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Representation Matters (for who?)

With growing globalisation, multicultural presence in UK society and schools, plus

the added spotlight on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) that we appear to be

seeing at present, we hear plenty about the need for better racial representation in

education. This is particularly so for the teacher workforce in schools where there is

a large diverse studentship. Rightly so perhaps, considering facts such as were

presented by UK government figures in 2018, that showed whilst the London

borough of Westminster had a studentship of 85% Global Majority (my preferred

term to BAME, learn more here), only 40% of teachers were not White. The number

of Global Majority teachers outside of London Boroughs is likely to be even fewer.

When we turn to music education, though there is a limited picture in the UK of how

racial representation looks across the board, the recent and first of its kind, 2022

major report on EDI in Higher Education music studies (Slow Train Coming) points to

even wider disparities amongst both students and educators. Only 1% of music

conservatoire students were Black British between 2016 – 2020 and there were no

Black music professors. Although there is limited data on pre-tertiary music

education, findings from my own research into UK secondary school music (Hendry,

2023) suggest that Global Majority students and teachers experience multiple

barriers to access and progression, which most concerningly is having adverse

psychological consequences for them. Clearly there are pipeline problems in music


Some education initiatives, including music education, are working to increase racial

representation so students can ‘see themselves’ in positions of responsibility and

career roles they might aspire to. However, across my research studies I have

noticed a neglect in asserting the relevance of a diverse workforce or content in

White majority schools.  We may well take steps to change the landscape by

encouraging music engagement within diverse populations, but how do we ensure

retention of Global Majority students and protect them from the psychological

pressures that come with navigating White spaces, which the vast majority of music

education settings remain? As I repeatedly assert when I deliver EDI training,

‘access ain’t inclusion’. Change is indeed a ‘slow train coming’ and while we are in

that process, support is needed for the ones and twos that come through whilst

simultaneously working to prepare the environment for them. That is work that

needs a much wider reach. It is not just simply a case of changing the landscape but

also a case of adjusting the climate.

“In White majority schools there is the greatest risk of implicit bias in White students and internalised racism and lack of belonging for Global Majority students”

In White majority schools there is the greatest risk of implicit bias in White students

and internalised racism and lack of belonging for Global Majority students. This is

because Whiteness (referring to an ideology not simply White people) is normalized

in these settings. Students from diverse backgrounds in these settings are going to

feel the least seen and the least protected. Simultaneously, students of the majority (White) ethnic group are likely to be the least challenged and informed about racial


Cultural racism, particularly when expressed via implicit bias, is the hardest of all

types of racial discrimination to address, as by nature it is hidden, with the bearer

often being starkly unaware. In non-diverse environments, to a far greater degree,

White privilege can be continually played out and go unchallenged. Systemic and

institutional racism can thrive as priority is given to the perspectives of the majority

group. Cultural hegemony in music education has been left unchecked for far too

long and remains a totally invisible phenomenon in many White majority spaces.

However, music education and anti-racism researcher Deborah Bradley asserted

that social justice only ever prevails when the perspective of the least advantaged is

the lens through which we work. 

To not make a shift towards this perspective is to totally miss the point of EDI. I

believe anti-racism in music education will only truly exist when in fact the White

majority in UK education are targeted with the task of becoming more racially literate.

If we do not educate teachers, stakeholders and pupils on concepts surrounding

race, little will change on a grand scale. Too often the EDI work I see being carried

out in music education is preaching to the choir (excuse the pun), but we need to

affirm that diversity work is not just for racially diverse schools in urban areas. 

“Diversity work is not just for racially diverse schools in urban areas” 

The goal should be to contribute towards creating an anti-racist society with a

universal anti-racist education system as a norm, music education included. I long to

see EDI work that is more than an added, optional extra that some opt in to while

others opt out. It should be an example of best practice for all students, everywhere.

Without which, no matter the success of existing isolated initiatives for social justice

in music education, young people will be going into a land they are unprepared for

and which is unprepared to receive them.

What we see as well as what we don’t see forms our world view, our attitudes and

opinions, also what we accept and embrace and what we reject and feel afraid of.

