Cancel Beethoven (and Newton, while we’re at it)

Please don’t call for the men in white coats yet, bear with me for a couple of paragraphs.

And cancel this hotbed of racism too

Now what if I suggested that our best university scrap musical notation because “it causes students of colour great distress” and “has not shaken off its connection to its colonial past” and “complicity in white supremacy”?

What if I then developed this idea to its inevitable logical conclusion by insisting that the presence of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart et al. on the university curricula delivers a “slap in the face” to minority students? And therefore all such offensive personages, along with their music, should be cancelled?

Now put that phone down. Or, if you insist on summoning those proverbial men, don’t mention me as a potential patient. Mention instead professors and administrators of Oxford University who are planning to do all those things in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s their pronouncements that I quoted.

Those learned ladies and gentlemen are planning to remove the whole classical repertoire from the curriculum. This abomination, they explain, is “white European music” that causes “students of colour great distress”. 

Now you probably expect me to huff and puff about this woke equivalent of Nazi book burning, spouting words like ‘savagery’, ‘vandalism’, ‘barbarism’ and so forth. Well, hate to disappoint, but I’m not going to.

Instead I simply invite you to ponder the state of a civilisation where that sort of thing happens at a university currently ranked as the world’s best. That’s right, the best not merely in Britain, but in the whole world.

I’d also like to rebuke the University of Oxford for a certain lapse in logic and consistency. Why just Mozart and Beethoven (and Guido d’Arezzo, who first committed the offence of inventing modern musical notation)?

Why not also Newton and Leibniz, who concocted their theories at a time when slavery and colonialism were rife, and dead black people were stuffed and displayed in zoological museums? (I’m only mentioning those two because the list of scientists working before the second half of the 20th century is too long to include here.)

Why not Plato and Aristotle, who not only philosophised at a time of slavery, but actually extolled it?

Why not the whole European, and specifically English, literature created at a time when black people didn’t teach, nor indeed study, at Oxford?

Why not Classical, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Neo-Classical, Georgian, Regency and Victorian architecture? Do you have any idea how deeply it can traumatise ‘students of colour’ (other than white, that is)?

And oh yes, what about all art of the same periods? I mean, how many black people were painted by Leonardo and Vermeer? How do you suppose students of colour feel having to study paintings of white bitches playing the virginals?

But do let’s simplify matters by stopping this itemisation. Cancel the lot of them, I say. Oxford should reduce its entire curriculum to one programme only: Black Studies.

This could be subdivided into courses in African art, bongo drum compositions, rap, black literature and a very short credit module in black science. Black magic is worth considering too, even though it’s not overtly racial.

Have you pondered all those timely proposals? Fine. Now ponder something else: if this is what’s going on at the world’s top university, what are the lesser institutions teaching? Apart from condom studies, that is.

Cannibalism? Voodoo? History of slavery? No, surely not those – such courses would only perpetuate negative racial stereotyping, thereby reinforcing all sorts of unconscious biases. Anyway, your guess is as good as mine, or actually much better because I’m out of ideas.

Meanwhile, let’s start a campaign for cancelling Oxford University (founded in 1096) and all other institutionally racist institutions dating back to the times falling short of our exacting moral standards. And not just the educational establishments either.

The Mother of All Parliaments, anyone?

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