What’ll happen is that, after a long time, they’ll become so well-educated, musically, they’ll be able to dig spades singing the blues instead of having to accept watered-down imitations…then all the white guys are gonna have to find something of their own to play.”  Clapton, of course, sees himself as the instrument of that “education.”

This framing primes the audience to write off Clapton’s aggressively racist phase the same way Clapton himself does: as a low point tied up with alcoholism.  But it’s clear to the careful viewer that it’s more than a fluke: it’s a spike in an established pattern of thought. When Eric is young, he enters a shop and hears Muddy Waters for the first time.  In a voiceover, he recalls thinking, “this is for me.”

Which, of course, it wasn’t.  He further recalls, “I didn’t even know that it was Black music.  I didn’t know about Black and white being different stuff.” Well, that settles it then.  Since he loved blues before he had a social consciousness of race, he is therefore innocent in all forthcoming racial inequities.  

Stop letting white men get away with things like this.  Clapton may be a talented guitarist, but there are plenty of talented guitarists (some of them are even people of color, women, and even women of color!).  While it’s true that addiction can often cause people to act in ways they later regret, Clapton’s tone is a self-congratulatory one that shows no real tendency toward change.  And whether or not he has repented isn’t the point anyway. The point is, a racist rant and public endorsement of a fascist politician in front of a crowd of concertgoers should be a career-ending moment.

Or, in simpler terms: endorsements of fascism, racist language, other forms of bigoted hate speech, and the rape and beating of women should all be career-ending crimes.  No matter what that career is. No amount of talent, no amount of competence, no amount of fame or political importance should ever protect people who behave the way Clapton did.  He doesn’t deserve public forgiveness or forgetfulness. He doesn’t deserve our money.

I know it’s a drop in the ocean, but please, don’t buy Clapton’s new Christmas album.  When it comes to justice, every little bit helps.

Categories
CultureMusic

Daughter of a high school English teacher and an English professor, Evangeline is a survivor of Academia and an aspiring elegant person. She lives in St. Louis with her family and a lot of books.
24 Comments on this post.

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  • BRYAN JOHN
    19 November 2018 at 3:16 pm

    Life must be hard being so angry that you put down others instead of trying to work on your own life. Don’t waste people’s time with your INSECURITIES.

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  • Peter
    19 November 2018 at 3:29 pm

    So how do propose to change the world?? Not let people change the way they think. Useless article in my mind

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  • KITTY
    19 November 2018 at 4:05 pm

    Soooo I’m going to go buy it,because people change. This is just some overly sensitive c*nt who needs to get a life.

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  • Sandy Peterson
    19 November 2018 at 4:08 pm

    You are so far off. You find a time in his life, which he acknowledges was a drug and booze mess and during which his mind was so addled, and presume that he was displaying a hidden racial bias. It took him a long time to clean up and he had many amends to make. But many of the great Blues Masters like B.B. King and Muddy Waters said that it was Eric’s association with them and his consistent acknowledgement of what they brought to the history of the blues that brought them to the forefront for uneducated whites to appreciate. He did albums with them. They guested at his concerts. He cared about them and they cared about him. And shame on you for not knowing this.

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  • Michael
    19 November 2018 at 4:19 pm

    Clearly you know nothing about Clapton in his years after this event. This article was a waste of time, uninformed and small minded.

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  • Jim
    19 November 2018 at 9:01 pm

    Ignorant, self loathing, and by all evidence under qualified to be writing to the masses. Enough. I do however thank you for writing this drivel on one account. It appears to get the right off their asses and vote.

    Leave a Reply
  • Will
    19 November 2018 at 9:24 pm
  • Wyatt
    19 November 2018 at 10:38 pm

    Hmmm , well considering that Clapton was a good friend of B.B.King as well as Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters whom he considered his spiritual father . I guess I will chalk this up to someone’s sour grapes . So I will go buy the album soon as it hits the shops .
    Wonder why have to be so petty as to hate for something that may have happened 40 years ago .

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  • Cg
    19 November 2018 at 11:18 pm

    This is the kind of trite society has to deal with now. Eric Clapton has apologized for this, it was clearly drunken stupidity and it was over forty years ago. Since then the man has transformed many times and taken responsibility for his actions. Stop stiring the pot with crap that happened in the past. That whole era is filled with celebrities who did horrible things. Consciousness is evolving: the past is now not looking as pretty as it once did. But to go and dig up stuff which has long been dealt with…..get on with it. You are contributing to this whole finger waving conciuosness of self rightuous hollier than thou attitude whuch is nothing more than intelectual time wasting. Presentism is by far the most useless spread of millennial crap so far and your article here is drenched in it.

