Friday, July 25, 2014

Dominique-René de Lerma: 'Three Faces of Racism'

Dr. Alfred Duckett

Dominique-René de Lerma

Scenario 1.  James DePriest is engaged as conductor of the Orchestre Symphonique de Quebéc, not for the color of his skin, but the character of his talent.
Scenario 2 . Dean Dixon never had an orchestra in his own country, not because of the character of his talent, but the color of his skin.
Scenario 3.  Paul Freeman established the Chicago Sinfonietta because of the character of his talent and the color of his skin.
Now let's consider the following variations:  Politician X received his education with the benefit of affirmative action, which he now opposes. Conductor X refuses to schedule any music not composed by a fellow African American.  Professor X makes no notice of the race of his students.
Racism seems basically to mean two different things, depending on how it applies and who does the application.  We certainly have never had difficulty in witnessing the negative version.  This has been manifest openly in the case of hate organizations and has been thinly hidden when code words were used: "of Oriental persuasion" was the previous term for anti-Semites.
When I was guest lecturer at a predominately Caucasian university, a faculty member during the Q&A session asked "Why can't we just consider good music to be just that and forget about race?"  This was like a newspaper editorial, anticipating the new exhibit at the local gallery, which stated "Romare Bearden was a great artist who just happened to be Black" (like such an apology should excuse Wagner for being German!).
Affirmative action was an effort to compensate the current generation for the wrongs previously inflicted in the past, but this was soon regarded as an anti-White policy. 
Then the act was defined as a benefit to the majority population as one of diversity.  In came students who knew the spiritual first-hand, who brought with them that precious aspect of American culture which had been lacking on campus.  A substantial part of this refreshed perspective was Black culture.  How enriched is that faculty that has a minority member in the music education department (whose students may soon be faced with "others" in the classroom), or a Black choral conductor who will not deprive students of a wider concept of performance practice!  President Obama cannot be asked to address only Black issues, but is to be lauded for the distinct sensitivity his own experience provided to support "My brother's keeper."  Entities without cultural diversity are impoverished.
Now we have the case of a vacancy in the voice department.  Especially if there is a Black member already on the faculty, we can expect, even assume, there will be at least one vote to support that candidacy -- assuming all applicants on the short list are qualified.  To reject that applicant might be racially motivated, just as to express support could be race-positive.
This is one of those times when the ugliest of manifestations might come into play: campus politics.  Behind-the-scenes meetings, closed-door conferences, quid pro quo agreements, tacit political alliances and other manipulations quite apart from teaching, which is why a faculty is hired.
Some of this may be part of a scene enacted in the past two years in the case of Dr. Alfred Duckett.  This is a young, enormously gifted talent, soon approaching mid-career maturity.  I can attest to this; he took every course I offered at the Peabody Conservatory when he was working on his master's degree.  Nothing would stop his passion for information.  He then secured his doctorate at Catholic University, and his academic appointments that followed were impressive: Southern Illinois University, Syracuse University, St. Augustine College, Allen University, Clark Atlanta University.  He has conducted Eastman's Gateways Festival Orchestra, the Metropolitan Orchestra of St. Louis, the Atlanta Community Orchestra, the Spokane Symphony Orchestra, the Berkshire Symphony Orchestra, the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra.  Small wonder that Oklahoma's Cameron University engaged him with tenure da capo.  Here his students rated him at the top.  "He was an awesome teacher! .. very interesting VERY funny and VERY serious and super musician..."
But then, as Robert Merriwether reported (10 March 2014) on the internet, "Black professor faces dismissal for being too Black."  Two days later, Colleen Flaherty outlined the sordid history ("Free speech or hostility?") noting that the American Association of University Professors had come to Dr. Duckett's aide.
On 24 July, Jackson State University won its new music chairman: Dr. Alfred Duckett.  They won't find him too Black. 

Dominique-René de Lerma

Comment by email:
Thanks Bill for circulating,
Thanks Dominique for writing this, a harsh ‘reality check’ for those who take comfort in their bigoted views!. This is a statement that is definitely very much in accord with my views. It should also be circulated far more widely than this site – e.g. ‘The Guardian’ in the UK, ‘The Gleaner’ in Jamaica etc.  Best wishes,  Mike
[Michael S. Wright]

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