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All that Is Solid Melts into Sound: Music, Interculturality and the (Trans)Formation of the Self in Desegregation Era Los Angeles

  • Author(s): Willett, Darren James
  • Advisor(s): Porter, Eric
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation takes a social psychological approach to critical race and cultural studies as it makes use of in-depth interviews and archival data to draw relationships between the personal accounts of musicians who were inducted into the Los Angeles Unified School District’s desegregation effort and the broader sociohistorical context of desegregation within which these accounts were experienced. Specifically, this project explores how youths who attended desegregated schools in the 1980s and 1990s used music to navigate new forms of intercultural social interactions. At times, this meant employing racialized genres to reaffirm intra-communal solidarity and/or subvert the coupling of such genres with racialized bodies, while at others, youths engaged a cross-cultural politics to explore new identities, thus expanding upon existing notions of self, community and cultural belonging. In this sense, music became a site wherein categories of sameness and difference were both erected and obscured. A primary focus of this dissertation is to explore how new forms of social interactions made possible during this era prompted unique (trans)formations of the self among youths who attended desegregated schools, and how these youths took these (trans)formations, and their music, from the schoolyard to the stage as they cultivated intercultural musical scenes that coevolved with the ideological, political and economic currents of the time. In so doing, these musical scenes engaged a cross-cultural politics that began to unsettle the institutions and ideologies of racial segregation and white supremacy, and helped to actively construct the new possibilities, and communities, that emerged during desegregation era Los Angeles. An overarching concern of the dissertation, however, is how this transformative potential has since been repackaged by politicians, policy makers, and both public and private institutions within the city to manufacture the façade of a post-racial American metropolis in a city that continues to be fraught with segregation and racial inequality. As such, contemporary Los Angeles harbors a contradictory and perplexed engagement with multiculturalism that has left racial politics within the city teetering between hope and despair.

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