Published On: Tue, May 29th, 2018

NYU’s Ethan Hein claims music education is riddled with ‘racism’ and teaching the classics is ‘teaching whiteness’

An adjunct professor of music at New York University and Montclair State claims that music educators focusing on classics over the “valued” hip hop are “teaching whiteness.”

Ethan Hein,  a doctoral fellow in music education at NYU, argues the decline in school music involvement involves the stubbornness of music teachers to continue teaching “European-descended” classical music over that of “music descending from the vernacular traditions of the African diaspora.”

The post on his blog drew attention from critics which began:

“Music education is in a ”crisis of irrelevancy” (Reimer 2009, 398). Enrollment in school music has declined precipitously for the past few decades. Budget cuts alone can not explain this decline…

“School music teaches the competencies of European-descended classical music: performing acoustic instruments in ensembles, reading notation, and following a conductor. Youth culture, meanwhile, values recorded music descending from the vernacular traditions of the African diaspora, substantially produced using computers.”

After praising Kendrick Lamar and listing off his reasons, Hein states that “The Eurocentrism of school music sends a clear message about whose cultural expression we value. While the white mainstream loves hip-hop, America showers the people who created it with contempt (Perry 2004, 27), and sometimes violence. By affording Afrodiasporic musics the respect they deserve, we will teach students to similarly value the creators of those musics. ”


Where is the adjective “gang” in front of that? Where are the examples of rappers and hip hop artists being taken out by the system because of their music?

It’s the racist system according to Hein who ramps up his whitesplaining:

“While few music teachers harbor racist ideology, the institutions they are part of continue to advance the interests of white supremacy. Our music education culture will not be able to advance social justice goals until we confront the atavistic racism concealed in the traditions of the field….

“Music educators teach what they learned, and what they learned is likely to be the musical expression of old-world whiteness.”

“Eurocentric music education is the product of racism without racists (Bonilla-Silva 2013). Rather than scrutinizing individual attitudes, then, we need to interrogate the culture of power (Delpit 1988) in the music classroom. That power remains almost entirely in the hands of the Western “art” music tradition.”


While overt racism is no longer socially acceptable, the institutional structures and vocabulary terms created during a racist era survive intact into the present […] White music educators of the present day do not need to be racist in order to benefit from the centering of their culture in the curriculum. “Whiteness maintains power and privilege by perpetuating and legitimating the status quo while simultaneously maintaining a veneer of neutrality, equality, and compassion” (Castagno 2014, 5). To preserve white privilege, it is not necessary to be hateful; passivity and conflict aversion are sufficient. …

We can not advance democracy in the music classroom if we systematically marginalize Afrological musics. It is not simply a matter of boring or alienating students of color, but of attacking their sense of belonging to the school community at all. “It is counterproductive to our notion of critical literacy and multiculturalism to have students believe that any aspect of their language or culture is inferior and unintelligent” (McCrary 2005, 89-90). The seemingly neutral act of teaching music the way it was taught in the past therefore enacts symbolic violence against students of color. “Music teachers, simply in attempting to teach the district curriculum and affirm the truth of ‘good music,’ challenge the legitimacy of their students’ deeply felt musical experiences and therefore—whether they intend to or not—begin from the position of a threat” (Cavicchi 2009, 100) […] In the face of a school culture that does not value their musicality, it is only too understandable that so many young people come to believe that they are simply unmusical.


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- Roxanne "Butter" Bracco began with the Dispatch as Pittsburgh Correspondent, but will be providing reports and insights from Washington DC, Maryland and the surrounding region. Contact Roxie aka "Butter" at [email protected] ATTN: Roxie or Butter Bracco

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  1. […] wing blogosphere, appearing on The Patriot Post on May 23, Accuracy in Academia on May 24, and The Global Dispatch on May […]

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