Black Music, White Identity
After studying medicine in Washington, D.C., for five years, the radiologist and novelist Rudolf Fisher returned to his home in Harlem. Going to his favorite cabaret, he had the odd experience of being one of the few African Americans in a crowd of whites where formerly he had rarely seen any whites at all. Subsequently, he went to the Nest, Small's, Connie's Inn, the Capitol, Happy's, and the Cotton Club, where he also found few, if any, African Americans in attendance. As he explained in his amusing 1927 article The Caucasian Storms Harlem, Fisher had discovered that, in the years he had been living in Washington, whites had taken over Harlem nightlife.1
The white cultivation of the black mystique began more than a century before The Caucasian Storms Harlem. At first, blackface entertainers took on the job of satisfying white people's cravings for the unruly spirit of African-American music. From the middle of the nineteenth century, the blackface entertainers were gradually replaced by African Americans and by white musicians with a sincere interest in and respect for African-American music.
Central to the cultivation of the black mystique is the notion that African Americans are different from whites. Under this assumption, whites