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Talking Red, White, and Blues: Dialoguing Democracy and America in the 21st Century

Humanities New York Reading & Discussion Program including Ralph Ellison essays & “Talking with Strangers”

Author: Kicia Coldspring Hughes | Click here more more information, and to sign up.

We are living in a very politically and culturally polarizing era.  Overt nationalistic rhetoric about what is America, who is or can be American, and who or what has the authority to decide these answers signal a decided shift from our “post-racial” Obama-era mood—did we ever even reach that mountaintop, anyways?  Has America ever truly been “democratic”?  Has America at any time in her history allowed all the various groups within her boarders the equal and unhindered pursuit of “life,” “liberty,” and “happiness”? Or is the historical reality of America founded ultimately upon the principal—not of equality, but—of equivocation?

It would seem that our political, legal, and judicial institutions are masterful prevarications of the ideals they espouse, but the ordinary citizen is less complex and more direct. How else can we explain our national dissonance?  Some cry foul and demand our rights.  Others of us just make it the best way we can, quietly, unobtrusively, marginally, believing ourselves bastards not entitled to the American inheritance; some, in fact, disinherited.  And others still, fully benefacted either because of chance or positionality, are also silent, having absolutely no qualm with our nation’s status-quo so long as the quotidian stasis continues to serve them. 

But who is the villain, then, and who is the victim?  “All dreamers and sleepwalkers must pay the price, and even the invisible victim is responsible for the fate of all,” writes Ralph Ellison in Invisible Man.  We are all implicated and complicit in either propagating inequality or doing nothing and therefore, we all suffer the consequences.  He admits hope though, if only a glimmer: “[T]he mind that has conceived a plan of living must never lose sight of the chaos against which that pattern was conceived.” 

By reckoning our myths with our truths and our differences with our similarities we each become collaborators in one the most ancient and humanizing endeavors known to mankind: critical consciousness building.

By reckoning our myths with our truths and our differences with our similarities we each become collaborators in one the most ancient and humanizing endeavors known to mankind: critical consciousness building—and we do this by first seeing each other with our “inner eyes” because our outer ones are rheumy; and we see first through hearing and being heard.  We do this best through dialogue.  Then, perhaps, we will begin to know what it means to live.

Praxis requires practice and genuine democratization requires recognition of our individual and collective intersubjectivities. This process does not happen in a vacuum. It is thoroughly existential and experiential.  America can be great as it never was, but as it has always had the potential to be—if only we learn to privilege each other at least as much as we privilege the myth, and if we venture outside of our boxes and become active social, civic, and political participants in the cultural institutions that make America.

You are hereby invited to participate in the latest Humanities New York Reading & Discussion Program series “Democracy in Action:  American Politics and Community Today.”  Facilitated by award-winning playwright, poet, and artist-filmmaker Annette Daniels Taylor, and co-sponsored by C.S.1 Curatorial Projects and Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, we will analyze the current American landscape and the tensions which shape it, focalizing our discussions through the writings of Ralph Ellison, Hannah Arendt, and Danielle Allen and of course, our own realities.  Bring a friend.  Bring two.

Readings will include selections from:

The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison (lead image)

These essays by the author of Invisible Man reflect on race, literature, music, and the experience and contradictions of living in America during the 20th century.

Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship Since Brown v. Board of Education

Danielle Allen looks at the current condition of civic distrust in America, tracing it back to school integration in the 1950s, and suggests practical ways that Americans can begin to overcome the issues that divide them

Between Past and Future

This collection of essays by celebrated philosopher Hannah Arendt investigates a series of concepts — authority, freedom, education, and more — and explains their significance to our political life.

Times: 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm

Tues., Feb.  25 – Merriweather Library, 1324 Jefferson Ave., Buffalo, NY 14208

Tues., Mar. 3 – Community Action Organization of WNY, 1423 Fillmore Ave., Buffalo, NY 14211

Tues., Mar. 10 – Mirabo Press, 11 Botsford Pl, Buffalo, NY 14216

Friday, March 20 – Albright-Knox Northland – 612 Northland Ave., Buffalo, NY 14211

Tues., Mar. 24 – Historic Colored Musicians Club, 145 Broadway at Michigan St., Buffalo, NY 14203

Tues., Mar. 31 – Hallwalls – 341 Delaware Ave, Buffalo, NY 14202


Friday, March 27, 2020 @ 7pm | Nick Cave speaks at Humanities to the Rescue @ UB Center for the Arts

The program is free and loaner books will be provided.  Transportation can also be arranged.  Our first meeting will be held Tuesday, February 25, 2019 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm at Frank E. Merriweather Library.  For inquiries please contact Claire Schneider at 716-884-3971 or

Click here more more information, and to sign up.

Written by BRo Guest Authors

BRo Guest Authors

It’s not unusual for authors to come and go. Guest authors range from collegiate interns to writers who will be contributing for a short stint of time. Guest authors might also have a series in mind. Authors are encouraged to submit their ideas to BRO (Buffalo Rising Online), upon which time we will work with the writer towards a productive end.

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