Tom Morello Says He Had To Distance Himself From Jimi Hendrix To Fight Racism

Talented guitarist Tom Morello recently gave an interview to NME in which he talked about racism in the music industry. Moreover, he claimed that he had to draw a line between himself and Jimi Hendrix to fight racist stereotypes.

Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello was born to an American mother and a Kenyan father. Therefore, the musician is half American and half Kenyan. Back when he was young, he was the only black person at his school in Illinois. So, it is no surprise that Morello battled racism in almost every aspect of his life.

When Morello was younger, his classmates would ask him questions about his skin, such as why his palms are a different color. Moreover, they would touch his hair, call him names, and wonder if he is equally intellectual.

According to Morello, although he ‘miraculously changed color’ years later, he still identifies himself as black. In the NME interview, the musician said that some people even get offended when they hear him talk about being black. He then added although blacks invented rock music, some people still think it’s odd for a black person to play rock.

Moreover, Morello said that people assumed every black rock musician should be like Jimi Hendrix because he proved how a black guitar player should be. He then recalled some people from his audience would yell at him to play like Hendrix, but he had to distance himself from that to be the guitarist he is now.

Tom Morello told NME that:

“There’s a large subset of the audience that is shocked and upset when they hear me talk about self-identifying as black. They’re one step short of offended but I’m Kenyan, dude. I’m straight-up, Africa black. It’s not always a malicious prejudice but there is that ingrained prejudice in the DNA of rock, despite the fact it was invented by black people.

I don’t know if things have got better over the last couple of years but there definitely used to be a firewall. I used to publicly disavow Jimi Hendrix because every single gig I played as a young man, someone in the audience would yell, ‘Play Foxy Lady!’ or ‘Play with your teeth.’ That was the assumption because there was only one signpost for what a black guitar player could be. I had to distance myself from that in order to be the guitarist I wanted to be. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case.”

Although Jimi Hendrix is a key figure amongst black rock musicians, a black musician doesn’t need to follow the late musician’s steps to be successful. Tom Morello also proved this by showing the world his own unique talent and achieving commercial success with his band.