Is Classical Music Racist?

Author and screenwriter Candace Allen has sparked a row after claiming that the British classical music world is “racist”.

This article was published on 5 July 2012

Speaking to the Evening Standard, Allen – the former wife of conductor Sir Simon Rattle – said that she had been on the receiving end of racist attitudes. 

She said: “I love the Barbican, it’s one of my favourite places in London, but I was at a reception recently and a woman approached me to ask what my relationship with the Barbican was, basically what I was doing there… There are people for whom [classical music] is still very much about class, and their class only, and they can be very rough, extremely snobbish and yes, racist.” 

She also went on to say that black people are made to feel unwelcome in certain venues.

“I’m used to it, but for other [black] people it’s definitely intimidating… When you’re in some place that’s unexpected, or folks don’t think you’re supposed to be or they’re just surprised to see you, then their eyes are on you.” 

Allen believes that the lack of black musicians in our leading orchestras is down to a combination of discrimination and that few black people are exposed to classical music at an early age. 

“You’re not going to get turned onto classical music if you don’t ever hear it, and a lot of black children just don’t exposed to it very much,” she told the newspaper. 

“The way to get black children involved in classical music is to bring to where they are instead." 

To this end, Allen is a supporter of Venezuela’s El Sistema programme, the government funded music education scheme that has used classical music to help children turn away from a life of crime. 

“The process of encouraging new kinds of people into classical music has to start and be consistent,” she says. 

“Otherwise nothing will change.”