The Music Department in South Africa as a Mirror of Racial Tension and Transformative Struggle: A Critical Ethnographic Perspective

  • Glenn Holtzman


This position paper examines the phenomenon of White normativity in academic Music Departments in South Africa from a Black critical (auto)ethnographic perspective. The author argues that recognition for the value of, and struggle to achieve a Black  normativity within Higher Music Education, reflects a systemic struggle for transformation that is largely rooted in the dismissal or devaluation of decolonisation and the ‘Black-on-Black’ teaching and learning experience. Using Fanon’s theory of lactification, the author suggests that a deeper probing is necessary to fully understand the Black assimilation or aversion to the normative White dominant and Black insubordinate roles and behaviours within Departments. The author postulates that more scrutiny should be given to the so-called ‘sound-whitening’ or ‘sound-straightening’ practices that are largely embedded in the praxis of Departmental identities and curricula offerings; and that who is reflected in the space as valuable, reinforces the notion that there is a racialised normativity at play within Departments. Finally, the author demonstrates how the vehicle of performative critical ethnography allows Black musicians and scholars a method by which they can begin to write-themselves-into the discourse and voice their  criticism against White normativity by saying and doing the ‘unspeakable’ in order to shed light on the pervasive ‘conform but don’t transform’ hegemonic Departmental cultures they find themselves entangled in. The paper draws on the author’s lived experience to illustrate the point that racialisation and intersectionalities of race and belonging within Departments contribute to the tensions around advancing transformation and is intended to catalyse debate and solicit similar shared or opposing views.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0258-509X