There’s a common belief that white people’s music (i.e. classical music) is boring because the beat is always on the 1 and the 3, while black people’s music is exciting because the beat is always on the 2 and the 4. I grew up hearing this belief recited in music classes in elementary and high school, and again in black studies classes in college. But it’s a total lie.
Classical music is so expansive and diverse, you can not only find emphasis on all parts of a 4/4 measure, but plenty of works that don’t conform to 4/4 at all, even going back to the Baroque period. So far as I can tell this music has always had an experimental side, with gifted composers pushing boundaries and imagining new rhythms. We need look no further than the most famous composer of all time, Beethoven, for ample demonstrations of this.
Black people’s music is also expansive, and once you look outside 20th century popular music it’s easy to find examples where the beat is on the 1 and the 3. For example, the Senegalese Rhos rhythm (in sabar drumming) isn’t in 4/4 at all, and features passages where the emphasis is continually on the 1, and other passages where the emphasis is all over the place, for instance on the double-dotted quarter (!). The balax that follows the rhythm (a balax is a repeated rhythm of 1 or 2 measures over which dancers and other drummers may perform solos) is in 4/4, with emphasis on…you guessed it, the 1 and the 3.
What about other brown people? East-, South-, and Southeast-Asian styles of music are even more varied than classical or African music, with time signatures and emphasized beats that boggle the Western ear, but also with many songs or long passages that conform to 4/4, with emphasis on the 1st and 3rd beats. American Indian music is well-known for its 4/4 time signatures with emphasis on the 1 and 3. Middle-Eastern music often breaks down the same way.
What about other styles of white music? Italian and Greek, Klezmer and country, heavy metal and folk–all feature plentiful examples of counts that emphasize the 2 and the 4. Somebody should alert the black studies professors and elementary school music teachers so they can stop cryptically spreading what are essentially white-inferiorist messages to young people who don’t know any better.
The universal human knack for creating music is amazing in its intricacy and variation. This doesn’t stop being true for one group of people just because they have white skin.