Being “alright” is a radical act

In reading “The Sisters are Alright,” I was reminded of the importance of the stories that we tell ourselves. Tamara Winfrey Harris starts out by talking about the negative stereotypes of black women and then breaks down all of these stereotypes. This woman could have decided to buy into the stereotypes of black women and not challenge them. But she chose to tell a different story. Our thoughts are powerful. In fact, the way we think about ourselves is a power that no one can take away from us. Yes, systemic oppression is damaging in ways I cannot fully comprehend because of my place of privilege. I would never want to tell someone who is struggling with the injustices of the world to just get over it because we each have a responsibility to each other to preserve each other’s basic human dignity. At the same time, however, each of us has the ability to tell ourselves stories about our lives that are either positive or negative. We can be the victor or the victim. What we repeatedly think shapes who we are and how we see situations.

But making oneself alright is hard work. It takes disciplining one’s thoughts, it takes self-care, and it takes collective care. Being alright is a journey fraught with self-doubt and missteps. We decide that we are alright not once or twice but over and over again. And each time, at least for myself, that I tell myself I am alright I believe it a little bit more.

I want to commend each and every one of you for the work you do both as individuals and as group members to be alright. It’s hard to be alright in a world that is telling you that you’re very existence is not alright. But when you are not alright the oppressor wins. When we are alright and use that alright light to help others (as I’ve seen many of you do) racism doesn’t win and the patriarchy doesn’t win because we all still have hope and faith that we in and of ourselves are valuable.

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 11 (A little late)

I never posted a response to our class on Nov. 11, when we talked about Redefining Realness and watched Butch Mystique. Getting to hear much of the intimate side of transitioning was interesting to me, because last year, my close friend was going through a lot of internal conflict as to how she wanted to define herself. For her, it wasn’t about being uncomfortable with her body (although she does prefer to bind), rather, she didn’t feel in accordance with the societal expectations and limitations placed on her because they saw her as a ‘she.’ I’m still using the feminine pronoun because she still has not decided on whether or not she would like to switch. She doesn’t identify as male, either, so she doesn’t want to begin going by ‘he,’ and she doesn’t feel like gender-neutral pronouns are at a place where she would feel comfortable using them to identify. Essentially, she doesn’t feel right when people refer to her as a ‘she,’ but she doesn’t want to feel equally uncomfortable having to continuously correct and convince people of its usage. Family support is instrumental in this, because she feels as though her parents would never support her transition to being gender neutral, and doesn’t want to lose their favor. She is an Asian-American, and due to her recent change in wardrobe and hairstyle, she has been getting a lot of “are you a boy or a girl?” from younger kids, and a lot of looks that say the same thing, from adults. At this stage in her life, she finds it easier to continue navigating as a ‘she,’ while she experiments with clothing and hair. She also talked to me about getting on testosterone injections, but she has also decided to wait on these because of their cost and irreversible effects. I suggested this read to her and hope she actually reads it, though the stories are clearly quite different. I don’t know where I really wanted to go with this post, other than share all this food for thought.

~~ 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?

Thanksgiving Break Post (whoops!)

So I noticed I was missing a post, but I couldn’t figure out for which week. I then scrolled down the list of submissions and saw Becca’s post, realizing it had been the post for Thanksgiving break.

I guess I’ll take this time to say just a little about how I feel this class has been for me. Overall I feel that as a class we have come a long way. I have enjoyed the readings and hearing everyone discuss in class. Going into this class I didn’t know what to expect at first, but I am very happy about how everything turned out. Even though this seminar is 3 hours long (once a week), most of the time it flies by. I think what has made this class so successful is that everyone contributes something very important and in their own way. Also, the way in which Professor Haley has structured the class with the schedules makes things run smoothly. I like that every class it is a little different; we refer to videos, books, movies, music and discussions to understand the material.

I will stop here as I have much more to say, but will save these remaining thoughts for our final post.

 

..Parable of the Sower..

I wished I had been in class this past Wednesday. Unfortunately, I was running a fever…I guess it might have been a response to all the work and everything that has been going on this semester.

I have to say, Parable of the Sower is probably my favorite novel I have read this semester. While the story itself was very graphic and violent at times, it’s refreshing to read a novel through the lens of a strong Black female character like Lauren. This book was definitely hard to put down and the moment I finished it I felt a little sad—I wanted to read more. The things that were captivating about Lauren were far from few. Her strength, her intellect, her bravery, her dedication…I mean the list goes on! The fact that she doesn’t let her weakness of “sharing pain” control her or prevent her from moving forward with her life is truly commendable. She sacrifices herself for her “new family” as she heads north after the tragedy in Robledo.

It’s sad to say, but before Hamilton many of the books I read in high school didn’t have powerful female characters of color. I’ve read Kindred, by Octavia Butler and I know her books are centered on these amazing dynamic characters. However, there are moments (and I always catch myself when I do this) that I assume the character is white. My past education has conditioned me to see things this way and it’s so frustrating. I know Octavia Butler’s work, but for some reason I kept thinking Lauren was white. My education before Hamilton has had a huge influence on this and throughout these 4 and a half years at Hamilton that has been made crystal clear. My experience with this only expresses even more the importance of being exposed to DIVERSE NARRATIVES. It’s crucial to be able to read book where we see ourselves in, because they can be empowering and inspiring and hopeful for different kinds of people.

