Unit Writtings

For the slack posts of the first six units, I attempted to find the intersection between relevance to the portfolio theme, quality of writing, and strength of idea. The reflections on units 7 and 8 are on a topic that made me think. I hope you enjoy!

Unit 1: The Dangers of a Single Story

Adichie discusses the dangers of a single story. It seems that what Adichie describes as a single story, is very similar to the concept of conceptual schemes. She emphasizes the conflicting western versus African conceptual schemes, specifically how the western view depicts Africans as primitive despite many Africans enjoying the same modern luxuries as Americans. The conceptual scheme I have had of Africa is not entirely true, my single story is not entirely true. However, this story was based on fake news. Adichie mentioned in her talk how John Lok said “Africans had no heads” and were “beasts without houses.” This account was fake news from the 1500’s. Accounts like these were not few and far between. As mentioned in “How To Be An Antiracist” (pg 42), Prince Henry of Portugal essentially created racism to make his newly acquired slaves from Africa more valuable. The early founders of race used fake news about African people to create a new conceptual scheme that has persisted for 500 years. This example shows the immense power of fake news, especially when that fake news confirms preexisting prejudices or combines with the corrosive power of capitalism. 

Based on the power of fake news to create conceptual schemes which have shaped nearly every aspect of our present, it seems justifiable to censor it to keep people from creating a new reality on the basis of lies and antiquated opinions. In America today, we are seeing a surge of fake news. Much like when the conceptual scheme of race was created 500 years ago on the back of a tremendous amount of fake news, there is bound to be a resurgence of fake news as that schema takes it’s dying breath: Fake “news” (opinions) that confirm racist and classist beliefs which people are desperately grasping at in order to avoid the cognitive dissonance that comes with the destruction of one’s conceptual scheme.

Unit 2: Anna Deavere Smith’s Notes From the Field

Around 31 minutes into the play, we are introduced to Abba Abinadi. She is the chief tribal judge of the Yurok tribal council in California. When discussing justice, particularly for youth, she says that when someone is acting bad is not the time to turn them away. Rather, that is the precise time we should be pulling one closer. This model of restorative rather than retribution justice is one I have been familiar with throughout my life. My parents never yelled, were always comforting in times of trouble, and were slow to punish. I never had any ‘trouble’ in school either despite the occasional slip up.  Through these practices, they indirectly communicated with me that they believed I could do better, that they trusted me to succeed, that they understood that the current situation did not define who I was. It was shocking and saddening when Tony Eady, the ISS student concern specialist, came onto the screen talking of the need to keep a tight thumb on the kids, perpetuating the same oppressive style of justice that plagues society. He creates a direct metaphor between school and prison in an attempt to “prepare the kids for life.” There was so much charged language packed into the short talk it is difficult to unpack it all. The main difference between these two speakers is the difference between retributive and restorative justice, respecting authority and nurturing compassion. When presented initially with a style of justice so familiar to me which is then juxtaposed with a style so foreign personally, but so present in society, I can’t help but feel saddened and empathetic. I hate that so many individuals are exposed to such a toxic form of ‘authority.’ That our society is plagued by the idea of respecting authority and punishment for not doing so, rather than ideas of nurturing compassion and offering a helping hand to those in need. At the end of the day, it’s much easier, more convenient, for those in power to maintain their oppression through retributive justice and the school to prison pipeline than to work to make society better for all.

Unit 3: Césaire: “Discourse on Colonialism

Cesaire discusses the irony in the ways in which western civilization justified colonialism and how the process of colonization is closely related to capitalism. The colonizers attempt to justify their abuse of another civilization by reducing that civilization to savages. They do so by ignoring the human value of these civilizations (culture, art, societal organization) and focusing on the capitalist aspects of society (miles of roads and canals, the lack of western science). The colonizer then attempts to reinforce the labels which they have given to the enslaved people through means such as displaying Sara Baartman. The colonizer treats a human being with incredible music talent as an animal in order to reinforce the colonial beliefs. All the while, the true savage, uncivilized, brutal race is the one of the colonizers. The truly uncivilized race is the one which enacts death and suffering upon another group in the name of moral superiority. 

