While voraciously glancing through the many pages that make up the Call and Response anthology, I was pleasantly surprised to see a wide range of literacy organized throughout. I began thinking about the collaborative writing style and differing aesthetics showcased throughout the book. Aesthetics, by definition, are methods used to promote or educate readers about important artistic expression in society, and that is exactly what I think the authors and editors for this anthology were aiming for. Everyone knows that literature is one of many art forms and can be represented through poetry, short stories, song lyrics, etc. and all of these and more are included in this collection. The main aesthetic of Call and Response as a whole anthology seems to be focused on the differences between the individual authors in terms of aesthetic. This begs the question, is the main aesthetic of the anthology truly one aesthetic?
The title of this book, Call and Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literacy Tradition, suggests that these authors are members of a common cultural community that are working together to educate their peers, similar and dissimilar to themselves, on the past, present, and foreseeable future of the culture in question: African American culture. One of our first reading assignments for this course was the short story, “Everyday Use.” The problems that are presented in this story really work through a common struggle people have with shifting cultural values. Dee, Mama, and Maggie are all struggling with opposing thoughts on how blankets made by an ancestor should be used to keep their heritage alive. Dee has gone off to college and has learned so much about Black culture that she feels that she is right when she says the blankets should be hung on the wall of a common space for all guests to admire. Mama and Maggie do not have any level of higher education and are working physically to support themselves instead, and they strongly believe that the blankets will be honored through use in their home for typical blanket purposes (keeping warm, etc.). Neither is necessarily wrong or right; it’s all about perspective. Thinking about present day, a lot of people are struggling to figure out how to best represent their ancestors in today world. Some have decided on pushing back on what history thinks of their culture and have started fresh with their own newfound knowledge and understanding of their culture, others are still living like their ancestors lived before them trying not to change a thing. Then, there are others still that have decided on combining old and new aspects of their culture’s values and making them feasible to their daily lives. Again, none of these options is the “right” one. Everyone comes into life with their own ability to see, think, and feel different aspects of the world around them. This short story really shows different perspectives in the anthology and begins proving that the overall aesthetic of it is a unique mixture of many perspectives.
Besides short stories, Call and Response also includes poems, songs, sermons, and author/editor biographies before their designated section of the anthology. “A Sermon,” found on page 194, is a sermon that was preached on June 24, 1789, in Boston and it reads: “Roman xii. 10. Be kindly affectioned one to another, with brotherly love, in honour preferring one another.” This sermon is of few words but has a big impact on the general population at this time, especially in the Black community. At this point in history, slavery was still a huge part of everyday lives, and this sermon speaks clearly to the members of all communities alike to open up their hearts and love one another under the words of God. Regarding perspective, this sermon can be looked at from different perspectives when using a historical lens. There is truly perspective in everything. Having this sermon included in Call and Response allowed authors and editors to provide multiple literacy outlets for African American voices to be heard.
Music is an aspect of African American culture that serves as an outlet for feelings, thoughts, and beliefs, and one of the many songs included in Call and Response is “Lift Every Voice and Sing: The Negro National Anthem” (796). One section of this song resonated with me throughout my journey of flipping through the anthology reads “We have come over a way that with tears has been watered, / We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered, / Out from the gloomy past, / Till now we stand at last / Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast” (796). This song as a whole speaks volumes to what life was like back in 1900 when James Weldon Johnson first wrote and performed the song. This song was so popular during this time in history that the NAACP adopted it on February 12, 1900. It was bittersweet for me to see this song in the anthology because I have knowledge of the time period and the struggles that the Black community had to face due to the ignorance of the white majority, and I am glad that society is actively working on making a change in how people of different cultures and backgrounds are treated in modern society, but it hurts me to think that we were ever in a place where treating people less than human was acceptable. This piece of literature, even though it is presented in song format, helps readers of the anthology gain knowledge and understanding of important historical events that help develop different perspectives on African American cultural values.
The book doesn’t just enlighten its readers about only the good or bad, hardships or triumphs, past or present. It is an envelope that allows for all views, old and new, to be explored. This compilation of literature was created for readers to think, feel, and beginning to better understand what it is like to be a member of a culture that is made from so many different pieces, and our goal is to try to fit the pieces together to create an image of the past, present, and future of African American culture in literacy and beyond.