Is This Business As Usual?

It has been just over a month since “the NAfME situation.” Droves of people from many spaces in the music profession responded intensely by posting their frustrations, opinions, and concerns on social media. Some went so far as to constructing letters, individually and collectively, urging national, state, and local organizations to rethink their approaches toward diversity and activism. Outside of those responses, I speculate that many individuals voiced their concerns by speaking with trusted colleagues and friends within disclosed spaces. People were upset and perplexed and not without cause. But, I believe that we have arrived to a familiar place—silence. While it’s been only a short time since the incident, I haven’t seen or heard much from individuals, institutions, or organizations about their future plans to act. Have we reached a cease fire? Even more so, I ask, is this business as usual? In addition to the silence, I have recognized characteristics that are common with social media engagements—self promotion.

Whether we are confronted with unethical and racist statements or we are energized by incredible conference or festival presentations (musical, research, etc.) decorated with attractive Prezi, Keynote, and PowerPoint nuances, our energy or motivation to act beyond those perimeters often diminish. It’s like, we get fired up to make an impact, to change our world, or to shake things up, just to revert back to. We backslide into silence or passive aggressiveness. In the words of Jay-Z, it’s “On to the next one.” We keep it moving. But, why? It seems to me that we wait for opportunities to get things off our chest, to be inspired by the words and works of others, or to express our frustrations only when the mood is right. I’ve witnessed countless speeches and presentations where those listening are beautifully motivated and enthused to go out and do, to change the world, their world. But, their energy quickly evaporates shortly after they return home, not just to their place of residence, but to their respective places in the world, in education and the profession. The notes and handouts collected are placed on a shelf next the notes and handouts acquired from previous years without ever being implemented or integrated. This process is repeated over and over again. Why does this happen? I mean, is our attention span that short or are we just faking the funk? For those of you who are sports enthusiasts, I see this situation as that of a football or basketball game. As long we are “winning,” we tend to stay on “the ship,” but when the climb or game gets rough or we began to experience setbacks, we “jump ship.” Or, for many of us, we take a quick hike to the concession stands. Are we really that hopeless? Or is this business as usual?

After combing through previous posts just on Facebook, I found there to be some really interesting posts with useful information regarding diversity, culture, race, and racism. Many posts were accompanied by data, some of which I retrieved for my own use. After all, social media, the internet, and other communication platforms were meant to enhance access to information and promote a sense of community and sharing. Social media can also be used as a self-promoting or -branding tool, just ask Wal-mart. But, I’m not sure whether or not all the responses towards the issues above were genuine. Were these posts meant to inform others, were they publicity stunts or small doses of narcissism? I don’t know. It’s amazing as to what a simple ‘like’ button can do! I mean, it’s true that we’re all human and at some point we, including myself, want or need to feel validated. But, to use important issues to promote self and massage one’s ego is wrong. What I am attempting to highlight is that it would be great if people could share some of the ways in which they arrived at social change and what steps they took to achieve such in their own spaces. Basically, do we even believe in what we are putting out? Are we actually incorporating our discoveries into who, what, and how we teach or share with others? Or is this business as usual?

I promise that these issues of diversity, race, racism, and marginalization will not go away or become weakened unless we put forth an honest effort. Do you ever wonder why we’re still talking about race and racism in the 21st century?  Well, we just didn’t put in the work required early on. So, in turn, we gave those issues as well those who benefit a passing nod. In so many words, we said, “Oh, racism?! Come on in (insert welcoming gesture). Make yourself at home!” As I have stated in a previous blog, the NAfME situation is mere child’s play compared to what lies beneath it or in front of it. Yes, the former CEO’s alleged comments were inappropriate and disgustingly offensive. But, are those comments really all that different from other articulations (audition and admission policies, one-way curriculum approaches, and recruitment and retention initiatives toward diversity that are at the very least shifty) that we express time and time again? Absolutely not. In many ways, the latter is far damaging. As history teaches us, discriminative practices don’t have to be overt to inflict inequities or inequality. They just have to be present and of course with a few co-signers. In order to take the best step toward influencing and changing our profession, I believe that we must look to our own backyards with a critical eye because that is where the most effective work can take place.

While I make it a point to welcome all voices into discussion and action, I must express without pause that we don’t need more individuals masquerading as theorists, philosophers, policy ambassadors, and glorified game changers. We need serious people who are committed to doing the work. No more silence and no more self-promotion. This can not be “business as usual.”





7 thoughts on “Is This Business As Usual?

  1. njohnstonmusic

    The challenge is often to make sense of the moment within our own worlds. Being inspired by an experience (conference, performance, etc) is something to appreciate on its own. But, as change agents in our profession, assuming a variety of leadership roles within our worlds (specifically music education in this context), I would argue that it is our responsibility to push through towards engagement with action. Because my primary role is as a classroom music educator, I am not absolved of the responsibility to reflect on these experiences in order to make sense of them within my own context. Taking that a step further, I would argue that it is also my responsibility to engage in my community (classroom, professional, etc) in a collective reflection on these same experiences. Only in this 2 part approach is there potential for real lasting change. Now, let me go reflect on this more…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. JoyceMcCall Post author

    I agree. I attempted to highlight these points in the blog. But, we must unstick ourselves and move beyond the moment of inspiration and ask ourselves certain questions like, “Now what?” I can get inspired all day, but if that inspiration and motivation goes untapped then its’ just a mere potential.

