Over on his blog, Reginald Shepherd has posted a meditation on how he made it in the cultural world as a gay black man from an impoverished background. It's also turns out to be a meditation on why art and culture are -- or, excuse me, this is The Bahamas -- should be a fundamental part of any social agenda. As he puts it,
... if one is black, if one is gay, if one has been raised in poverty (as I was, in tenements and housing projects in the Bronx), if as an individual one has never fit into the various social contexts to which one has been expected or even to which one has hoped to belong, the burden of the distance between oneâ€™s own sense of self and the fixed and often distorted images others have of one is especially heavy.
He accepts that most people who hold positions similar to his are in fact from wealthy backgrounds. He recognizes that the world of the cultural elite (he's talking about in the USA, of course, but we'd do well to consider how global that idea might be) is a world of privilege. As he writes:
The art that saved me has so often belonged to the wealthy and privileged that itâ€™s hard to remember that itâ€™s not merely an ornament of power. Part of my project as a writer has necessarily (in order for me to be a writer at all) been to attempt to disentangle artâ€™s liberatory from its oppressive aspects, to remember that those who so often own art donâ€™t define it, that (as Adorno pointed out) art is the enemy of culture and culture is the enemy of art.
By "culture", he means, I'm guessing, the invisible structure of society that's held in place by the status quo, and by "art" he means the individual's approach to that culture, each creator's interpretation of, answer to, and redefinition of that culture. In the USA, that status quo is defined internally, from the top down, and so "culture" and "art" are quite probably at war. Here, though, that status quo is defined from the outside in. Our culture should be the fodder for our art; but without the latter, the former is slipping away. We are the hollow men, and so we use everybody's yardstick to measure ourselves except our own. We put our culture aside, we have very little art. Will we ever get up, get out, or get over?