Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower is a science fiction dystopian novel set in the near future. In the book, there is this weird way that the people of that time deal with race: race is realized and there is still racism present but it is not presented in the same ways. For example, in the novel, couples that are not in a town and are interacial are more likely to be victimized for no other reason than because they are interacial. Also, people in the book regularly make racist comments about their neighbors. As I thought about this concept, and considered the current standings of society, I realized that we, as a human species, will never overcome the idea of race.
Today, we have kids that are here trying to get educated (DREAMers) being forced out of the states and people who are trying to escape fighting being told they have about a year to leave and are no longer protected citizens (Haitians and TPS). People trying to cross into America for a better life for them and their family in the land of opportunity are jailed and sent back constantly but we also rely on immigrants to do the grunt work of growing our food for a salary way below minimum wage. All across this country, black girls are told they are not allowed to enter schools with their hair in braids or afros and black women are expected to wear straight hair like their white counterparts.
The irony of this entire idea of racism is that it isn’t real. Race is a socially constructed concept, meaning that we completely made it up. This can also be said about borders and immigrant; we made that up too. No land belongs to any group of people and the policies and borderlines we make are not real. Race and borders are two things that we constructed on our own, but they are two of the main things that divide us as humans. These concepts are so damaging to us as a whole, but we will never be able to rid ourselves of them because by being born the right race and in the right country, people can hold an immense amount of power not only for themselves but they can also control aspects of others’ lives who do not hold the same classifications. Maybe I am just a pessimist, but I can never see the people that hold the power giving that up, even if that means that everyone else will live better and if you are more optimistic than myself, that is wonderful but my hope left when half of Americans voted for a man that ran on a platform of hate and misogyny.
It’s been hard to find alright moments this past semester, as it definitely has been the toughest yet for me. It’s not even Hamilton for me at times, it’s just various events that happen to overlap and seem to make my life ten times more miserable. I think the glow of college has worn off; I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still love Hamilton much more than Miami and I look forward to getting back whenever I leave, but I do miss my parents and brother a lot more than I did last year. There will be moments where I will get struck with feelings of sadness and I realize that the people I want to talk to aren’t around me. However, there are other days when I feel deliriously happy at the fact that I’m here, breathing the fresh air, getting to experience the beautiful change in seasons. For me the alright moments are the quiet ones: getting to grab a meal by myself when the dining halls are quiet, walking through the glen to get back to my room, or getting to watch the tree outside my window get dusted with snow. It’s easy to feel like the world is against me sometimes, but then I get to look around this campus and realise how incredibly lucky I am to be here. Hamilton itself is an alright moment in the twenty years of my life.
Although this book was very interesting, I had many issues with the relationship between Lauren and Bankole. I don’t care if this is taking place in the future where things may be entirely different, but the fact of the matter is that Lauren was having a relationship with someone much older who had also been previously married. The power dynamic mad me uncomfortable because it definitely felt like Lauren reached out to Bankole at the beginning from a father-like figure perspective. The fact that Butler added this father figure in really bothered me, because supposedly Lauren has an entirely new religion because her father’s beliefs are not satisfactory enough for her, but I feel that at the end hers is very similar. I also feel like I cannot take Earthseed seriously because of Lauren’s relationship with Bankole. Someone who is in a relationship with such a strange power dynamic and age difference (when one person is very young) does not seem like a person who can found an entire new religion and expect to build a community. If she’s putting her life in a situation like that, what’s to say that she won’t protect other young women from getting into relationships where the power dynamic is obviously skewed. A leader needs to protect their people and I can’t see Lauren protecting young girls. Lauren clearly has an attachment to the father-like figure and I would not want her translating that to other young women. It also made me quite uncomfortable that when Bankole found out Lauren’s age, he himself recognized that she was quite young, but still made the conscious decision to remain with her. I felt that it was predatory in some way, as if he were taken advantage of Lauren’s lack of experience with relationships.
