Whiteness in Music Theory. Yeah, It’s a Thing

“Whiteness in music theory.” Yeah, that’s a thing. Everything must be racialized in the error …er… era of critical race theory. If it is white, condemn it and excoriate anybody who digs it or defends it. White is bad. Is blackness in music theory a thing? We hear about “black music.” It this to be exalted and its producers celebrated? What if it sucks?

“[R]ace is an electric wire in American society [you think?] and a traditional defense of untrammeled speech on campus competes with a newer view that speech itself can constitute violence.” The idea that speech can constitute violence is an obvious confusion of things. Speech is the expression of thoughts and feelings by producing sounds with your vocal cords and mouth parts. When not using violence as a metaphor, such as “this argument does violence to the very concept of free speech,” an example of violence is punching somebody in the face. That may convey meaning, but it is not speech. Maybe if one yells really loudly it will hurt someone’s ears. I don’t think we allow that, do we? (We shouldn’t.) At the same time, silence is violence.

“‘I’m educated in the tradition that says the best response to bad speech is more speech,’ said Professor Edward Klorman of McGill University. ‘But sometimes the traditional idea of free speech comes into conflict with safety and inclusivity.’” If what somebody says makes you feel unsafe, there is an easy solution to the problem: stop listening to the person. Want to feel included? Tolerate the speech of those with whom you disagree. There is something to say for working on yourself if you are so triggered by people expressing thoughts and feelings you don’t like.

“Did [Schenker’s] theoretical brilliance counter the weight of disreputable rages?” Does it fucking matter? As for Schenker himself, Professor Ewell argues that his racism informed his music theories: “As with the inequality of races, Schenker believed in the inequality of tones.” (I hope these weren’t the blue notes.) How do you counter this? Eric Wen describes Schenker’s music as “colorblind.” Unless you suffer from chromesthesia, isn’t that always the case?

How about we reject the utter stupidity of all this altogether? I suppose then we wouldn’t be very inclusive would we?

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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