Humanity, or a Lack Thereof?

A while ago, Emma wrote an incredibly insightful blog post entitled, “What Does it Mean to be “Human?” Quite honestly, it’s a question I have been reflecting on for a while now. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have an answer to this. If anything, I have more questions and thoughts to add.

Aside from consent, humanity and what it means to be human seem to be major themes woven into every piece of writing we’ve read. As Emma so wonderfully explains, Clay’s Ark by Octavia Butler tackles the issue of humanity throughout the novel. Emma addresses the more scientific aspect of the novel. Once the human comes in contact with the foreign organism, they start to lose their human qualities, making them more barbaric. Like Emma says, when Blake attempts to figure out what is wrong with Meda, he finds that the disease had “tampered with Meda’s genetic blueprint” and “had left her no longer human.” (Page 498)

Looking at this one way, the disease literally alters the human it comes in contact with. However, I think Butler wants us to tackle the question of what it means to be human on a level deeper than this. Clay’s Ark is extremely complex. Doctor Blake Maslin and his two daughters, sweet Rane and Keira are abducted on the side of the road one day and taken to an isolated farm where they’re expected to live among these people with a dangerous and deadly disease that they claim there is no escape. Blake is unconvinced, and thinks he will either find a cure for the disease or escape with his girls so they don’t become victims of the farm family. Throughout the novel, we see characters experience bouts of hopelessness, doubt, and anger. At the very end of the novel, we witness sweet, innocent Rane “cradling an automatic rifle” and shooting the heads off of people in order for her and her family to get to safety. (page 614) Just a page after we learn from Blake that he unintentionally betrayed everyone by the doing the worst: spreading the disease to the rest of humanity. Right before he dies, he struggles to say, “I did it. Oh, Jesus. I did it.” (Page 618) All in all, it’s an extremely twisted novel. I think Butler wants us to ask, “what does it mean to be human?” But in a deeper sense. Do we have a responsibility or unspoken agreement to take care of each other, or look out for each other, as fellow humans? If we do, are there any exceptions? What happens when we abandon humanity? Just look at Clay’s Ark. We get a sense that the people on the farm have a sense of family. But once Blake and his daughters try to escape, it seems as though violence just breaks loose. Blake seems to have the intention of escaping the farm right from the get-go. He wants nothing to do with them. Was it Blake’s job, as a father and a doctor to get comfortable in his new place and help Meda and Eli and the rest of the family? At the end of the novel, many died at the hands of Rane and others. Even Blake dies. Despite being infected by the disease, the people on the farm were still “human.” They were a part of the same human race as the Maslin family. I don’t know if I explained this well enough, nor do I think there is one straight answer. But there are some interesting questions to reflect on. What does being a human come down to? Do you think the characters in this book maybe lacked a bit of humanity? Do you think if these people took more measures to care for each other and look out for one another, things would have been different?

America, We’re not Selfish… Are We?

Ah, medical volunteerism. You know, sometimes I really do feel bad about the amount of blog posts you might end up reading about medical volunteerism on this website, but honestly, there is just much to say on the topic, and everyone has contributed such meaningful and thought provoking sentiments to the blog… So, is it really a bad thing?

In this one in particular, I’d like to briefly comment on Avery’s very eloquent blog post entitled “Studying Abroad: What’s your Real Purpose?” I think Avery was incredibly attentive in her writing and brought up some interesting points about the medical volunteerism industry being tainted by American’s selfish motivations.

Continue reading “America, We’re not Selfish… Are We?”

Colson Whitehead: Brilliant Writer

I have been thinking about the language Colson Whitehead uses in Zone One ever since I began reading it. It’s complex. Overly-descriptive. Lyrical. Eloquent. Frustrating. Muddy. Inflated. But I love it.

I didn’t think it would be worth writing a blog post about, but Wednesday’s class made me change my mind. By the end of class time, there were about forty plus previously unfamiliar words written on the board. And I’m sure we could have come up with plenty of more. Zone One is a complex novel through and through.

Continue reading “Colson Whitehead: Brilliant Writer”

Who Would Survive a Zombie Apocalypse?

Though I’d like to (and I will) get into the actual content of the book, Zone One by Colson Whitehead soon (seriously, I’m really liking it so far),  I’d like to briefly discuss something that caught my eye in the first few pages of the novel.

“He was their typical, he was their most, he was their average.” “He staked out the B or the B chose him: it was his native land, and in high school and college he did not stray over the county line…” “… He was not made team captain, nor was he the last one picked. He sidestepped detention and honor rolls with equal aplomb.” “His aptitude lay in the well-execute muddle, never shining, never flunking…” (Page 11)

Continue reading “Who Would Survive a Zombie Apocalypse?”

Is Blake a Bad Guy?

So, I’ve officially let Clay’s Ark sit with me for a few days now. I still don’t entirely know what to make of it, but I have definitely felt many emotions across the spectrum while processing the events that unfolded in the novel. In my opinion, Octavia Butler does an excellent job at developing a story with such complex characters who really make us (and themselves) question the concept of humanity and being a part of a community. Continue reading “Is Blake a Bad Guy?”

Can we Eliminate Discrimination?

After reading Serhiy’s blog post about how children’s mind are often molded based on their environment’s and the people they are surrounded by,  I felt like I needed to reflect upon my own life, and revisit my own childhood.

I grew up in a community where just about everyone blended in with one another. Light skin, brown, blue, green eyes, blonde, brown, red hair. And then there was me. Tan skin, dark eyes, jet black hair, and a name that makes everyone have the same strange, puzzled look on their face, and makes people pause, say “how do you spell that?” and “oh, that’s so pretty!”  I stuck out like a sore thumb, as cliche as it may sound. On top of that, I was the nerdy, shy kid with glasses. However, I was not very familiar with racism throughout my schooling, because it didn’t really impacted me. As I’m typing this, I’m realizing how strange this sounds to me. All throughout school, my community treated me as an equal in all aspects. Not only had racism not impacted me, but I was never bullied or taunted for being that shy kid with the glasses. If anything, I tended to ostracize myself. I knew from a very young age that I had an appearance that set me apart from most, which definitely took a big hit to my self-esteem. I felt as though I needed to change to look more like them, and less like me. However the more I taunted and ostracized myself with my differences, the more my community embraced me and treated me the same as the rest.

 

But, back to Serhiy’s point. Unlike me, our heroine, Alice Achitophel, in the novel Zulus by Percival Everett, is constantly haunted by her physical differences. She is reminded that she is fat by everyone around her, and it is a heavy load to bear.  Clearly, racist tendencies aren’t written into our brains when we are born. We are taught to discriminate. But how do we fix it? Many of us are reminded through school and parents to treat other equally and to “treat people the way you would like to be treated.” But regardless of preaching this mantra, we start to see subtle evidence suggesting otherwise on TV shows, in music, and through the news starting at a young age.

 

I read an article recently from the New York times (to which I will post the link to at the end), that suggests that children begin to notice differences between groups and people and the different ways people are treated as early as five years old. Writer Jennifer Harvey states that parents and community members who rely on the “generic messages” of treating everyone equal simply are not doing enough. Harvey says this message is dangerous and that parents must acknowledge discrimination and the fact that is happens. They must point out racism and discrimination to their children when it does happen and have a discussion as to why it happens and why it is wrong.

 

What do you guys think? How can we eliminate discrimination? Can we eliminate it? Do you think Harvey’s method is effective?

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/14/opinion/are-we-raising-racists.html