Joyce McCall is a postdoctoral scholar and visiting assistant professor of music education at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. She earned a Ph.D. in Music Education from Arizona State University and a Master of Music Education and Bachelor of Music in Clarinet Performance from the University of Southern Mississippi. She has proudly served as a clarinetist in the United States Army Bands from 1999 to 2013. Previous assignments include the 151st Army Band in Montgomery, Ala.; 41st Army Band in Jackson, Miss.; and 36th Infantry Division Band in Austin, Texas. McCall’s military decorations include the Army Achievement Medal and the National Defense Service Medal. In efforts to create more inclusive structures in music and education, McCall’s research focuses on the intersections of race, class, and culture in educational settings, as well as intersecting formal and informal strategies through the use of popular music and digital culture.
This Peculiar Sensation: A Du Boisian Investigation of African Americans’ Negotiation of Predominantly White Music Programs in Higher Education
In 1903, William Edward Burghardt (W. E. B.) Du Bois published a collection of essays titled The Souls of Black Folk, highlighting his accounts as well as other African Americans’ personal encounters with racism in America. Embedded in his essays was also Du Bois’ double consciousness theory, a conceptual framework illustrating African Americans’ experience of grappling with a psycho-social division of personal and social self (Upegui-Hernandez, 2009), instigated by the colorline, a transparent yet permanent barrier that separates self from the rest of the world (Du Bois, 1903/2003). Du Bois employed the idea of “the veil” as a metaphorical device, disclosing African Americans’ grappling with being black and becoming an American. However, unlike their white counterparts, for African Americans, this being and becoming never consolidates, but manifests into a dual consciousness from which they must view themselves, both through their own eyes and those of whites. Accompanying Du Bois’ theory was also a warning to America that if they failed to act, the colorline would endure. Today, over 100 years later, critical race theorists and researchers (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001; Hacker, 1992) assert that not only does the colorline persist, but African Americans continue to grapple with what Du Bois refers to as “a peculiar sensation”—double consciousness (Winant, 2004).
For this paper, I employ Du Bois’ conceptual framework as a lens to highlight the colorline and double consciousness as two realities that African Americans continue to negotiate, specifically, in predominantly white music programs in higher education. In doing so, I have chosen to revisit a 2015 phenomenological study I conducted, investigating how academic, cultural, social, and racial aspects of college experience influenced degree perseverance among eight African American men transitioning from an undergraduate music program at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) to a graduate music program at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). Data were collected over a period of four months through four semi- structured, one-hour interviews with each participant (Creswell, 2013), centering on participants’ backgrounds, undergraduate and graduate experiences, and their interpretations of their own transitional experiences from an HBCU to a PWI.
Data revealed that when compared to academic, cultural, and social issues, race and racism played a significant role in the shaping of participants’ experiences of their respective predominantly white music programs. Several participants believed that, in efforts to weed them out, some of their white professors and peers purposefully excluded them from accessing important class information and materials. Some participants shared that, upon entering into their respective predominantly white music programs, they possessed some reservations about their own academic and musical abilities. I found that while participants anticipated the colorline and employed their own double consciousness to comprehend dominant structures within their respective PWIs, following the completion of their degree, some were not able to completely escape the damage their PWI caused. However, some participants used their double consciousness as a form of cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1993) to assist them in overcoming such spaces. Focusing on participants’ perceptions of their experiences of the veil within their predominantly white music programs, I highlight the following: 1) how participants’ experiences of the veil influenced their perceptions of self, their surroundings, and their future contributions to the profession; and 2) how participants were able to negotiate the veil.
Aligning with Action Ideal #1 of the MayDay Colloquium 28, I believe that while all learning, including music learning, is culturally situated by a dominant framework, we possess the authority to disrupt these structures, including the veil. For instance, music education programs in higher education could integrate coursework designed to interrogate racism and its influence in educational settings into undergraduate and graduate pre-service music education degree programs. Using integral pieces such as critical race theory, double consciousness theory, and culturally relevant pedagogy, such courses could assist students and faculty in discussions that are mindful and reflective, but also critical of race formation and how race is employed in dominant spaces (Omi & Winant, 1994). In doing so, both students and faculty will be able to 1) uncover deeper understandings of African Americans’ struggle with their multiplicity of personal and social self (Upegui-Hernandez, 2009); 2) expose ideals that articulate racism as a false consciousness; and 3) challenge racial biases and contradictory race language that contribute to the suppression of otherness (Bonilla-Silva, 2010). Despite its fixedness, I believe that the music education profession can weaken the veil by creating “breaks” (Winant, 2004) in its fabric similar to civil rights efforts displayed throughout America’s history. We can not continue a practice of positioning race talk as an understudy of pluralistic platforms. In efforts to achieve full democracy while conserving our own individual cultural, musical, and racial identities (Du Bois, 1903/2003), we must place discussions of race at the center of who, what, and how we teach within our musical spaces.