Even when Global Majority people are made visible, the context they are placed in is

also of significance. Without considered representation, some racial visibility can

have a more negative affect than invisibility. Dr Dovidio, professor of Psychology

and public Health at Yale University has conducted research on aversive racism and

conscious and unconscious bias. Dovidio describes one US study on police officers

that showed through a simulation program, that the police officers who took part had

shooter bias which was related to implicit bias. More unarmed Black men were shot

at in the simulation than unarmed White men. Similarly, in a series of 7 studies,

researchers repeatedly found that people see Black men as larger and more

threatening than similarly sized White men, again showing how implicit bias can play

out in what we think and how we interact with people.

Negative associations with Black people because we mostly see them portrayed in

menial, lower paid jobs and not in senior roles, or in newspapers and other media as perpetrators of crime or as the one and only person in the school orchestra who is

not White for example, can build up strong negative schemas which wire our brain in

a certain way. Whilst race is viewed as a social construct, neuroscience is bringing

revelations to the study of racism by showing that differences in brain activity exist

when we interact with people of different races. Studies are showing that there is

greater activation in the region of the brain where we assess threat, the amygdala,

while viewing other-race faces than same-race faces. The amygdala is associated

with fear conditioning and emotion-memory. There used to be the belief that there

was little we can do to eliminate implicit bias, however, new breakthroughs in

neuroscience again are showing that fear conditioning in the brain can be re-wired.

This was done using positive pairing, an idea built upon classical conditioning in

psychology. The study showed that with enough repetition of enforced reappraisal

by re-framing images that were seen as threatening with positive depictions, brain

activity changed to show less fear (amygdala activity) to the images than in previous

rounds or without positive reappraisal.

“Representation matters, not just for Black & Brown people, but in a very significant way for White people in White-majority settings.”

The significance of these findings for racism studies is that increased positive

representation of Black and Global Majority people to White ethnic groups, could be

a powerful tool for addressing implicit bias. To this end, representation matters, not

just for Black & Brown people, but in a very significant way for White people in White

majority settings. Another recent study, more specific to music, involved the

deliberate inclusion of Black or Brown bodies in music videos. The researchers

found that ‘just changing a single racialized body into one that is differently racialized

can construct new, anti-racist meanings in music’. Findings pointed to the fact that, it

is possible to portray racist or anti-racist messages via the type of personnel we

choose or do not choose to make visible in music content. Interestingly, the

researchers also commented, ‘when people step out of their white comfort zone,

white bodies can also contribute to creating anti-racist spaces’.

How willing are you as a music education stakeholder, educator, practitioner or

otherwise to step out of comfort zones and talk about race issues? To challenge

how and who you are recruiting in your music education setting? To re-evaluate

what and how you are teaching students and to be deliberate about improving

positive racial representation and operating from an anti-racist stance? To invest in

becoming racially-literate? The take-home message is that racial representation

matters for everyone. I urge for the ultimate goal to not just be pockets of anti-racist

music education, but to reach even higher and make the goal to contribute to an anti-

racist society. That can only be achieved if we stop preaching to the choir and take

the message of racial literacy to those who really need to hear it.

Representation matters…for everyone.


Natasha Hendry is a PhD psychology candidate at the University of West London

with joint supervision from the London College of Music. Her research interests lay

in Music Psychology, specifically in relation to Education, Performance and

Wellbeing.  Current projects are based around mental health, wellbeing and the

Arts and social justice in music education and industry for marginalised people-


Before stepping into the world of academia, Natasha worked as a vocalist in the

pop music industry, performing backing vocals for numerous artists and as front-

vocalist for UK dance band ‘Chicane’ for a period of 10 years.  As well as

continuing to perform publicly she also has a private vocal coaching practice and

composes arrangements for and directs a community choir based in West London. 

Natasha also frequently teaches music & singing workshops for young people &

adults in school, community and corporate settings.

Natasha frequently appears on panels to talk about diversity and mental health in

the music industry as well as diversity and music education.  Engagements have

included working with the Musicians Union, the International Live Music

Conference, the LIMF academy, the Music Industry Therapists Collective, Boudica

Music Conference and Boston University (USA).  She has contributed to research

and publications such as the Black Lives in Music report (2021) and shared her

music industry experiences for the Touring and Mental Health: The music industry

manual (2023). Publication of her most recent research on Whiteness in music

education in the UK was released this May 2023. 


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Criticism, and Theory for Music Education, 6:4, pp. 132–62

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