Politics and Prose—the venerable Chevy Chase, DC, bookstore—was caught in a controversy in the blogosphere this week over a scholar and author's criticism it censored the playing of Go-Go music. The store denies the allegation.
Shortly before Natalie Hopkinson—go-go scholar and founding editor of The Root—gave a reading from her new book Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City on Monday night, the store played a Go-Go mix tape that Hopkinson had brought with her.
But, only about 30 seconds into the first song, "a white woman went to the cashier to complain," Hopkinson wrote on her blog.
"The song in question wasn’t even a Go-Go song. It was Parliament’s 1970s funk classic Chocolate City—a song that took on a moniker that was being used by Washingtonians celebrating the city’s first elected mayor, a black man named Walter Washington," she continued. Chocolate City's opening lyrics are: "What’s happening, C.C.? They still call it the White House, but that’s a temporary condition…"
The woman, Hopkinson added, complained to store employees that the music was "racist," and store staff turned the music off.
"I am so very sad to report that the store actually complied," she added.
Hopkinson said that when a store employee "tried to move to the next selection, one of my personal favorites by the late Godfather of Go-Go, Chuck Brown, Run Joe, he was told to shut that down, too."
"A bookstore is a place of ideas. If I expect to greet open minds anywhere, that’s it. It is not the place where I expect a random, apparently uninformed person to be handed a gavel to judge what constitutes appropriate racial discourse," Hopkinson wrote on her blog.
But, Politics and Prose owners Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine wrote in a statement that the incident has been "widely distorted in the blogosphere."
Several local blogs today have suggested that Politics & Prose banned go-go music at the event. That is untrue. The incident that has generated controversy involved music being turned off for a few minutes immediately before the event while we conferred with a customer who had complained. Ms. Hopkinson did play a song from her playlist during her talk, and the full playlist, which we had welcomed her to bring, was turned back on as soon as the event ended, and continued through the rest of the evening.
Graham told Washington City Paper that the store employee who turned off Chocolate City did so only while he waited for Graham to come over. "Graham says he then put the CD back on," City Paper added.
Muscatine and Graham's online statement continued:
Politics & Prose does not censor or ban music or books, nor does the store allow one person’s point of view to silence a group discussion. This would contradict everything P&P has stood for throughout its 28 years.