Here's a little story.
Like loads of people I have iTunes on my computer. Last time I switched it on - I'm not that big a user – a little box popped up offering me something called iTunes Genius. Basically it's a little app which looks at your music, looks at which other tracks have been downloaded from the ITunes store by people who also have the same tracks as you, and then makes suggestions for playlists on that basis.
It's like an automatic version of those compilation tapes you used to make as a teenager. If I click on any song in my iTunes collection it selects another 24 songs from my collection to put together with the one I clicked on. So far, so nerdish. The key thing to remember is that its criteria for knocking these playlists together is the overlapping tastes of millions of other people, I presume disproportionately American.
So, feeling in a particularly 'young people today don't know they're born' type of mood, I decided to make a Genius playlist of old pop songs to try and wean my 12 year old off of only listening to bloody Green Day. But which song to start with?
First I tried Otis Redding's classic version of (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction. The result was a playlist including 24 other songs, all by black artists. Then I tried it with the Stones version of the same song, which resulted in 24 other songs all by white artists. If this represents the collective music associations of millions I can't help thinking Obama may be elected but he's still got his work cut out. It seems such a striking indication of a cultural apartheid.
Now, it might be that only sad old people like me download this sort of sixties stuff from iTunes and our generation is stuck in a racial time-warp. If a similar experiment had been carried out with a more modern song recorded by both black and white artists the result might have been very different.
Or so I hope.