Wednesday, 16 November 2022

Paranoia in music life

 Dr Philip Ewell, an academic teaching at City University in New York, has been on the war path for several years, trying to show that the classical music world and especially it's educational system, is saturated with 'white suprematism': i.e. the art form and thus, its practitioners and educators, have internalized the idea that Western classical music as performed all over the world is inherently white suprematist, because the art form was born from white men in Europe in times when European societies were racist. 

Those in power have no inclination to listen: “to have a tenured professor go home, brush their teeth at night, and have them admit to themself they’ve believed in white supremacy and patriarchy” is no small feat, Ewell said. 

If performers and educators never think about race when doing their job, or when even black people (like Ewell's father) express their enthusiasm about Mozart and Beethoven and think they belong to the best composers ever, that means that they have internalized white supremacy and are no longer aware of it. And thus, they are perpetuating a systemic social injustice of exclusion and suppression.

This way of thinking reminds one of the simplistic tricks of bad psychotherapists:

"Secretly, you want to kill your father and marry your mother."

"But, no! nothing of the kind! I've an excellent relationship with my dad and the idea of incest just makes me puke."

"Yes, but that's because you suppress these feelings and thus, they remain unconscious."

By the way, according to Dr Ewell, Mozart and Beethoven were merely 'decent', and not bad. This will be a great relief to performers with a suppressed dislike of these composers - the music has been put on a pedestal of racist suppression, serving as a symbol of the superiority of the white race and offering a perfect reason to look down upon blacks. What to be done about this? Probably: cancellation and replacement by black music, whatever that may be, to compensate for ages of musical racism.

Mozart and Beethoven would have been quite startled if they had been confronted by such claims about their work.

Does Dr Ewell's crusade mean that he is merely chasing a chimaera, and that there is no racism in the classical music world, and in the educational system? Since humans are the same everywhere, it will surely be the case that there are people who let themselves be led, with some decisions, by abject prejudices. And one of the possible prejudices is one of the most abject ones: racism. But that is something very different from claiming that the art form is inspiring 'white suprematicm'. To relate classical music, and its professional world including its educational trajectories, systemiccally to 'white suprematism', is nonsensical, in the way Dr Ewell approaches it. And you only need a gullible, uniformed audience to get the absurd spectacle of the creation of a fake reality believed by otherwise rather sane people. It is a form of paranoia.

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