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Forum Africa Centre

Black Voices in a White Music World: On Experiences of Racism and Coping Strategies

Music as a universal language in a network of international students. This is the ideal image of everyday life at German music academies. The reality, however, looks different.

In contrast to Asian students, only a few Black students have been admitted to the 24 music colleges in Germany. They are therefore rarely able to form a community and are often confronted with a primarily white educational system. Prof. Dr. Nepomuk Riva sheds light on what everyday life is like for Black students at these institutions. He is a German ethnomusicologist at the University of Würzburg and in his 2023 study "Schwarze Stimmen in einer weissen Musikwelt" ("Black Voices in a White Music World"), he addresses the experiences of racial discrimination that Black music students experience on a daily basis in a music practice that is often Eurocentric.

Injustices and Coping Strategies of Those Affected

The study is based on six qualitative, biographically oriented interviews conducted between 2016 and 2020. In them, three Black men and three Black women who grew up in Africa, Latin America or Germany report on their study situation in Germany, how they experience injustices - for example in the form of stereotypical character attributions or verbal microaggressions in the social environment - and which coping strategies the affected persons choose. The evaluation shows that the given circumstances usually only rarely allow for verbal resistance. In most cases, Black students endure the racist incident in silence or process the discrimination in a safe family environment or supportive circle of friends. States of loneliness and mental and physical symptoms of illness can be the serious result.

What can be done?

So what can be done on the part of institutions and faculty to guarantee Black students a level playing field in their studies? This study concludes with recommendations for action in this regard. These include financial compensation, help for Black students in organizing their study stay in Germany, and a reform of German music colleges to counteract Eurocentric content and thus structural disadvantage. With a stronger international focus and awareness in academic teaching, inequalities should be more easily recognized and jointly reduced.

Contact & Links

Prof. Dr. Nepomuk Riva, substitute professor for ethnomusicology at the University of Würzburg, researches the image of Africa in German music scenes. In 2012, he completed his doctorate on Cameroonian church music. Between 2016 and 2021, he was coordinator of the DAAD Research Training Group "Performing Sustainability" at the University of Hildesheim, the University of Cape Coast (Ghana) and the University of Maiduguri (Nigeria).

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