The Butch Mystique was quite a learning experience for me, as I had never read a piece or seen any film about butch lesbians in general. The duality of their lives is something I didn’t expect, because I did not realize that they would be rejected by women because they’re too “manly” but then rejected by men because they weren’t masculine enough. Being Black butches adds another layer of difficulty for them since their race plays against them. The conversation about penetration was confusing for me, because sometimes I thought that they looked at it as something weak and too feminine. I can understand how penetration would be a difficult thing for butch lesbians, since it society’s view it contradicts directly with their identity, but I wondered where the line between it being uncomfortable and it taking a misogynistic view was. It seemed that some of the butch lesbian seem to frown upon it because it would contradict with their manhood, which surprised me since I would have expected them to have the opposite idea. I suppose that this shows that not all people who are a minority/oppressed have a liberal view towards thing. It felt a bit like watching Caitlyn Jenner talk.
Hazel V. Carby’s “It Just Be’s Dat Way Sometime” explored blues and how it Black women expressed their lives through it. When she spoke about Bessie Smith’s song, “In House Blues”, that Smith wrote and sang, I could not help but draw parallels to Beyonce’s Lemonade album, specifically the songs “Don’t Hurt Yourself” and “Sorry”. The first thing that drew my attention was the subtitle for the section “BAAAD SISTA” which is exactly what I would imagine Beyonce to say. Smith’s song focuses on angry woman who is trapped at home as her husband gets up and leaves; she sings about being feeling antsy and wanting to “call murder” and just let the police squad get her again. This signifies that she has brushed with the law and she is not afraid to do so again. She’s ready to take matters into her own hands and get exactly what she wants. Beyonce’s Lemonade clearly had some blues influences, so I realized that I should not have been so surprised to see similarities here. In “Don’t Hurt Yourself”, Beyonce is singing a threat to a man, saying that when he hurts her, he’s actually hurting himself, when he lies to her, he’s actually lying to himself. This is similar to Smith’s claims that she has no qualms about hurting him, when he’s simply done the exact the same thing to her. I also found parallels to Beyonce’s “Sorry” since she sings about not being apologetic at all about the mess that her lover has created. She does not care if he calls with apologies because she is not even thinking about him; this is similar to the blase attitude Smith has toward causing trouble with her man, as she has done it before and has no reservations about doing it again. The same themes are being reflected more than fifty years apart and allows Black women to claim their agency against their man.
I really enjoyed the documentary Lockin’ Up because it’s always fascinating for me to hear about the importance of hair to Black women. I’m so used to hearing about how Black women face repercussions for having dreads because they’re considered “unprofessional” so it was a breath of fresh air to hear about how women feel liberated when they make their choice. I was surprised to hear that many of the women face backlash from their own families, and I admire the women for sticking firm to their decision to get dreads. I understand why families would try to discourage other members from getting locks, since people can receive such a backlash, but I find it disheartening that they can’t put their differences aside and support each other. It’s a frustrating subject in general; it’s entirely unfair that Black women are criticised for locks, and yet they’re celebrated on everyone else, especially models. I remember when Marc Jacobs sent his models down the catwalk at New York Fashion Week with locks and yet there was not a single critique from anyone in the fashion industry. All the critiques came from instagram, where Marc Jacobs went as far to respond to comments to insist that he had done nothing wrong. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that people will adore it on the runway, but when Zendaya wears them to Oscars she’s immediately accused of smelling like weed. Zendaya is adored in media and yet she was subjected to the critiques that the white models did not receive. I remember that this was also an issue in the novel Americanah, where Ife had to change her braids and relax her hair in order to look professional. This is a constant recurring theme in literature, film, and even real life, but it still is a topic that people do not understand! I don’t understand how they don’t! How many times do we have to yell that hair is different for everyone and should not be representative of the type of person you are?
I was absolutely floored after watching Lackawanna Blues. Not only did I feel a sense of solidarity with the “family”, my heart completely went out to Nanny. I absolutely adored how the filmmakers subtly showed us the struggles Black women face. By telling the story through the eyes of Ruben Jr., the viewers were able to see the juxtaposition of what Ruben perceived her life to be and what her life actually was. I think characters similar to Nanny are constantly portrayed as these doting grandmothers who lead perfect lives and are there to raise children. I appreciated seeing her marital troubles as well as her kindness to others, such as the man who had the mental illness and an obsession with his keys. The filmmakers could have easily gone with the “angry Black woman” trope, but chose to portray Nanny as her own unique individual who had compassion for the man. I also enjoyed seeing how Ruben’s perception of Nanny changed as he grew older; I think his realization that she must be exhausted after taking care of absolutely everyone at the extravagant hotel granted her a lot of agency in an indirect way. Even though she did not directly make this remark, the film hinted at her stress at times and it was gratifying to have Ruben (who is arguably the most important person to Nanny) notice.
