The Sisters are Alright and Will continue to be Alright

I agree with Henry when he mentioned that The Sisters are Alright reminds him of a combination of Sister Citizen and Longing to Tell with some moments of alright thrown in. It’s finally refreshing to read a book that’s about Black women that isn’t giving advice about how to get the man or how to be a better wife or how to try to convince society that you are as good as they are. The Sisters are Alright was a good choice for the last book for the class because it ended on a positive note – despite all of society’s criticism and refusal to acknowledge Black women as equal intellectuals, there are some Black women who are fighting for their success. I will remember that during the tough times – when I’m asked why I’m still single, when I’m trying to find a post grad job. I will remember that things will be alright


~~ Week 13 ~~

Firstly, I would like to apologize for having not been very active on the blog in the past few weeks. With campus climate and current events, my thoughts have been elsewhere. Nevertheless, Thanksgiving Break provided me the opportunity to decompress and read Parable of the Sower, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Although I found the dystopian civilization all too imaginable, I think it speaks to Butler’s power as an author to be able and throttle the reader’s emotion as is fit. The point made in class, that Butler takes contemporary problems and exaggerates them, makes the novel difficult to read at many points because they are the ‘worst case scenario’ type situations that are the fodder of nightmares. Another aspect of this that was particularly disturbing is that these are the SAME issues we are dealing with more than two decades later.

I also appreciated, Prof. Haley, that you handed out Butler’s obituary, because it very concisely presented a well-rounded portrait of her character and the common themes she threaded throughout her works. Something that I haven’t been able to get over is the line, “She used to say that the last thing she wanted was for her work to be prophetic.” It seems almost haunting in a way, like a harbinger,; perhaps it is the vivid detail with which she describes raw emotion and sensations, or how well she has crafted the remnants of ‘civilization’ in which the protagonist dwells.

The novel also made me think a lot about complicity; while this is sometimes a question of survival, more often than not, it’s simply the easy way out, a way to keep one’s head down and pretend like it isn’t happening.  Occupying a privileged position in society (white, male, middleclass), complicity tends to be more a way of life. Sometimes situations are very clear, your moral compass says “I know this is wrong,” or, “I know that is right,” but sometimes you don’t know how to feel about something: enter complicity. In some situations, it is the only choice that allows survival, but the vast majority of privileged complicity stems from the fundamental, however misguided, belief that “It doesn’t affect me.”

As a fairly empathetic person, I have never understood as someone could believe this. Unfortunately, as I see more and more of the world I wonder if going with the status quo, not wanting to make waves, put your own skin on the line: cowardice and complicity, are these rooted in the base of human existence?

Parable of the Sower

Many people I met abroad who have never been to the U.S had built their perception of what they think the country is like based on the movies they have seen. After reading Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, I believe that the book, written in 1993 and set in a 2024 dystopian America is now a more accurate metaphorical representation of how the country is. Present day America is filled with racial tension, the prevalence of rape culture, xenophobia, loose gun control laws, and corrupt government, all aspects which are present in the book’s dystopian America. The tight state lines reminds me of today’s states refusing to accept refugees and what some states call “illegal” immigrants. It makes me wonder whether residents of California who will start moving to other states in the future due to the increasing water crisis be frowned down upon and targeted? In the book Lauren’s father had both legal and illegal guns in the house to protect the family because criminals were everywhere and there were no strict gun control laws. Keith had told Lauren that it was easy to acquire a gun if one had the right amount of money; once a person has one gun, they can easily get many more by other means. There are more mass shooting in 2015 than there are days on the calendar due to loose gun control law. Everyday more lives continue to be lost because politicians do not want to infringe upon the 2nd amendment not understanding that a tighter gun control law doesn’t mean no more guns. As more mass shootings occur, more families acquire guns in the hopes of using it to protect themselves, which continues the vicious cycle of the guns falling into the wrong hands. When writing the book Butler predicted that there would be no change in the mentality of society that privileges the white race over the Black race. Today, the mass police brutality against Black bodies is a prime example that nothing has changed since 1993 when the book was written, and there doesn’t seem to be any indication of future changes. This also proves true for the rampant rape in the book and in our current America brought on by the consequence of living in a patriarchal society. Men use rape as a weapon to devalue women, hurt other men, and assert their power. I’m not usually the one to take dystopian society sci-fi books seriously but with the major unrest and injustice that is happening and with people seriously considering voting for Donald Trump for the 2016 presidency, there seems to be a major disaster coming. Seeing herself as an outsider, Butler was able to step back and observe society to write a novel that still accurately describes its behavior years into the future.

