by Anthony R. Green
Hello BIBA readers and Happy Black History Month! While every month here at BIBA and with Castle of our Skins is Black History Month, it is always respectful to acknowledge a celebration that was instituted after great efforts, and with the best intentions. I am fully aware of the downsides to such celebrations, but I want to perhaps shed some light on what I think the best contribution of Black History Month has been for many people: changing the single-story narrative about Black people. Hopefully COOS is changing that single story regarding Black people in Classical music.
The Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave one of TED's most inspiring talks almost 10 years ago, entitled The danger of a single story. Her talk focuses mostly on how cultures view other cultures, how upper classes view lower classes, and how media and power of all sorts promote narrow views of complicated issues and people, thusly creating single stories. Since the talk (which you can play below), many have used her powerful words to shift perspective, embrace nuance and complexity, and discourage narrow-mindedness. For Black people in Classical music, Ms. Adichie's words cannot be more spot-on. She eloquently proclaims, "The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of dignity; it makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult; it emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar." The biggest single story I come across is that Blackness and Classical music somehow do not mix. Sadly, I come across this from Black people as well, despite evidence of Black people being involved in this music dating back to at least 1511. History classes the world over have conveniently left out many deserving composers primarily because of the color of their skin or their gender. And while many conversations are now taking place trying to correct this single story, prominent critics still - in 2018 - release articles and books about the greatest composers, and they are all white and male. Let's change this story. Why? For obvious reasons, of course. But Ms. Adichie can tell you much better than I can. (Click below!)
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