Listening to Music in Black and White

Promotion: Julian Schaap
Music brings people together,' is the creed. However, in practice it appears that our taste in music often coincides with existing divisions in society. For example, a predominantly white (often male) audience can be found in a rock concert and a multi-coloured audience can be found in a hip-hop concert. This is somewhat paradoxical: music brings together, but also drives apart. In his dissertation 'Elvis has finally left the building?', Schaap examines to what extent and in what way ethnorcial divisions in music reception are constructed, maintained and/or dismantled. Boundary work, whiteness and the reception of rock music in comparative perspective'. On Friday 11 October, he will obtain his PhD at the Erasmus University.

Julian Schaap investigated how mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion relate and contribute to maintaining structural inequality in the wider society. He used both qualitative (in-depth interviews, sorting assignments) and quantitative methods (content analysis, implicit association tests). In order to pay attention to the cognitive aspects of associations based on race/ethnicity, which play an important role in the (mostly non-intentional) (re)production of 'whiteness'.

The research shows that the dominance of whiteness in rock music is maintained by 'ethnoracial ideologies', authentication processes and the existence of deep implicit associations. For example, non-white rock fans are often judged as non-authentic by white rock fans, but also by people (both white and non-white) outside the rock scene. This happens both explicitly and implicitly. In other words: Elvis, and the whiteness he represents, has taken root in our cognition and, at the same time, in the symbolic and social divisions we find in the reception of rock music. 

Nevertheless, there is also evidence that Elvis and his representation are slowly making their way towards the exit. The same processes of authentication that assist in constructing and maintaining whiteness in rock music also offer an opportunity for resistance. By actively marking whiteness and marking forms of non-white as 'good' rock music, sometimes under the guise of 'true' rock rebellion. This shakes up and deconstructs existing ethnoracial divisions, which in turn can have consequences for the deconstruction of 'whiteness' in other cultural sectors and beyond. 

Photo: Julian Schaap.

Assistant professor
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