Living Your Truth

The popular catchphrase this past summer was « Live your truth » among camp staff. Our motto acted as a gentle reminder for counselors and campers to respect one another. I don’t know the origin of this phrase, but cites it as a quote from Steve Maraboli’s book, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience. I have provided the excerpt below:

“Live your truth. Express your love. Share your enthusiasm. Take action towards your dreams. Walk your talk. Dance and sing to your music. Embrace your blessings. Make today worth remembering.”

Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower reminded me of the importance of living one’s own truth and celebrating others’ beliefs. After reading Parable of the Sower and reflecting on recent events at colleges around the United States, I’ve become disheartened by our divided campus community. It is evident that institutional and administrative problems existed before I even came January of 2014, but speaking from my own experience it seems racial and class tensions have escalated during my time at Hamilton.
Parable of the Sower reminded me of the children’s book Old Turtle and the Broken Truth by Douglas Wood and illustrated by Jon J. Muth. Amazon summarizes the children’s Old Turtle and the Broken Truth (click link for full Amazon summary):

Powerhouse team Douglas Wood and Jon J Muth present a sequel to Old Turtle, the award-winning wisdom tale of peace and love for the earth.

In this profoundly moving fable, the earth & all its creatures are suffering, for the people will not share their Truth, which gives them happiness & power, with those who are different from them. Then one brave Little Girl seeks the wisdom of the ancient Old Turtle, who sees that the people’s Truth is not a whole truth, but broken. Old Turtle shows the girl the missing part of the Truth, & the Little Girl returns with it to her people. Then the pieces are brought together, and the broken Truth is made whole at last: YOU ARE LOVED…AND SO ARE THEY. Then the people & the earth are healed.

As you can see, Butler’s story parallels that of Old Turtle, but with a twist. Her science fiction novel of the speculative dystopian genre offers an even more extreme scenario of chaos set in the United States in the near future. Both stories warn humankind against losing trust in one another. And not to mention, they feature strong women protagonists, who lead others in their mission to repair the world. Ultimately, both tales emphasize the importance and power of empathy to restore characters’ faith in humanity and rehabilitate the environment.
I realize that I’m assuming that everyone’s truth is peaceful, making me sound very PollyAnna in this post. I understand the importance of resistance and sometimes violence in enacting change, however I think it’s okay to remind ourselves every once in awhile of the power of love, empathy, and trust in a community. The Parable of the Sower and Old Turtle and the Broken Truth stress these values are just as necessary for propelling movements forward. While we can cling to our own beliefs, others contribute to the validation of our individual truths. I hope that Hamilton’s campus can become a place to students to feel heard and respected. For once students, faculty, and staff listen to each other’s stories and trust others to change and define their social reality for themselves, our truths and our existences will truly be validated and our community healed.

Just some thoughts

Hi team!

I realized that I completely forgot to post on our blog Friday before Thanksgiving. I thought I would still post my thoughts about last class because they’re still relevant. In any case, better late than never!

Like Jennifer, I found last class to be very encouraging. I was absolutely delighted that so many people showed up to discuss race on college campuses. Our discussion was incredibly productive— You are all very insightful individuals. I was blown away by everyone’s maturity in discussing a sensitive subject in class. Furthermore, I was touched by a collective sense of honesty and willingness to open up about personal experiences on our campus. And of course, my post would not be complete with out mentioning TC’s fabulous syllabus. While it was not printed on lavender paper, it was certainly worthy of Professor Haley’s course. I was so impressed by all of you.

Our discussion was an interesting juxtaposition to the Walk Out in Solidarity later Wednesday afternoon. If you think about it, our impromptu class was really an informal focus group. We discussed issues of race on college campuses around the United States. Then we focused on how age old academic traditions and institutionalized racism combined with current cultural practices impact the lived experienced of students, faculty, and staff of color on Hamilton’s campus. Together, we discussed about current campus issues and then created a list of proposals and demands for change. I left Wednesday’s class with a better sense of how to gage our campus culture with respect to race. I attended the Walk Out later that day. It was really cool to see some of our thoughts put into practice.

I agree with Melinda that it is unacceptable that there is only one female tenured faculty of color. Student unrest around the nation and here at Hamilton makes one thing clear: Campuses needs change. Wednesday’s discussion proved that students are beyond willing to make this happen. I am hopeful for the semesters to come. We got this.

