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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