A Reflection on the Race, Racism and Xenophobia Series @NYU Florence

By Amanda Gelbart, NYU Florence Student, Major in Mechanical Engineering, NYU Tandon School of Engineering

Throughout the 2016 Spring semester, the La Pietra Dialogues program has hosted a series of dialogues that focused on the issue of race in a global context. The events ranged from regular dialogues to an all-day conference that was held on March 24, which hosted people such as lawyers, musicians, and photographers.

One of the most impressive aspects of this series was the realization of how race affects every field of study in some manner. The particular dialogue that struck me the most was “Representing Race in Opera: Text and Performance, Past and Present” with Professor Emanuele Senici on April 27. Within his dialogue, he exposed the evolution of opera as it includes racial issues. At first, he explained that operas had people of different races within them, as described by the words in the libretto, but the music gave no indication of differences. However, as operas continued to be written into the colonial and imperial ages, race became a central theme of the words and the music of many operas. Composers, such as Puccini, began inserting culturally important musical themes into the overall score in order to signify the “diversity” of the others, and in operas like Madama Butterfly, the naivety of the non-European was emphasized.

In a similar conversation, regarding being color blind versus seeing people as racially different, Professor Mathias Möschel spoke, during the R2X conference, about the European Union’s approach to racial equality. He explained that the EU takes a colorblind approach to race, not requiring the self-identification of race on job applications, scholarships, college documents, or census materials. This approach aims to level the playing field by erasing any ‘institutionalized’ differences between EU citizens that come from their cultural past, and start anew.

Currently, the United States is taking a different approach to achieving equality and diversity through programs like Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity, which aim to elevate those who have historically been given less opportunities to help level the playing field based on historical struggles. These programs call for non-discriminatory hiring practices and specific selection practices for college institutions. Additionally, there are many racially based scholarship funds aimed to help fund the college dream for students of color.

Through the context of both media and politics, I do not know which is better: to be colorblind, or to see in color. When looking through the context of opera, it seems that racism increased when we started to view people as different from ourselves instead of showcasing an opera set in an “exotic, faraway” land. The introduction of stereotypes within the music and words led to typecasting of entire peoples throughout European media. However, it seems wrong to deem everyone equal and ignore the past individual struggles each culture has endured. What this series has taught me is to keep an open mind and embrace cultures different from your own. It is through education and co-existence that we can break down racial barriers and achieve equality among all races.

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