In Hari Kunzru's novel White Tears, two young white men, Carter and Seth, create music reusing old jazz and blues songs. Carter has a lot of recordings that he created by walking through the city wearing a set a headphones into which he had built a powerful microphone. Seth has a big collection of old jazz and blues records, many of which are rare.

One day, Seth and Carter combine a street recording of someone singing a song with a street recording of some guitar playing that seems to fit the song very well. They post the resulting recording on several websites, pretending it was made by a certain Charlie Shaw, a name they made up. One of the persons who respond to the song is a record collector using the pseudonym JumpJim, who thinks that the music is a 1928 recording by Charlie Shaw that he thought had been lost. In other words, the name that Seth thought was fictitious is the name of a real blues singer who supposedly recorded that song. What follows is a nightmarish descent into America's racist and segregationist past.

But the question is, what is the meaning of the record collector's pseudonym, JumpJim?

1 Answer 1


After Carter has posted the song online with the title "Graveyard Blues" and sees the first reactions from blues collectors, he tells Seth, "We own that shit!". This is the clearest formulation of the theme of cultural appropriation in the novel.

Later, Seth gets in touch with JumpJim, who tells him how he and an older record collector named Chester Bly drove to the south a few decades earlier in order to unearth rare records by black blues artists. These sections of the novel are set in the Jim Crow era, when laws enforced racial segregation in the USA.

JumpJim's handle (we never learn his real name) is another example of appropriation, since it refers to the song Jump Jim Crow:

"Jump Jim Crow" or "Jim Crow" is a song and dance from 1828 that was done in blackface by white minstrel performer Thomas Dartmouth (T. D.) "Daddy" Rice. The song was supposedly inspired by the song and dance of the character Jim Crow, a physically disabled African slave (sometimes called Jim Cuff), who is variously claimed to have resided in St. Louis, Cincinnati, or Pittsburgh. (...) "Jump Jim Crow" was a key initial step in a tradition of popular music in the United States that was based on the "imitation" and mockery of black people.

Note that the song dates from 1828, exactly 100 years before Charlie Shaw in the novel supposedly recorded "Graveyard Blues".

  • 1
    Good find! That's got to be the right answer.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 17:23

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