Living the “White” Classical Life

Living the Classical Life, a show hosted by brilliant pianist Zsolt Bognár, features disproportionately white classical musicians. The show’s subliminal message is that Black classical musicians aren’t worth interviewing.

During Bognár’s current Facebook fund drive, I commented on the shows lack of Blackness and complicity in classical music’s white supremacy. Immediately, my candor was met with white fragility and racist attacks.

“You’re a c*nt!”, wrote a white man. He then blocked himself.

In classical music’s typical white face, Bognár’s conservative white bourgeois “community” disrespects my Black lived experience of racism.

“Our community” means white, and in the words of Ta Nehisi Coates, those who need to be white.

The whole reason Bognár is fundraising is because his exclusive micro-white audience isn’t enough. Black guests might increase viewership attracting new Black audiences, and gain Black donor dollars. But Bognár seems content with his current audience, who probably shop at Whole Paychecks (Whole Foods) while rejoicing in the absence of Blackness from their daily lives.

Classical music is a place for overt and latent racists to peacefully slumber in absence of Blackness. According to Dr. Michèle Lamont at Harvard University, 75% of whites don’t live around Blacks, which makes the self-reporting of racism suspicious. Whites lose all propriety when Blacks mention racism not because we’re wrong, but because they don’t want to believe us. It disturbs the Massa/slave racial order.

Whites don’t understand they’re raced.

It’s time they learn what it means to be white.

All I want for Christmas is to be white

BIPOC assimilate into whiteness by keeping whites comfortable never discussing antiBlack racism.

When BIPOC support antiBlack racism, we pledge allegiance to white supremacy, hoping to keep powerful white networks, opportunities and relationships. In the long run, no one advances except whites. Many BIPOC never stop to question their profound inability to empathize with Blacks, and why their first reaction is outrage when Blacks speak out individually against racism.

Common it is for fellow BIPOC to attack Blacks who want to burn Massa’s house down, disturbing the white favored racial equilibrium. True to form, countless fellow coloreds did so in Bognár’s comments section.

A Brazilian pianist remarked,

Classical music IS a white European art and if you can’t accept this historical fact, then try something else in your life. — Ederson Urias

This is so sad.

Classical music’s white supremacy is taught in conservatories worldwide. He’s been brainwashed to believe classical music is for and by whites only. He believes BIPOC — like him — must settle for conformity or get out.

Classical music is whites playing whites for whites. Living the Classical Life perpetuates this trope.

Niceness means mean

Bognár’s fans’ only defense is that he’s “nice.”

Just because you like someone doesn’t mean they can’t traffic in classical music’s institutionalized racism. Equating niceness with being antiracist is juvenile — then again, the white understanding of racism is pre-adolescent.

Niceness never saves Black musicians from being underrepresented, marginalized, underestimated, and devalued in a genre that fights to exclude us.

Niceness never replaced the theft of our lives since 1619.

Niceness doesn’t save Black bodies from police bullets either.

Who’s show is it anyway?

During Covid-19, social media is awash with an endless sea of predominantly white and Asian artists performing/conducting classical music. Will little Black boys and girls see themselves and be inspired to take up the piano, violin, or opera?

I feel this responsibility. Do you?

I worry for the young talented Black trumpet player on Chicago’s Southside who might not know music is an option for them. He won’t see himself in Bognár’s guests. Meanwhile, little Tanner and Sven, and their sisters Becky and Amy, are inspired seeing they belong to the genre.

Bognár whitesplains support for Blacks referencing his multiple ethnicities/nationalities, including Chinese and Hungarian. Although I deeply empathize with anti-Chinese racism during Covid-19, none of these ethnicities/nationalities makes the world’s most hated people list compiled by the Association of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Men (AWASPM). In fact, the Chinese in China led spirited racist attacks on Blacks during Covid-19, evicting us from apartments and even banning us from Micky D’s.

Boy, I wouldn’t want fries with that!

No one says only Black lives matter. We’re saying the Black collective is on life support right now, and requires a little more attention and care to get through the night.

Being deemed safe when anonymous is a white privilege I’ll never have. Bognár has this privilege. If you don’t check the non-Hispanic Black box on the census, chances are your body is considered a lower caliber weapon than a Black person’s. Judging by the “lawful” rounds spent in Black bodies this summer, this statement rings true.

Black bodies in white spaces are perceived as threats.

Case and point?

The concert hall.

The white privilege of voluntary immigrants

Bognár is a white voluntary immigrant. Knowing his heritage lets him decide whom he most identifies with, and adds to his white privilege of individuality. He holds the power and rights of the voluntary immigrant and an informal alliance with the country’s founding fathers. His ancestors decided — upon their own volition — to pack their bags and move taking all their accoutrements of culture with them. This is a forever privilege and power no one can take from him.

African-Americans are the country’s only involuntary immigrants. We are bereft of knowing our ancestry. Our families were stolen, raped and sold apart, native tongues cut out of our mouths, tribal religions and spirits beaten from our bodies. Attempts to escape could mean dismemberment, and rebellious male “bucks” were broken through sodomy by Massa before the entire plantation.

African-Americans arrived under slightly different circumstances than Bognár.

“If I take your race away”

Whites are nothing without being white. The fact burns their butts, especially when a Negro puts it to them.

Bognár is part of a slew of white establishment accepted self-proclaimed liberal allies who’ll never give up anything for Blacks to have something, even if it merely means interviewing far more Black classical musicians.

Prove me wrong.

International prizewinning conductor and activist, Brandon Keith Brown, believes classical music can change the racial conscience of society. He’s led the Konzerthaus Orchestra Berlin, Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Cape Town Philharmonic, and Tokyo Philharmonic among others. His voice and writing were featured on NPR’s Here and Now, Deutsche Welle, in DIE ZEIT, Deutschland Kultur, WDR, the Medium, and Der Tagesspiegel among others. Brown has lectured at Berlin’s Humboldt University and consulted for the University for Art and Music Berlin on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. For speaking engagements and consulting (DEIB), contact Brown at Follow him on Instagram: @brandonkeithbrownconductor.

Black Leaders in Classical Music Panel

Prize-Winning Stick Waver/Slinger of Sounds| Speaker | Educator | ARTivist. Engineering Society from the Podium |