    Too, at some point, we can not rely on others and their work to inspire us. That is our responsibility. It is our responsibility to look around and pull our heads our silos/butts to access not just inspiration, but information. It all goes back to the individual, doing, and acting. Activism must be seen, not simply heard. As a profession we’re constantly preaching, suggesting, and prescribing activism without ever showing our students or others what it could look like. The information that we so proudly share and post not only has the potential to represent a “temporariness,” but a clear reflection of our absence and unawareness of the complexity of the issues that we face. Coupled with purposeful self-promotion and silence, In this post, “we” often miss the mark, finding ourselves in the same rut.


  3. Susan Conkling

    First, I’ll say that I’m glad you keep nudging us forward, and second, I’ll say very simply that there are real human beings leading an organization, at least one of whom felt completely overwhelmed and has (earnestly, I believe) sought guidance every day since the incident occurred, both from intelligent persons of color inside our profession as well as outside. I know that every person on the board has been given a copy of Culturally Responsive Teaching in Music Education (Lind & McKoy), a resource that NAfME didn’t even acknowledge before “the incident.” The Cultural Diversity and Social Justice ASPA has opened up its facebook site to the public to use as a vehicle for education, instead of just as a communication tool among its members, and as a result, the conversation has expanded beyond “the usual suspects.” I would argue that, although these things may seem small (especially in comparison to the size of the problems), they would never have occurred in April 2016. But I also agree with you that the actions cannot stop. One must lead to another, and if we are inspired by a blog or a FB post, it’s not enough to simply push the “like” button. Each of us needs to take action in our own backyards.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. JoyceMcCall Post author

      Susan, as always, I appreciate your efforts and your commitment. I know that there are individuals like yourself and groups of individuals who are doing the same as you, pressing towards achieving equity and equality. Rest assure that I and others are aware of these efforts. My voice and faith in doing this work is a direct result of those who have fought the fight and who have prepared a platform/space from which I and others can speak. But, I guess what I am trying to say or urge others to consider is that in order to see and be a part of the change we so desperately need, we must insert ourselves into our own spaces. Not that it’s easier to initiate change just in our own backyards, but that if we (folks in higher ed, music educators and administrators, etc.) were all to truly do our parts in tandem with national, state, and local efforts, the impact would be tremendous! Perhaps, we don’t do such a great job with empowering ourselves or others, particularly students to grab hold of the fight and own it. I just don’t want be that person who has done everything in her career except prepare a better place for those who are to follow.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Connie McKoy

    Joyce, your blog is very timely. I write this in my hotel room following the NAfME National Assembly. I am in attendance because I am to lead one of the Societies associated with NAfME. However, since the incident sparked by the comments allegedly made by the now former CEO of NAfME, I was not certain I could continue as a member unless I saw some needed changes. My first requirement was met when the CEO was released from his duties. However, I had to know for myself whether this action was taken simply as a gesture designed to give the appearance of sensitivity to issues of diversity, equity, access and inclusion. I decided that the activities and articulations of the National Assembly would determine whether real change was in the offing.

    Needless to say, there was a lot of discussion about how music education needs to be more inclusive and how NAfME, as the premiere organization for the music education profession, needs also to do some self analysis. To be sure, what was communicated throughout the assembly sometimes focused on how much NAfME had done in the past to promote diversity, harking back to the days of the Tanglewood Symposium, but the few delegates of color who were in attendance knew what time it was when Willie Hill, Past MENC President and the only African American President the organization has had in it’s 100+ year history, said that he had created a Diversity Task Force during his tenure (2004-2006), but the Task Force didn’t survive beyond his presidency. Apparently, it “didn’t make the cut” in terms of priorities for succeeding presidents.

    Nevertheless, I saw and heard things and was engaged in activity that gave me hope that the organization at least now “gets it.” From the speech made by the new president Denese Odegaard to the breakout sessions, to the list of action plans, I believe NAfME is sincere in sustaining a focus on issues relating to equity, access, inclusion, and diversity, primarily because, instead of just discussing it in isolation, the delegates were encouraged to have discussion about all of the strategic directions and their own state concerns through a “lens of diversity.” Yeah, I kind of cringe at that too, but I feel that they’re trying, which is what I wanted to see. And I am doing what I can to help people more fully understand that this is continual work. God help the association if the next president lays this by the wayside. NAfME got a wake up call. I want to see if they are gonna “stay woke.” The National Assembly gave me hope, but I’ve got my hand on the alarm button just in case.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. JoyceMcCall Post author

      Hi Connie! As I shared with Susan and others, I am so grateful for your efforts. Truly grateful. I have noticed the efforts that many of my colleagues, including yourself, have initiated. I don’t want my beliefs or voice to come off as ungrateful or ill-informed. I guess . . . I am pushing these issues because I don’t want others or myself to lose sight of where we’ve gone and where we have yet to go. As you know, it’s so easy to get sidetracked, either because of the severity of the issues at hand and the weariness that accompanies such issues and/or obligations elsewhere. Too, I believe that these issues belong to all of us, not just those who experience the daily cuts of injustice, but more so those who consciously and unconsciously inflict and endorse injustice. While I know that we don’t have to be on 100 all the time (or maybe we should), it would be nice to keep our eyes fixated on being able to one day look back and say that together we transcended.



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