We don’t deserve a guarantee of comfort every time we experience art or music

SOUTH NEWFANE — On Jan. 26, Brattleboro was treated to an evening of Windham County’s Got Talent. Young contestants got a chance to perform for the judges and the public.

One young student, after an investment of time and hard work, was excited to perform Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” However, less than hour before the performance, a parent voiced an objection to the song and asked that it not be performed.

To their credit, the organizers encouraged the youth to go forward with the performance in spite of this objection. But the parent’s poison arrow had hit its mark and gutted the performer’s spirit; the song was not sung.

Perhaps the parent was discomforted by the hard reality that lies in the lyrics’ story. Perhaps they felt shame at what was so commonplace in America fourscore or so years ago. Perhaps they couldn’t shake the sick feeling that in the United States today, we still need to write songs about the needless death of Black Americans at the hands of their white co-countrymen.

Apparently, this parent’s discomfort was more important than the aspirations and hard work of a young talented student.

Apparently, the discomfort of hearing about oppression carries more weight than actually being oppressed.

Apparently, this parent’s sense of appropriateness trumped the interests of every other audience member who could have experienced the song had it been performed.

Who are we to think that our comfort level is so important that it requires that an entire community turn its back on racism and oppression that still run rampant in our society?

We don’t deserve a guarantee of comfort every time we experience art or music. “Strange Fruit” should make us uncomfortable. If we find it difficult to listen to, we should examine just why that is, not close our ears or, worse, censor the voice singing the song. We need to feel discomfort every day until we decide to face our nation’s prejudices and injustices head on.

The parent’s action was an insult to the performer, to the event, and to our entire community. This is not Florida. We cannot simply shake our heads, and say, “Oh, well.”

We must respond to every attempt to prevent us from considering the problems that are festering in our nation. We should respect artistic freedom. We should welcome opportunities to be seared to the bone, all the better to see what lies within each one of us.

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