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  • Z
    20 November 2018 at 5:27 am

    Exactly…. Sboukd we all be held accountable for things we said 30–40 yr ago?…. Ppl change yes.

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  • Dave
    20 November 2018 at 6:29 am

    Typical nonsense. BTW how does the author feel when black people in South Africa by their words and actions say their nation is a black nation?

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  • Amanda S Eisenmenger
    20 November 2018 at 7:06 am

    Ok, look here girly, Eric Clapton might be a rock GOD!!! AND THE BEST DAMN GUITAR PLAYER ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH RIGHT NOW. But he’s a human rock god and at one point in his life made bad decisions and followed the wrong crowd, I guess your liberal ass never made mistakes, huh. Well he has paid for his mistakes at least I think he did when his baby boy DIED!!! AND QUIT SAYING BLACKS INVENTED ROCK AND ROLL AND JAZZ MUSIC CAUSE THAT’S BULLSHIT If ANYONE STEALS ANYTHING IT’S THEM. SHUT YOUR STUPID MOUTH AND GO TEACH ENGLISH LITERATURE TO SOME FUTURE WRITERS.

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  • Casey Wallace
    20 November 2018 at 7:30 am

    This is truly a horrendous article. It also shows the type of non forgiving, hatred causing consciousness that is becoming more and more present in a way that is dangerous. Clapton admits to this incident as one of the most embarrassing, darkest and messed up periods in his life. Clearly this awful author has never had a bad moment or am embarrassing and shameful moment in her life. Clapton has also undergone a huge transformation through his life and admits to his former mistakes. Fuck you lady. Pray you never make a mistake and that way we don’t have to forgive you and never have to read another one of your hate filled and past mongering article’s. Shame on you.

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  • David
    20 November 2018 at 8:12 am

    Piss off!! I am a white man and proud of it . Eric is a Good soul how dare you judge him .not your job! Plenty of other white men to listen to most usually makn music with people of color n women too all on the same stage .no what the question Love is the answer….Love Always David

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  • Douglas Shafer
    20 November 2018 at 8:56 am

    Horrible uneducated reporting. You should be ashamed of yourself Ms. Van Houten

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  • Damien
    20 November 2018 at 9:10 am

    I would take into consideration how much positive exposure EC has given black community and culture. Given a history of everything tjat everyone said ever, I think EVERYONE is responsible for prejudging and discriminatin at some point-it usually comes in a time in ones life before they have had experiences with people of other colour/interests/heritage/ethnicity. It’s natural for people to be Xenophobic as an evolutionary way to be cautious of danger, uncertainty situation and experience not yet understood. Mistakes we all.have made until we’ve met one another. Maybe this X-mas, instead of spreading the negativity, slandering a musician who has honoured and continies to honour African American culture, maybe we should try compassion, understanding and forgivingess. The world isnt missing critics, its missing love. Try it out. It feels good!

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  • Frank
    20 November 2018 at 9:15 am

    Sounds like you’re a bit angry. Your anger is as justified as Clapton’s rant.

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  • John Townsend
    20 November 2018 at 10:00 am

    This article Is crap in that it would lead one to believe that Eric Clapton is a racist. Yeah, right. A man who has supported, promoted an shared the stage with every significant African-American Blues Artist of the last 3 generations. Never mind his good friend and bass player, Nathan East is a person of color and has worked alongside Eric for the last 30+ years.

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  • Rickki Bobby
    20 November 2018 at 10:51 am

    So the writer is a “survivor of academia” …WTH does that even mean?! Anyhoo, these purity & ethnic sterility tests which recklessly & intentionally use half-truths and cherry-picked incedents are getting more absurd & ridiculous every day… aayaya!!

    Leave a Reply
  • Honeyman
    20 November 2018 at 12:11 pm

    You’re nuts!
    He maxe a alchol fuled mistake and he needs to pay for it forever. He’s done more for black music and musicians than any other white performer.

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  • Ron
    20 November 2018 at 3:23 pm

    I didn’t know Clapton has a Christmas album! Thanks for advertising it so I can go ahead and order it now.

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  • Darren Thompson
    20 November 2018 at 6:09 pm
  • Kimberly
    20 November 2018 at 8:44 pm

    Don’t you love it when losers like this have to cut down others from forever ago, to sound smart and decent? Truth is, so insecure. Yes dear author, you are the insecure one. Should we forgive you for writing this hate trash?

    Leave a Reply
  • Julian MORTON
    21 November 2018 at 3:02 pm

    What a ridiculous article,I very much doubt she was personal friends with B.B.King, Freddie King,Muddy Waters etc;I’m getting very sick of silly little people writing rubbish like this, Eric was in the throws of raging alcoholism at the time, haven’t we all said things we regret,he should be whipped for this for the rest of his rather remarkable life, Julian D.Morton

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