The connection between colonialism and capitalism is further reinforced when Cesaire states “it is the colonized man who wants to move forward, and the colonizer who holds things back” (46). The previous statement expresses how the colonized people want to advance technologically, while still maintaining their cultural history and customs. However, the colonizer wants to keep the colonized body less advanced and less educated to continue their material and economic exploitation. Throughout the reading, Cesaire mentioned the countless ways in which Europeans attempt to justify their oppression of another group, all of which are founded in the combination of racism and capitalism.

Unit 4: “Civilians massacred in Ethiopia”

Sontag says compassion not translated into action withers, but

What am I to do?

Violence in Ethiopia, massacres of war. 

Why is it that we only hear of the violent news, of the tragedies and suffering?

There is not enough time, not enough emotion for all of the suffering of the world. 

But does this mean I shouldn’t try?

I wonder … who would cry for me.

Unit 5: Language of Loss

Attached is my language of loss response: a video of rows of lettuce that have been picked, leaving the dead shells of the remaining leaves. Of course, the lettuce is simply a tangible representation of the formless and abstract concept of loss. But, I feel that many of the universalities about loss can be found in these dead rows of lettuce. 

Life, death, and loss are all cyclic. Just like how lettuce ebbs and flows with the seasons, loss ebbs and flows with the cycle of life and death: It is an inevitable fact that we all must face. Once the lettuce has been grown and harvested, the land will never be the same. But out of that seemingly barren land comes new growth and new possibilities. There is hope. Come spring, the lettuce will return, once again. 

Unit 6: Option F: Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, 23-35

The combinations of prose and poetry, and English and Spanish within the work highlight the uncertain and ambiguous yet clearly defined space modern day Chicanos occupy. The writing delved into the complicated history (from the origins of the Aztecs to the late 1900’s) of the artificially defined border, but uncertain present and future for Chicanos on their ancestral land shared between Mexico and the United States. Anzaldua touches on many themes of the chapter in the following quote: “The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierta . . . the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country-a border culture.” The borderland has been a source of trauma, an open wound, for Chicano people for generations. And these wounds and  uncertainties are often caused by two worlds colliding, whether it be the countries of Mexico and the United States, colonizers and indigenous people, or the past and present. Anzaldua mentions how the Chicano people who live on the borderland now are descendants of the Aztecs who occupied the same land in the 1100’s. The legacy of conquest and colonialism have been impacting the same people in different permutations since 1521.

Unit 7: Reflection on Protest

The effectiveness of a protest is always a very nuanced matter because of the nature of protest. When challenging the status quo, the effectiveness and perception of the protest is determined by the current societal perceptions of the issue at hand. Progress in official institutions, such as the DSM, tends to lag behind the beliefs of society. So, the protests did not change peoples’ minds; the majority probably already had a favorable opinion on the issue. However, that does not mean that the protests were not essential. People must recognize that a problem exists before they can change it. These protests served their purpose by bringing attention to the flaws of the DSM. Civilized discourse is always preferable. However, when no progress is made by those means, sometimes an attention grabbing event is necessary.

Unit 8: Reflection on the Banality of Evil

As I heard Hannah Ardent and subsequently Samantha Rose Hill discuss the banality of evil, I couldn’t help but think that individuals commit banal evil acts every day. Dr. Hill described the banality of evil as the resistance to thinking empathetically. He was a bureaucrat in an expansive system, but his refusal to embrace humanity and think empathetically about his actions is what makes him evil. As a white person in America, someone who has been benefiting from racism my whole life, am I committing banal acts of evil? I try to be empathetic and informed, but being informed doesn’t change the system in place that has oppressed people of color for the entire history of this nation. Rather thinking or not, white people are complicit with or even upholding racist systems. However, racism is a slow violence. It occurs gradually and out of sight with delayed but destructive results. It is also dispersed over space and time, which makes it difficult to pinpoint individuals actors who are to blame, unlike Eichmann and the Holocaust. Since racism is a slow violence, it is easier to dissipate blame and ignore the banal evils we commit everyday. It is our responsibility to think empathetically and actively work to dismantle the racist systems that govern our nation.

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