The National Association for Music Education (NAfME), formerly known as the Music Educators National Conference or MENC, has come to an interesting crossroad. As mentioned in Keryl McCord’s article titled Why We Must Have Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity in the Arts: A Response to the National Association for Music Education, she provided personal accounts of NAfME’s (former) CEO, Michael Butera’s, actions in a meeting she attended. To those of you who haven’t already read or become familiar with McCord’s article and its content, take a couple of minutes to do so. Now, assuming that you have read it, it’s at the very least interesting, right?
For the sake of not regurgitating McCord’s article word for word like almost everyone in every other social media outlet has done, I have chosen to temporarily move beyond the “shock and awe” surrounding Butera and cut to the chase. Yes, as depicted by McCord, Butera’s alleged comments and actions were at their best horrid, ridiculous, awful, racist, and down right inappropriate. However. I find it even more ridiculous that many individuals in our profession have knowingly endorsed and elevated Butera and others like him into positions of great influence without considering their core values and how they align with the mission and purpose of their organizations and constituents. Butera’s actions are just a slither of a greater whole of racism and unethical tactics that reside in the music education profession and other fields, many of which that are hidden from plain view. But as my grandmother used to say, “That rooster has come home to roost and now everyone is all of a sudden up in arms.” And while my white counterparts are shocked by this incident, racial minorities are like, “Same song, different key!” For most of us, “the shock and awe” of racial slurs and unethical actions toward minorities was stamped out early in our childhood. Underrepresented populations, particularly racial minorities have developed pretty thick skin over the years. Perhaps this might explain an absent response to Butera’s actions on the Minority Band Directors National Association (MBDNA) Facebook Page. Okay, that’s not entirely true–two people responded to the post and two shared it. This situation reminds me of “that one drunk or embarrassing family member” who was always intentionally left off of the invitation list for every family function. No one wants to lay claim. It’s like, “Oh, that’s your kin folk” or “That’s your side of the family.” The truth of the matter is that collectively through silence, complacency, ignorance, and yes, systematic racism (overt and covert), the profession has allowed this hot mess to fester. I have to be clear. I’m not excusing participation or endorsing silence on behalf racial minorities. I believe that these issues and this battle belongs to everyone. But, surely we can, in some way, understand their perspective.
Some people are asking, “Well, what are we going to do about this?” and “How are we going to respond?” Well, for starters, whatever you/we do, resist against using old approaches, particularly the one(s) that got us in this predicament. Now, some people have been responding to these issues for quite some time and as of now, many of my colleagues are seeking out ways to extend communication platforms beyond those of NAfME, not just its within its infrastructure, but to those individuals who have been excluded altogether. But in addition to realizing these platforms–which I’m sure will influence some change–I propose that we also consider our own backyards. For those who are situated in positions in higher learning, including faculty, staff, students, and administrators, I urge you to take heed of the recommendations that both researchers and practitioners have laid before you. At some point (now) we must start doing not just “something,” but doing what aligns with the environment in which we find ourselves. Every environment is different. Hopefully, we know this by now. So, what works in Memphis, Tennessee probably won’t work in Boulder City, Colorado or Eastabuchie, Mississippi–and the latter, yeah, that’s a real place. It seems to me that we are waiting on the “perfect” model or collection of information to magically fall into our laps. Just in case you didn’t know, there is no such thing, perfection or the universe dumping an insane amount of information into your lap without you first seeking out to find it. Here’s the thing, the answers are there. What if the folks in higher education actually climbed out of their cozy ivory towers to see what is happening in the REAL WORLD? What if higher education actually began to abolish the gap of disrespect and the “I’m better than you” attitude projected towards their colleagues in K-12? What if the music profession, for once, truly sought and made use of the information that has always been readily available on our campuses in other fields and in classrooms surrounding their towers? And what if we actually considered starting somewhere? I know someone is saying, “Well, how?” In response, I would say, “Just do it!” I’m not advertising for Nike here, I’m just saying that for all of the chatter, theorizing, philosophizing, and writing we do in higher education, I think that we have yet to fully commit to our efforts (recruitment, retention, diversity, inclusion, intersectionality, social justice, curricula integration). If we did those things, our musical spaces would be a bit more structurally sound, meaning that the oppressive stressors that now exist would be no more, meaning that underrepresented populations would not be forced to comb through our spaces for pieces that reflect self, their loyalties, beliefs, language, expression, and goals that align with their own.
Commit. If your initiative towards debunking racism and unethical activity in your space is through that of recruitment and retention, seek to achieve just that. Now, I warn you that in our field, we have a tendency to assume that pedigree and institutionalized capital is going to, in some way, make us better without considering that often whites tend to hold claim to such. We must challenge existing paradigms that have shaped our perception of what is valuable and worthy, then redefine or discard those pieces that hold us captive, locked in limbo. We must seriously seek out those individuals who will truly make us better, those individuals who will challenge our “ways of doing things,” and those individuals whose knowledge is interesting and reflective of a world that we often conveniently forget to calculate into our equation towards achieving equity, THE REAL WORLD. Understanding that the 21st classroom–which is evolving as I speak–no longer mirrors that of centuries past and that of the “music education” that we are attempting to uphold and share is simply an OTHER, no more no less.
Too, the profession must know and understand when they have and are being pimped out. Yes, you heard right. Getting pimped out is not an act that only happens on the streets of big cities and small towns, perpetrated by some sleazy guy or woman who is overly dressed in faux designer clothing and jewelry and smells of cheap perfume. It is a common strategy employed by those who look to gain as much as possible within a hidden agenda. Pimping is a game that has been perfected by some of the most powerful and widely respected individuals of our time.That’s exactly what NAfME has been doing for years and they wonder why their constituents are leaving the table and going elsewhere, it’s not just because some old white guy said some horrible things. It is because of that incident and others similar to it and their self interests. So, if it takes people getting up and walking away from the table with their ideas, work, and wallet in hand to be heard or acknowledged, then so be it. Am I calling for a complete shutdown of NAfME? No. What I am calling for is people to step up and say it plain. Call it out. At this point, there isn’t much room for passive aggressiveness or one-way policies. However, I warn all of my colleagues against forming organizations in response to NAfME’s blunders by reproducing similar environments and forms of exclusion. Segregated groups based on race, social, and professional involvement is not the answer. I urge the profession, individuals to hold everyone accountable, including self.
To my colleagues in both higher education and K-12, what lies in front of us it yet another opportunity to act, change, influence, and transcend. Don’t waste it on superficial efforts and/or ego.