A comment (and a few of the responses to it) from a recent Salon.com piece about Orchestras by Lewis Whittington caught my attention:
White folks are dying out!
And it is white folks who have always attended and paid for the symphony. Jobs and businesses are exported overseas, so there are fewer and fewer benefactors scattered around to support the arts. Black people and Mexicans are utterly indifferent to classical music (and camping, and hiking, and biking, and National Parks, and scenic vistas, etc.) so there is going to be an ever-shrinking white population to support all the activities that formerly defined (white) America. It is a black/Mexican country now. White kids are being aborted just as fast as their mamas can, and the new kids that blacks and Mexicans are squirting out are completely uninterested in white folks’ “culture”. They are just not interested in propping up white cultural hegemony and the worship of “Dead White European Male” musicians OR their music.
Face it, white folks, your day has come and gone. All your little treasured things will soon be extinct. Colored folks just aren’t interested. Ask yourself this: how many cities in Mexico and Africa support a symphony? One? Five? Ten, maybe? You can expect about the same in the USA in one generation.
If you don’t breed, you lose.—bigbill60 Read bigbill60’s other letters
While the tone of the comment leaves a bit to be desired I thought the handful of folks who deigned to respond to the poster read more as apologists for the lack of racial diversity typically found in [American] Orchestras. Seeing as how none of the response even address the two ethnic groups (Blacks/Mexicans) this poster brings up. One responder touted the Venezuelan El Sistema program while another made an even more disparaging comment steeped with racial stereotypes. I’m not sure how much the El Sistema system treats ethnic minorities within Venezuela, but I doubt that has any relation to the connection that Blacks and Mexicans in the US have to classical music (since that is obviously the original posters context).
Ann H does directly address the comment, but with the typical anecdotal response:
Interesting, but as I stated in my earlier post, I have season tickets (and have for awhile) so I sit in the audience all season long. There are blacks and Latinos in the audience and in the orchestra. And, interestingly enough, they tend to be younger.
I don’t think I need to point out the problems with using an anecdotal experience to demonstrate a general trend or the associated fallacies inherent in making such arguments, but it was intriguing that Ann H did feel the need to mention the relative age (presumably to the normal concert goers age) of the black/latino audience population.
It’s intriguing because that is consistent with so much of the racial/age demographic data that we’re now starting to compile, analyze, and make sense of now that we have the NEH study (as well as other independent studies) on Arts participation as well as the recent 2010 Census data and data given by the League of American Orchestra.
Here is basically what we have:
- US Audiences for Orchestras are aging faster than the US Population as a whole.
- The White population in the US is aging faster than the US population as a whole.
- The non-White population in the US is growing proportionally more than the White population of the US.
- The non-White population as a proportion of the audience as well as memberships in Orchestras is underrepresentative of the non-White population of the US.
- The non-White population of the US is much younger than the White population of the US.
Given the above, it shouldn’t be too surprising that what blacks/latino population Ann H finds in the audience of the orchestra she attends would be generally younger. That doesn’t mean that the black/latino population in Ann H’s Orchestra audience experience is at all representative of the population of black/latino population in the US as a whole.
What is intriguing though is that Arts participation, as defined by the NEH study also includes online interaction, and there Classical Music audiences lead the way (with, not surprisingly, Latin music following behind closely). Whereas the barrier for going to live Latin Music events would be the relative scarcity of such events in the US (which fits in nicely with Waldfogel’s work studying preference minority group trends) the biggest barrier for going to live Orchestral events, since those are relatively more abundant, would seem to be the cost.
Since blacks and latinos are generally numbered among the poorest populations in the US, it’s shouldn’t be a surprise to find fewer of them at live events. For all we know, however, they may be leading the way with online participation.
There are lots of ways to look at this data, and until someone starts to make sense of it, we’re just stuck with a lot of raw numbers. But in the end, what bigbill60 states above regarding audience numbers (and possibly the rationale behind the audiences support for “Dead White European Male” music) is correct.