One of the most difficult challenges as a Black creative is being heard through the mainstream media. From the editors who bend our tones to read as passive, to the publishers who fail to grasp the relevance of our stories, our voices are not heard as we intend them nor when we intend them to be heard. It is a challenge that all Black creatives face.
In a largely homogenous city such as Portland, a city known for white music bands and white music fans, the voices of Black creatives—musicians and journalists in particular—are easily drowned out, or modified to fit neatly within the Portland narrative.
With this issue of Vortex Music Magazine, I want to allow our voices to be heard. I want to amplify Black voices without sacrificing the clarity of our voices. I want our voices to speak from our frame of reference, regardless of who is consuming our work.
So often Black artists are required to actively choose who we’re speaking to. Code-switching doesn’t only occur in the office; certainly, a level of colonization is expected of any artist looking to “go mainstream” or “crossover.” The alternative, typically, is to lean into our Blackness in self-exploitation, cheapening our own existence to highlight basic stereotypical differences that define neither our existence nor our progression as a people.
In itself, this ongoing challenge of trying to push an indigenous perspective through the narrow and crooked lens of the homogenous media can be endlessly frustrating. Constantly reframing our thoughts to be easily comprehended by those with competing world perspectives is a chore. Trying to get a point across while audiences focus on your style and cultural mannerisms is insulting. And quite frankly, I’m tired of it.
From creating music we think the mainstream wants to hear, to promoting music the mainstream thinks they want to hear, we often see these machines of music and press pumping out disposable works. But what makes a classic, births new genres, and stands the test of time are the works of those who boldly project their own paradigms, making them widely accessible to others on the artists’ terms.
So for this edition of Vortex, if I am to lead this charge, I want to do something different. I want to unburden Black authors and photographers to cover Black musicians and artists by removing the onion-like layers of white male-centric perspective that so often prevent us from communicating effectively with those who relate to us. I want to publish Black stories told by Black artists accompanied by Black photography that get reviewed by Black editors and then allow Black people to take the profits. I want to dabble in the aesthetics of Afrofuturism and tell our stories of Portland music in the way we see them.
This may seem unfamiliar to some. Some might even feel uncomfortable. You may be asking why I got rid of all the white people, and the fact is—really the point is—I don’t have to explain.
Welcome to our world.
Mac Smiff Guest Editor
Mac Smiff is a longtime journalist focused on Northwest music and hip-hop culture for outlets such as The Oregonian, Portland Mercury, Vortex Music Magazine and his own vehicle, We Out Here Magazine. A professional problem solver, his hobbies include gardening, activism and raising children who understand basketball analogies.