I had never heard of Lackawanna Blues before this class and I was quite surprised; not to toot my own horn, but I’m quite familiar with films. I noticed that this was a direct to tv film and I remember that the film about Henrietta Lacks received the same treatment. I wonder why this is a recurring theme for films the deal about Black women. Is there a fear that they will not be received well? Because I do know that the film Girls Trip did well in the box office and that was an all Black women cast. It’s incredibly frustrating that the only films that Hollywood seems to make that include Black women in prominent roles, all have to do with either slavery or segregation. I would like to see more films like this one that celebrate the strength of Black women.
After reading the Lugo piece, I felt extremely angry and frustrated. I was shocked to read what the male student told the professor; stereotypes and racism aside, I think his statement in general was offensive simply because he was speaking to someone older than him. Perhaps it’s a bit old-fashioned of me, but I have always prioritized respect to my elders. Even if they are a conservative or a bigot, politeness is to be respectful. I don’t think any sense of entitlement should ever take priority over politeness. Thinking about the stereotypes that people have against Latinos, specifically Latinas, it frustrates me that we’re confined to our bodies and how they look. We don’t even get ridiculed for any personality traits, we’re reduced to our appearance. Sometimes I feel spiteful and wish I could just coast through life with that stereotype hanging over my head, flirting with everyone I meet and being liked because I fit the image of the “fiery, sexy Latina” in their mind. But when I really think about it, I know I could never do it. I wish I had the confidence to put my image out like that., but I personally am shy and restrained. It reminds me a bit of my mother, who was a dancer in Honduras. She was popular and beautiful… fitting in perfectly with the image of the sexy Latina. However she tells me of all the unwanted advances she always got; yes, everyone loved her because she was exactly what people expected, but because people thought they knew her and expected things, they felt they had the right to touch her inappropriately. I feel like there’s no way to win, even if you try to flip the rules on the players, you still end up getting played yourself. I suppose the best you can hope for at times is to be surrounded by people who will treat you the way you deserve to be.
To echo everyone else: This semester has been hard. I appreciated our class, and express my gratitude to Professor Haley, for providing a space allowing us to openly communicate our troubles this semester.
I enjoyed our exercise at the end of last class, and I loved hearing other ‘alright’ moments.
While walking with a friend the other day, we expressed a shared difficulty in persevering during trying times. I shared one practice, where I try and find something to look forward to in the future and utilize that as a motivational force – no matter how big or small. It helps.
Music has continually proven extremely helpful, especially this semester. Our exercise reminded me of this show I watched recently, and in one of the season finales a character tells another character: “Every day it gets a little easier. But you have to do it every day. That’s the hard part. But it does get easier.”
A song plays afterwards, one I ended up enjoying immensely (Avant Gardener by Courtney Barnett for those curious) – and I think back to the quote every time I listen to it. I tell myself: You just keep going, Be kind to yourself. Know your worth. Acknowledge how far you have come. Love, support, and uplift those you care about. And try.
As I reflect on the last few months it is obvious that black feminist thought was one of my safe spaces; for at least three hours a week I felt like everything would be alright and the world wasn’t collapsing on my shoulders.
This semester has definitely been the hardest semester for me, academically, physically and emotionally. There were times that I literally did not think I would make it to the end. My grades and health were struggling and my mental health was quickly worsening which led me to make some difficult but necessary decisions: I started going to the counseling center and eliminating everything that had become toxic for me, Economics being the first.
My major had become the most toxic space for me at Hamilton and it took a lot for me to realize that. I did not feel as welcome and comfortable in those classes as I did in black feminist thought or every other class I have taken here outside of the economics department. After thorough and long ideas and consideration I decided to drop the major and move to the Africana Studies department. It was moments we shared in the class that made me even more certain of my decision.
My experience in black feminist thought was more than just academic it was truly therapeutic and because of that I thank all of you. Black feminist thought made everything feel alright.