AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

Professors Call for a ‘War Machine’ to Wipe Out Music Ed’s Meritocracy — AKA Whiteness

Is music education calamitously Caucasian? Per a recent paper by a pair of professors, positively.

Erika Knapp (University of North Texas) and Whitney Mayo (University of North Dakota) have detected darkness in college-level music learning — there’s too much whiteness. Therefore, the experts plan to provoke war. Their paper — published online by MayDayGroup.org — is titled “Disrupting Racism in Music Education: Conceptualizing Admissions Processes Through the State and the War Machine.”

Borrowing ideas from French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and psychoanalyst Félix Guattari — as well as Google scholar Brianne Gallagher — Erika and Whitney begin their appeal with the story of young James, unspooled as a first-person account. He applied to a music school and underwent his aural exam with one of the authors while she was a graduate student. James “scored 20 out of 25, which was more than enough to meet the baseline.” Later, she was asked by Admissions whether anyone had stood out. She mentioned James who, though lacking music training, had oodles of enthusiasm. He dreamed of being a music teacher in the inner city where he’d grown up.

[The Admissions officers] knew who I was talking about immediately and even mentioned that James had to get a ride to the audition from a community member.

Yet, getting into music school requires an audition, during which each candidate must demonstrate already-developed skills. 

[I]t ultimately would come down to his audition, which was not likely to go well since he didn’t have enough experience. 

In the end, the worst occurred:

James was not admitted to the music education degree program. James is Black.

At issue: ethics…

The…vignette is an example of an all-too-common situation in music education programs across the United States. There are ethical concerns to consider when music education programs reject students who desire to teach music and positively impact their community simply because they did not gain acceptance into the program.

Why are some let in, the authors ask, “while others are never given a chance?” The authors have fingered a fetid foe:

The music education field is and has remained predominantly White for the last 30 years… Silence about the dominance of whiteness remains pervasive in music education programs… 

Bottom line:

[T]he…admissions process for…music education programs…remains inherently racist. … [T]he systemic and structural manner in which the admissions process has been maintained demonstrates how programs continue to serve a White-normative, Eurocentric model. … [M]any of these programs promote themselves on the pretense of change while upholding racist structures in regimented and unethical ways, such as utilizing Black and Brown bodies…as tokenized markers of how diverse their programs are while maintaining a majority-White student body…

How might all colleges catalyze a student body that isn’t majority-white? Erika and Whitney know: antiracism. The writers are white, but they’re alright:

As White scholars doing antiracist work, we recognize the privilege we possess based on our identities and job titles and the social and cultural capital that has, in part, facilitated our access to music education spaces. 

Perhaps more incriminating is the fact that they aren’t transgender; but they’re doing the work:

We are cisgender, heterosexual White women, and we view our privilege as a responsibility that requires us to critically examine the systems from which we have benefitted throughout our careers.

The professors have “witnessed students from minoritized groups being denied access to spaces that many White students experience.”

Furthermore, significant retention problems exist for BIPOC students if or when they attend a higher education music program…

“The State” is perpetuating whiteness. Hence, an army of insurrectionist “soldier bodies” must be built via an antiracist war machine:

It is the desire of the war machine to disrupt the State from molding future soldier bodies. … The war machine works externally on the margins, disrupting the State’s regime while resisting capture. 

Some readers may be surprised by such elevated analysis of, possibly, a person not being accepted as a Vocal Performance major because they cannot sing. But racism is the rot in our cultural cloth, and whiteness must be radically wrung out.

Righteously, we’re squinting and squeezing:

In the interest of a happy ending, Erika and Whitney imagine a scenario where social justice saves jilted James: A music-education staffer named Laura visits the 11th-grader’s inner city school biweekly. She connects him with free summer music lessons.


[L]aura…[assists] in walking him through the (college) admissions material. [I]t [is] determined by the admission panel that [he will] not engage in a traditional audition… … There [is] no sight-reading exam or aural skills exam. Instead, James [is] able to share and talk about his passion for music and for his own goals for becoming an educator in the future. 

James plays guitar to some audio loops for the panel. Not only is he accepted into the program by virtue of his enthusiasm, but since the school lacks an applied guitar instructor, it hires one just for him. It also appoints an upperclassman “buddy” to help socialize him. The administration crafts a program of classes curtailed to his interests. He chooses his options “rather than them being prescribed for him.” Four short years later, he graduates and sets “out to do the work he was passionate about from the start.”

Will a host of music work be waiting for a teacher who only took classes he wanted to and isn’t necessarily good at music? At the university, will other applicants who were more prepared have been edged out of a spot in deference to James? Either way, the war machine must be engaged, and whiteness must be whipped:

[W]hen collectives of war machine faculty work together, they are able to both reimagine and enact a program for students that fights to uphold “whiteness as property” in music education… By bringing individuals to the forefront and privileging their stories and conceptions of themselves, as well as disrupting norms that would challenge such persons’ legitimacy, war machines create the possibility of being antiracist war machines that disrupt White norms in music education.

It’s music to the ears of equity. And from the looks of things across society, the music won’t be stopping any time soon.


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