Arts and Literature, simply put, are how a culture passes on values and takes pride in itself. In our sanctuary at UUCG, thanks to the gifts and passions of many of our community, our walls are graced with a perpetual art show, our air is filled with a variety of kinds of music. What kind of music do you love? What kinds of paintings, sculptures, gardens, colors, decorations and shapes do you find appealing? When is the last time you asked yourself about those things? Why this music and not that? Why these colors and not those? The arts that we gravitate toward in some non-verbal ways reflect back to us something valuable, something meaningful. Once we declare a style, a genre, a palate as our favorite, we also create a wall of separation from those others that we have not declared.
I am currently reading Ta-Nahesi Coates book Between the World and Me. He writes it as a letter to his teenage son about being a black man in this country at this time in history. Almost sentence by sentence, he confronts me. He confronts me with so much that I do not know about being a black man in this country and so much with what he does know about white people. I need my world broken open like this, and it is painful. Here is an excerpt:
“There was nothing holy or particular in my skin; I was black because of history and heritage. There was no nobility in falling, in being bound, in living oppressed, and there was no inherent meaning in black blood. Black blood wasn’t black; black skin wasn’t even black. And now I looked back on my need for a trophy case . . . and I felt that this need was not an escape but fear again–fear that “they,” the alleged authors and heirs of the universe, were right. And this fear ran so deep that we accepted their standards of civilization and humanity. . . My great error was not that I had accepted someone else’s dream but that I had accepted the fact of dreams, the need for escape, and the invention of racecraft.”
What music do you remember that stepped up and challenged the values of the existing culture? What movies, plays, books? The arts soothe and console us, and they allow us tremendous personal expression. They also have the power to challenge us and wake us up to a world we have allowed ourselves within our cultural subgroups to ignore.