Ever since George Floyd died last year, BLM, systemic racism, white privilege, CRT have been an obsession of mine and I’ve read histories of the civil rights movement in the USA, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcom X. I read novels by Alice Walker – The Color Purple, Toni Morrison – Beloved, Colson Whitehead – Nickle Boys, Harriet Beecher Stowe – Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird side by side to understand perspectives from both white and black writers.
Everyone needs to know about the Zong massacre – which I read about in William Wilberforce’s biography by Eric Metaxas. Forgive my humble and terse retelling of this event:
Zong- a British slave ship on the Middle Passage (a triangular route that largely concealed slave trade from public eyes under agricultural commerce) became caught in a storm under an incompetent captain. GET THIS: it dawned on the officers that it would be more profitable to claim insurance on lost cargo than to run the risk of dead slaves (read the appalling account by ship surgeon Alexander Faulconbridge) effectively incentivising the jettison (a euphemism for murder) of 130 slaves – 30 pounds per murder. IT GETS WORSE: the sensational media attention the court case against the crew indicted by abolitionist members was overturned in the favour of the crew awarding them the insurance payout revealed to me that the juries, judge and aristocrats who participated in the case sincerely believed the slaves to be mere ‘property’ able to be ‘jettisoned.’
When I read this I broke deeply and cataclysmically. I cried and cried – and the reason was guilt. Now you have to understand that I’m Asian – I can claim innocence – but the reason I felt so guilty at that formative point was because I felt vicarious guilt as like genus species – the same human being of similar genetic makeup. I remember the horror as I exclaimed internally, “What have WE done.”
If aliens or some higher life form looked at ME and saw what MY KIND had done they’d spit in my face and I would have felt it well deserved. I encourage you to really scrape the bottom of the barrel of human atrocities such as the Jewish holocaust or communist-ideologically fueled genocides because what that reveals is our propensity for evil. We cannot feign innocence – we are culpable.
When we talk about equity and fairness from this historical background things become very complex. There’s a lot to be learned in the study of schisms and CRT is perhaps the most divisive ideology in modern times and I love that feeling in polemics where you have a rake in your stomach and your blood boils because both sides have valid arguments and valuable contributions but can’t seem to get along and there’s so much vitriol. I listen to Dave Chapelle talk about George Floyd and police brutality and Candice Owens, Ben Shapiro, Noam Chomsky, left and right – I try to read between the lines.
Now I’m a Korean who grew up in NZ in the 90s who has experienced their fair share of racism – candid, ignorant or intentional – and as a Korean once removed from a generation affected by Japanese annexation I grew up in a culture of anti Japanese sentiments. I remember harbouring some of those racist feelings even though I wasn’t directly oppressed but through a shared sense of enmity or self-preservation. In maturing I was able to understand the reasons behind my irrational racism and racism in others. Therein lies my reason for racism – in a state of innocence and naivety we are inherently biased towards evil and subsequently racism and xenophobia. Only by maturing and growing large enough to encompass all these complex causes and human condition do we reconcile this within ourselves.
How does this link with music education? The idea is that there is an inherent bias towards white music. And although I believe that Bach and Shakespeare are endlessly rich and deep in substance the meat of the matter is in our educational dispositions – do we seek to address deficits, tacits, marginalisation in cultural content? Do we hold succinct values, worldviews and beliefs about equity and equal representations that lead and shape our students’ beliefs? As a person who has struggled through such questions and have matured to understand some but not all, I think that this places me in a unique and obligatory position to educate young students in really important matters.