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Music education ‘remains inherently racist,’ scholars say

‘Anti-racist war machines’ needed 

Music education programs in the United States “serve a White-normative, Eurocentric model,” and the admissions process for those programs “remains inherently racist,” according to a recent academic paper.

The paper, titled “Disrupting Racism in Music Education: Conceptualizing Admissions Processes Through the State and the War Machine,” was authored by Erika Knapp and Whitney Mayo, who identify as “White scholars doing anti-racist work.” They wrote their paper using an “anti-racist lens drawn from Critical Race Theory.”

Knapp (pictured, left) is a music education professor at the University of North Texas and Mayo (pictured, right) teaches music at the University of North Dakota.

The College Fix contacted Knapp and Mayo to inquire about the intersection between critical race theory and music education, solutions to fix the admissions process, and if there were any plans to get their ideas implemented.

They declined to comment on the record and say they are “choosing to let our paper speak for itself and will not speak to future initiatives that may or may not be in the works.”

The professors published their paper through the Mayday Group’s Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education journal. The Mayday Group seeks to “apply critical theory and critical thinking to the purposes and practices of music education,” according to its website.

A key problem is the admissions process, including auditions.

The authors wrote “many of these programs promote themselves on the pretense of change while upholding racist structures in regimented and unethical ways, such as utilizing Black and Brown bodies on websites as tokenized markers of how diverse their programs are.”

The programs do this “while maintaining a majority-White student body, or by posting a ‘Black Lives Matter’ statement on the website banner without coupling it with resources to support those students in gaining acceptance.”

“Whiteness is prioritized in cultural and social capital on applications; whiteness is listened for in auditions; whiteness is desired when prioritizing written notation over aural learning; whiteness is cultivated and nurtured in advising and retention processes,” they wrote.

The paper’s argument is organized based on a conception of the “State,” the “War Machine,” and the “Soldier-Body.” It comes from a 1980 book by postmodernist writers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. The goal of the State is to exert power, the goal of the War Machine is to challenge the power of the State, and a soldier-body is an individual used by the State to maintain its hold on power.

Within this framework, music education programs are the State, faculty members could serve as “the State’s military minions” or as part of the War Machine, and prospective students are soldier-bodies, according to the professors. The State is not necessarily a government entity, just anything with power.

“The State views the student/soldier-bodies as mere tools in their continued quest for superiority and status against other music programs around the country,” the professors wrote. “Prospective students are simply potential soldiers towards this end, and the State appropriates current students for its goals, leaving out those who do not serve its interests.”

Knapp and Mayo argue that the State “imposes administrative and financial power by controlling the hiring of faculty members who might musick in non-Western ways or on non-traditional Western instruments.”

MORE: Music professor calls black dad racist for liking Bach

“Budgeting and strategic planning do not allocate funds to hire individuals qualified to provide these offerings,” the authors wrote, because this would require “diverting funds away from State-established priorities of Western Eurocentric norms.”

“Because the State’s primary goal is to maintain dominance, which includes Western classical music and, ultimately, White supremacy, the invitation or potential acceptance of other races and cultures is a direct attack on the ideologies of the State,” they wrote.

The authors argue that the admissions process serves as a “facialization of the ideal soldier-body,” where the State’s goal is to “create a homogenous, ideal face to expand its reach.”

Scholars who build “anti-racist war machines might work to demystify and dismantle this gatekeeping process for potential music education students.”

“Barriers” during the application process include requests for test scores, transcripts, and applications fees. There is also a bias against a “less traditional instrument” or “vocal style.”

“Students who might want to enter a music program via a less traditional instrument/vocal style or one that is outside the classical canon may not be deemed legitimate enough by State standards,” they wrote.

Knapp and Mayo believe that faculty members of music education programs need to act as a war machine by “engaging in anti-racism” and “understanding that disruption needs to occur on both the individual and systemic level.”

“Faculty war machines must also work toward the removal of audition requirements centered solely on Western, Eurocentric forms of musical knowledge,” the professors wrote in their paper.

“The audition serves as an institutional structure designed to filter potential candidates, assessing their fitness toward the School of Music’s predetermined goals and outcomes,” they wrote.

“Disrupting norms” is a necessity to end white supremacy in music education, the professors said.

“By bringing individuals to the forefront and privileging their stories and conceptions of themselves, as well as disrupting norms that would challenge such persons’ legitimacy, war machines create the possibility of being anti-racist war machines that disrupt White norms in music education.”

MORE: College music department pledges to remove ‘systemic racism’ from curriculum

IMAGES: University of North Texas; University of North Dakota

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Benjamin Rothove is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has 50,000 subscribers on YouTube, serves as the Chairman of UW-Madison Students for DeSantis, and is the National Vice-Chair of Young Leaders for Keep Nine.