Silent No More: Anti-Asian Racism in Music
Eileen M. Hayes
This is a story of my complicity in corporate silence, but also one of recognition and intervention. This month I address manifestations of racism toward Asians and Asian Americans in music schools/ departments and at meetings of our professional societies. Reports of anti-Asian incidents have increased since the U.S. President’s reference to the virus with a racist moniker. In response, cultural, industry, and political leaders, including President Obama, expressed outrage, and warned against a possible rise in anti-Asian sentiment. A BBC News report in May 2020 referenced incidents that posed threats to the safety and dignity of Asians, in the aftermath of the current president’s feckless remark. More recently, the online ecosystem has also been the site of anti-Asian racism.
My story is told through a very personal lens and engages in more self-disclosure than is customary for Society presidents. At times, I have remained silent in my role as bystander to the incivility I have witnessed in our music spaces. Unlike Gennica Cochran, the server at the restaurant in Carmel, CA, whose interruption of a racist tirade against Asian patrons went viral in July, I have not always intervened. Asian-Americans have impressive and long-standing histories of resisting racial oppression in the U.S. This includes many Asian and Asian American scholars, educators, composers, and performers in music in higher education today. Identifying and addressing manifestations of anti-Asian prejudice in music is a key component of CMS’ goal of becoming an anti-racist Society.
Anti-Asian sentiment came home to roost, in music, in January 2020. East Asian students at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome were told by the head of school that after the break, they would not be allowed to return to the classroom until cleared by a medical exam required by the Conservatory.1 The Director’s ban of the students was met with strong pushback from the campus community, with many students stating that they had never been to China. This incident is a learning moment for music in the context of the pandemic. Had you been the director, a student or faculty member, what would you have done?