Why 'protest music' lessons in 2020 must be different
Updated: Jun 14
I've been seeing a lot of teachers posting on Facebook, asking for 'protest music' to do with their students. Some of the replies comments have included 'Imagine' by John Lennon, 'American Idiot' by Green Day and 'Where Is The Love' by the Black Eyed Peas. Many are sharing Amnesty International's pdf on protest songs featuring Kate Tempest and Joan Baez. While these songs and resources have their place, now is not the time.
It's frankly inexcusable to ignore the #BlackLivesMatter movement and simply talk about generic 'protest music'.
First of all, music teachers need to recognise the time that we are living in. It's not enough to just talk about 'protest music'. If wasn't ok before 2020, it's definitely not ok now. Let's be specific and intentional in our actions. Musicians have written 'protest music' about everything from LGBTQ+ rights, various international wars, Partition, Apartheid and the Grenfell disaster. Right now, in 2020 we are talking about black lives. We are talking about systematic racism, overt bigotry, silencing and police brutality in the black community and diaspora. We are retweeting in support of black businesses, black excellence and those, like John Boyega, willing to put their careers on the line. It's frankly inexcusable to ignore the #BlackLivesMatter movement and simply talk about generic 'protest music', even in a facebook post. By referring to 'protest music' as 'Black Lives Matter protest music' or 'black protest songs in 2020' or anything else that includes the word 'black', you're sending a clear message to students and other teachers in these groups and forums. It shows that you are aware of what's happening, and you're not prepared to gloss over it.
We have to remember (and this is a point I've made on a few occasions), that many children are badly affected by what they've seen, heard, posted, written, reposted and discussed. After speaking to a friend yesterday, she simply said that if music teachers don't address these issues head on, some of these children will look back at their music teachers in disbelief, disgust or anger in 5, 10 or 15 years time. Some may feel these things the moment they leave your virtual classrooms. Some may already not feel safe or understood in music lessons. It's a sobering thought.
And before you ask, my friend is a white music teacher.
Let's create a sense of balance and give children positive images of black people.
Secondly, I think it is important to not only focus on the 'angry' messages which talk about police brutality, and social justice reform, but also the songs which illuminate many positive aspects of the black experience. Let's create a sense of balance and give children positive images of black people, and black history. The blues and gospel came from slavery. Jazz came from the blues. By only teaching and talking about black music in the context of slavery and the civil rights era, we unconsciously tell white children that black music is, was, and will be music made by the descendants of slaves. By not showing positive images of black musicians and positive musical content, we stop children from understanding that this music evolved not because of slavery, but in spite of it.
We have a tendency to ignore the legacy of slavery and racism in the UK...
Thirdly, I would encourage music teachers in the UK, to look at music created not only by African-Americans, but by black British and black African artists too. We have a tendency to ignore the legacy of slavery and racism in the UK by focusing on the US - by only performing, analysing and listening to the music of Nina Simone, James Brown or other African-American musicians. There are many black British artists and bands who have made incredible music, but specifically reflect the black British experience – Sons of Kemet, Dave, and SEED ensemble are just a few artists to listen to, explore and talk about in class (or Zoom). Let's stay relevant.