Student Walkout

I’m glad that a lot of students showed up for the walkout to stand in solidarity with students at Hamilton, and at other institutions of higher education who have been facing acts of racism. Some of the faces, both minority and white, were familiar faces, while others were new. It makes me wonder whether those new faces were simply there because they heard that there would be local news anchors there and they wanted their 15 seconds of fame, or whether they were there to be a part of something that will hopefully make an impact in Hamilton’s history, or maybe they wanted to find out who was going to lead the march and therefore weed out who belong in the anonymous group “The Movement.” Although I question their motive, I am glad that they lent their body and presence to the march because it showed the administration that a lot of students care about the issues that are happening on campus. I appreciated the unity of marching, arms in arms, chanting that the students have the power to change the racist atmosphere of the campus. The only chant that I did not appreciate is the chant from Kendrick Lamar’s song “we’re gonna be alright.” No, we are not going to be alright until the administration hears our pleas and actually starts to participate in trying to curve the racism. That chant just sent all of the wrong messages.

The next move for the students is to bring a list of demands to the administrators, including an increase in the presence of diverse faculty. Just like the faculty in “The Invisible Labor of Minority Professors” by Audrey Williams June in The Chronicles of Higher Education, the few minority professors on Hamilton’s campus have the responsibility of not only teaching their courses but mentoring the minority students on campus. The college tries to accept more diverse students to have their diversity percentage look good on paper but they do not have the right environment (faculty members that look like them, a campus that sees them as equals, etc) to allow the students to thrive. For a top liberal arts college with over 1800 students, having only one female tenured faculty of color is unacceptable. This is the 21st century and changes need to happen.

Redefining Society

I am glad that Janet Mock decided to share her story with us in “Redefining Realness.” I especially liked that she acknowledged that she is one of the lucky few that transitioned in poverty and was able to survive her environment. When this year (2015) began there were already news headlines about transwomen of color who were murdered for their gender identification. Black women are at the bottom of the totem pole but transwomen of color, especially Black transwomen, have to deal with the societal issues brought upon by their race, gender, and trying to be comfortable in the gender that they truly are.

Part of her story that sounded really familiar to me was survival sex work. Being involved with the LGBTQ+ community, I have heard of many young runaway/homeless youths who had to turn tricks just to get food in their stomach, money in their pocket, or a place to sleep. The reality is very saddening. When I read that part of the book my hope in/for her decreased,  it didn’t decrease because I thought less of her but because I pictured the worst happening: she would like the money/attention too much to be able to escape or she would catch an STI and then end up dying at the end of the book. I have heard so many unfortunately things happening to young LGBTQ+ individuals that I can only imagine the worst happening to them.

We need to change that. We need to acknowledge that horrible things do happen but we also need to focus on the positive things that happen because there are many young transwomen and men growing up and they shouldn’t be discouraged by all of the negative news that is happening to them. They should have a future to live for, role models to look up to, and a life that they can live without looking over their shoulder fearing that someone would “clock” them and attack them.

Week 10

I’ve been struggling with Longing to Tell over the past week. I found all of the stories moving and illuminating; many of the themes were topics that I don’t have knowledge of firsthand, so they were, at times, difficult to confront so openly. I don’t know how anyone could read this book and not be touched on a fundamental human level, what’s more though, is how Rose wrote these women’s stories in a way that shifts the narrative to their frame of reference. By doing so, the reader is in a better position to understand these women’s points of view, rather than view them from the outside (such as with pity, judgement, etc.). This book also horrified me in the sense that it made me think of how common these experiences truly are. Until reading, I would have said that such situations were the exception rather than the rule, but now I question that assumption, especially because, as we discussed, women in general, and particularly women of color, are constrained by societal taboos surrounding women’s sexual identities and histories. What particularly troubled me, as it has throughout the course, is the silence imposed on women of color through this massive and complex web of double standards, paradoxical stereotypes and systematic devaluing. I almost wish we would have done a more in-depth analysis of maybe one story from each chapter, seeing the common experiences emerge in different ways in such intimate and individual stories was pretty powerful. I was, and am still, unsettled by the prevalence of sexual abuse throughout and think that this is probably what I’m struggling with most, except perhaps the general sense of hopelessness that came over me when reading. Although I was profoundly impressed by the fact that these women were able to vocalize and share their stories, I was left wondering if the only hope some readers will have is that now they know they aren’t alone and that their experiences, feelings, thoughts, anxieties, ambitions, are valid.

