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Music Department statement in support of the ongoing protests against racism and police brutality

The murder of George Floyd has brought longstanding societal patterns of prejudice, hatred, and injustice into unflinching focus. We know that, for some members of our community, the reality of these patterns, and the pain of their impact, has been a constant and corrosive presence throughout their lives. Others of us have indulged the privilege of engaging such issues only when they seem particularly acute or when space in our schedules comfortably accommodates such reflection. What we are seeing now is that this issue must become personal for all of us.  We must, with openness and humility, engage with feelings of fear, disempowerment, precariousness, and invisibility.  And those of us who are white and benefit from the privilege that entails must say: I may never fully understand, but I see you, I stand with you, and I will work for justice and equality.  We say, unequivocally, that Black Lives Matter.

As our colleagues in Africana Studies and elsewhere at the Claremont Colleges have said eloquently, being anti-racist is not only about treating one another with respect, valuing all lives equally, and understanding that there is no such thing as a level playing field.  It is also about becoming attuned to the uncountable ways in which racism has seeped insidiously into the fabric of our culture.  Every structure of power, wealth, or education is based on a presumption of whiteness, and was built on the backs and with the unpaid labor of African-Americans.  We cannot make real progress until we are willing to call out this phenomenon for what it is.

The Music Department is aware of our discipline’s association with privilege and elitism. Any casual music fan can rattle off the names of a few canonical classical composers, all of whom are white males.  Concerts assume the trappings of luxury as fundamental to the experience; audience members feel pressured to conform to secret rules about how to dress or when to applaud. In recent decades, scholars, performers, and institutions have expended considerable energy in undermining these foundational presumptions, with some success, including engaging musical works and practices of underrepresented populations and expanding the canon.  But we must continue to increase our efforts and demand clearer results.

Our department reaffirms its commitment to welcoming students from all backgrounds.  We know that some students have not had the opportunity to pursue music as an academic endeavor prior to coming to Pomona, and we embrace our charge to fill that void.  Music is among the most direct expressions of the human spirit, and history abounds with examples of oppressed people asserting their humanity and their interconnectedness through music. At the heart of music-making is listening, and we believe in this power: that to listen to someone, to deeply listen to them, is to hear them – to hear them for who they are, what has shaped them, where they have come from, and where they hope to go. Our department pledges to our full community, individually and collectively, to listen, to learn from what you tell us, and to commit to adding our voices in support of comprehensive change.