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What I Think of When a White Woman Is Chased By a Black(ened) Man and Falls From Great Height

November 19, 2011

I only recently got into Florence + The Machine. Despite having friends who beat me over the head with songs like “The Dog Days Are Over,” I just couldn’t bring myself to sit down and truly listen. Until a few weeks ago, that is, when Florence + The Machine (the recording name of singer Florence Welch and a collective of artists who provide music and vocals) released their second album: Ceremonials. The second track, “Shake It Out,” punched me in the gut and that was that; I was completely sold.

Yesterday was a big Florence day for me. I managed to get a ticket to the concert in Paradiso (Amsterdam) next year and the video for “No Lights, No Lights” (another one of my favorite tracks) was revealed. Though the former event gave (and gives) me much joy, the latter was not just a disappointment, but a smack in the face. The video shows Florence being harassed and chased, both physically and through voodoo, by a (purportedly) Asian man whose body is covered in black/dark paint. She is finally saved when she falls from a tall building through the roof of a church into the arms of white choir boys.

I could get into the video’s misrepresentation of voodoo or its perpetuation of representing evil as black and good as white (despite some of the lyrics’ disagreement there: “I never knew daylight could be so violent”). There are many, many issues with the video. So many, in fact, that it can (and has) easily be classified as flat-out racist. But as I don’t have a lot of time to write lengthy analyses at the moment, I’d just like to point you to another clip which immediately popped into my head while I was watching this video. In this particular clip, there is also a man in black paint, a woman on the run from him, and a fall from great height. The clip is a scene from D.W. Griffith’s 1915 racist masterpiece about the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, Birth of a Nation.

Did this intertextuality happen on purpose? Was the video’s art director (subconsciously) inspired by the scene from Birth of a Nation? I don’t know the answer to these questions. But it seems to be abundantly clear that the video of “No Light, No Light” uncritically references and, thus, perpetuates insidious, racist cultural narratives, no matter what its original intentions may have been. And we should call it out for that reason alone. Do I still love the music? Sure. Am I still excited about the concert? Most definitely. But I think one’s love for something should never allow us to stop looking at it critically.

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