12/4

I guess I’ll start by saying that this has easily been the craziest semester I’ve ever had here at Hamilton. It’s been a whirlwind and honestly I’m really looking forward to the break. One thing that has been unwavering in it’s positive effect on my daily outlook and weekly positivity has been Black Feminist Thought. I found that to especially be the case this week. I honestly feel that our class has really grown much closer throughout the course of the semester, and it seems to me that our discussions are reflecting just that.

Parable of the Sower has been my favorite reading of the semester for sure. Octavia Butler does a terrific job of character development, and in the context of this course, it’s fantastic that the protagonist–Lauren–is a Black woman. As we talked about in class, my favorite central theme of the story is Lauren’s personal religions philosophy that she labels “earthseed.” The description of earthseed–barring the use of “God” to signify a greater power–is pretty similar to my personal religious philosophy. In thinking through the different tenets of earthseed as they are scattered throughout the novel, I am reminded strongly of Taoism. While there are certainly differences, both systems of belief feature a strong respect for the earth, and an acceptance that change is a natural process and one must allow it to happen rather than resist. I wish that society as a whole was more willing to adopt that philosophy, as I think it would lead to a much more peaceful society. The fluidity of interpretation in earthseed is something that I think would prevent the  violent and radical misinterpretation of religion that the world is suffering from today.

Rewriting the Face of Beauty

Note: The names in my reflection are NOT the real names of the individuals involved.

As I mentioned in class on Wednesday, the sentiments of the women in the NYT Op-doc, “A Conversation With Black Women on Race” really resonated with me. Their words hit me especially hard though after a dinner conversation with some of my friends last night. As I sat around the table with my friends, one male friend (I will call him Martin) pointed out that we represented the color spectrum. We were all students of color, but we did represent many different shades. After my friend’s comment, two of my female friends (I will call them Victoria and Angie) started a discussion about whether they were or were not the same skin tone. Placing the underside of their arms side-by-side, my two friends decided that they were. When Victoria asked Martin if he thought that they were the same skin tone, Martin said no and that Victoria was darker. As a student of color himself, Martin did not have any intention to hurt Victoria, but it quickly became apparent that he did. As he and another friend left to attend to a commitment, Victoria said in frustration that she hated that was always the darkest person the dinner table. Angie then told Victoria that I was the only one at the table who wasn’t dark, even though my Latina friend that was also at the table with us is much lighter than me.

Victoria and Angie were not simply talking about “lightness” in general, but “lightness” in the black community. Victoria then said that my lightness was a blessing and Angie agreed. Upon hearing their words, sadness welled up in my heart. Despite the many times that I have told Victoria how beautiful she is, I know that she will not believe me unless the world also tells her that black women of darker shades are beautiful… until there are less images of Halle Berry and light-skinned women as the epitome of black beauty and more images of Alek Wek and other black women of darker shades. Until then, I will continue to be the source of external validation for Victoria and other friends and hope that, eventually, they will see how beautiful they are for themselves.

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.

Lauren and Bankole

Wow. I think I’m both delighted and depressed after reading Parable of the Sower. Depressed at how much it seems at times that we are headed in the direction of the world which Octavia Butler writes about. But delighted because the story drew me in and made me think about a lot of things. There are a lot of great parts of the story to analyze and discuss, but the one that I want to talk about is the relationship between Lauren and Bankole.

I could see the love interest coming from the moment Bankole entered the scene, and I felt a little weird about it at first. After all, if Lauren’s father is still alive, he would have been fifty-seven or fifty-eight, the same age as Bankole. So I definitely felt some initial discomfort at the thought of a potential love relationship between the two — it just seemed a bit hard to imagine being intimate with someone forty years older than myself, easily old enough to be my own parent. But Lauren’s and Bankole’s situation is a bit different. Whereas we usually associate relationships with such an age gap as having a huge power imbalance, Bankole treats Lauren as his equal in every way. He even defers to her when it comes to making decisions for the group. It is true that Lauren’s role is one of a matriarch kind of figure, but I still expected for a much older man to seek to undermine her power somehow. The fact that Bankole does not attempt to do any such thing makes me more comfortable with his and Lauren’s relationship. Furthermore, Lauren is very mature for her age, allowing her to bridge many of the gaps created by her age difference between Bankole.

I ended up feeling pretty okay with Lauren’s and Bankole’s relationship. But I’m interested in better understanding the initial discomfort that some may feel while reading about it. While they are not common, relationships with forty year age gaps exist today. However, I think they are generally of a highly patriarchal nature. Usually the older person in the relationship is a wealthy white man. His economic advantage, white privilege, and male privilege give him the power in the relationship. Take former Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, and his (ex)girlfriend for example. With connotations like this one, it’s no wonder our stomachs churn just a little bit when we are first introduced to Bankole’s and Lauren’s romance.

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But Lauren’s and Bankole’s relationship is nothing like that. We know that there is nothing patriarchal about Bankole’s and Lauren’s relationship. Still, I’m curious, how would things be different had Bankole been an older woman and Lauren a young man? We also can’t ignore race. Both Bankole and Lauren are black. How would things be different if one or the other were white? Let me know what you all think!