Should Online Music Retailers Carry Racist Hate Music?



After writing a story a few weeks ago about racist music finding a home in digital download services, SPIN's David Marchese blogged yesterday about whether retailers should carry racist hate music, particularly as we enter a new era with the nation's first black president.

Marchese's story talks about the ready availability of hate music through digital download platforms. Music that was only accessible through mail order 10 years ago is now as easy to get your hands on as the latest Britney single on iTunes. As Marchese wrote, "racist Obama haters aren't a media invention. They're real, they're angry, and they play shitty hardcore."

Marchese said that the opinion of retailers who carry albums by bands like Brutal Attack, Skrewdriver or Final War is that they're not the moral gauge for their customers. They say a song like Final War's "Land of the White" could be considered on par with Ice T's "Cop Killer". Of course, they would be fully within their rights not to stock these albums, as everyone's favorite moral compass Wal-Mart has chosen to do several times in the past, but they continue to do so anyway.

The bands say it would be "un-American" to censor their music, but it certainly wouldn't be censorship on the part of the retailers. In fact, in terms of censorship these bands have it easy.

Less surprising was how easy it is for these guys to sell their music. Basically, for a band like Grinded Nig to be prevented from selling an album called Freezer Full of Nigger Heads, its songs would have to feature explicit and specific exhortations to cause harm. So a lyric like this from Final War's "Defenders of the Reich" -- "Skinheads / Standing proud and true / Skinheads / We fight the Jew" -- would be legal; "Let's kill a Jew at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday night at Ray's Bar" would not.

CD Baby President Brian Felsen explained his company's choice to offer a marketplace for these types of music like this.

...It helps to think of the music industry as an economy of ideas as well one of goods and services. The thinking goes that in an economy of ideas, the best ones win out.

If that's true, and I think it is (see: Obama), hateful music will lose. And it won't be because of Jews, communists, or censorship. It will be because their ideas, and their music, are no good.

So should all ideas and speech be protected, even if they ultimately could incite violence or hate crimes? Spin's article says nothing of other hate-filled music, nor does it attempt to go into the very treacherous waters of trying to dismantle hip-hop's antagonizing of the white man, or reggae's often homophobic stance, but it is an argument that raises an interesting point. After all, who would've thought we could almost find a reason to side with the horribly disillusioned marketing techniques of Wal-Mart? We've also found that catering to a wide scope of music tastes -- ie: MySpace, which it could be argued hosts everything (including the bands mentioned above), although only sells major artists at this point -- tends to be a catalyst for better music appreciation on a larger scale (note this year's Grammy nominations). We're not sure what side to take; should retailers censor what they carry, or is that too close to censorship as a whole and bound to take us down a slippery slope?

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Should Online Music Retailers Carry Racist Hate Music?