Social Stratification in the Nations Capitol

“African-American culture in D.C.  was and remains highly segregated. Class and social hierarchies are etched on the whole zone, the city rid and the monuments themselves. Seeing African-American kids drumming on plastic buckets in front of the Whit eHouse defines the District for me. D.C. was a mix culture as dynamic palimpsest- the electromagnetic canvas of a generation raised on an in electricity. That multiplicity really prepared me for the present moment, when even basic software modules for America On-Line come with seven or eight prefabricated personae to use at will to construct on-line identity.”

This particular passage spoke to me on several levels. It may not be the deepest paragraph, or even relate strongly to the archive. It struck me on an emotional level because I spent the summer living in Washington D.C. and while I loved the experience, but noticed how segregated the city really was. I lived right on the border of the N.E. and N.W. in the city in the Georgetown Law Building (pictured below). The campus was small and beautiful, but it was located in a relatively run down neighborhood. Right next door was shelter and with a disproportionate amount of African-America homeless. This poverty was a stark contrast to the Capitol Hill neighborhood, which is primarily white with  very high income residents.

Despite the racial segregation, external and cross-cultural influences were apparent in the music and culture of the District. Miller talks about how “an African-American kid drumming in front of the White house defined the District.” This sentence reflects many aspects of D.C. beyond just the racial contrast. The White House symbolizes power, institution, and constraints, whereas the kid playing the plastic buckets shows a citizen using improvisation, using whatever he can to get the sounds he wants. Improvisation was present in many different musical and culture experiences in D.C., whether it was musicians on U Street, or freestyles unleashed at slams at Bus Boys and Poets.  Everything was very in the moment, letting inspiration flow. Miller embraces this same style, and says D.C. helped prepare him for “the present moment.”  All of the improvisation I experienced in the District had some structure, and was clearly influenced by other forms of music, poetry or culture. This, on the most basic level relates to citizens utilizing different cultural archives to create something new.

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