Finally Letting it Out

Reading “Longing to Tell” by Tricia Rose was difficult because it was a book filled with so much abuse that real life Black women experienced. It is a very power and wonderful book to read but it left me reflecting on how strong I am in the experiences and challenges that I have encountered and endured. All of the women were brave to share their stories and Shanice’s story really resonated with me. Shanice is a single 22 year old Black one without a child that is in a predominantly white college class. She was raised catholic, learned information about sex from her older half-sister, and was abused by the only two men that she has ever loved in her life.

A prominent theme that most, if not all of the women in the book experienced, were there parents’ disconnect with them as they grew into their womanhood and started discovering their own sexuality. My own experience on the day I falsely thought I had gotten my period (I had learned all about it from my older sisters and panicked when I felt cramp like symptoms) connected with this particular theme. It was on a Sunday morning before we left for the Catholic mass, I told my mom and she pulled me aside, gave me a pad and sternly told me that I would get pregnant and have a baby if I was to have sex. I cried the whole drive to church wearing the itchy dry stupid pad and have ever since hated my period. I had to awkwardly talk to my sex ed teacher (who mostly taught about STD/I) in high school about sexuality in order to learn more about sex. I wonder if Black parents get the same parenting handbook? I was lucky enough that when I decided to have sex that I didn’t mess anything up physically.

The women also touched upon their different definition of intimacy and for me intimacy is all about the emotional connection, something completely separated from sex. Intimacy is being able to lie there with someone and bare yourself raw emotionally by sharing the emotional things that make you vulnerable, that make you weak because you are completely trusting that other person with the materials that make up your soul. The last guy that I was intimate with left, just stopped replying to my texts and phone calls – at first I thought that he had been dreadfully hurt but it turns out that he didn’t want any part of the mess that was my life. Growing up I was taught to bottle it all in. Take the hitting and don’t cry because then they’ll show you something to really cry about. Don’t share anything emotional with the siblings because they will always use it as a bargaining chip against you. Growing up all types of emotionally messed up, add the physical stuff, and then the past sexual stuff from the family friend that had kept trying to escape its mental prison, it just got too much to bare. I considered running away multiple times, more times than I can count. When the class listened to “Runaway Love” by Ludacris and Mary J. Blige it really brought back all the pain, memories, and plans of trying to escape it all. This week was a very emotionally challenging week which I appreciated because it made me realize how stronger I have become by getting through all of those past challenges.

Resistance and Forgiveness in Longing to Tell

I left class today still thinking about our discussion on the subject of intimacy in Longing to Tell.  Many of the women interviewed defined intimacy as a feeling of “closeness” and “trust” between people, but did not necessarily define intimacy in terms of sexual experiences. As I pointed on in class, a lot of the women expanded their definitions to includes moments when they felt intimate relationships had been betrayed. I have no idea whether these women were promoted with the questions about moments of betrayal or if they choose share information on their own accord. Several of you touched upon how Luciana vowed to never have another best friend after her boyfriend cheated on her with Luciana’s best friend. Luciana laments,

From that point on, I just dismissed best friends. There is nobody who I tell my secrets to. I don’t trust anyone. No more best friends. To this day I still don’t like her. I’m still bitter. And I’ve gone on. I’m friends with my ex-husband. He’s gone on now, remarried, and has another family. But this one particular girl– I am through with her forever and a day (54).

Luciana’s experience clearly marred her enough to prevent her from confiding and trusting in other women. Yet, she forgives her ex-husband for his past wrongdoings. Perhaps her decision is based upon the nature of her relation with her ex-husband. However, (as some of you remarked in class) it is also likely that her lenience on her ex-husband is rooted in the sexist notion that women need men more than they need other women.

I know that I mentioned in class that these women didn’t touch upon the notion of forgiveness as much as I would have anticipated, but I realize now that I was completely wrong. Although most women did not explicitly discuss the subject of forgiveness, and many of them referenced ways in which they cope with atrocities or experiences where their confidence in another had been breached. Some used religion as a coping mechanism. Others confided in family and friends. I imagine that sharing these stories helped women cope and/or understand their experiences. I wonder if some of these women viewed the process of the interview as a vehicle for forgiveness or resistance? Not necessarily to forgive or resist those who wronged them, but to a society that dangerously undervalues their voices and lived experiences.

Do you see this book as a symbol of resistance or forgiveness? If so, are resistance and forgiveness mutually exclusive? If not, what purpose(s) do you believe Longing to Tell can serve? Furthermore, for whom is this book written?