The Theme of Outcasts in African American Literature and Societal Views on Persons with Disabilities

Our society rarely recognizes how negatively we view those who are different from us. This motif is rampant in Big Machine as well as present in other works we’ve read throughout the class like “Bloodchild”. We cast out the strange, the weird, in favor of “normal”. We shun people who aren’t like us into groups and labels that keep us further divided. Outcasts, those who don’t conform, who don’t fit, they’re called. Just like the homeless man in the beginning of Big Machine, we cast those who aren’t normal to us off the bus and into the cold.

As was pointed out in The Last Angel of History, people who struggle against the institutions that continue to promote the concept of an in-group versus an out-group are made to feel alien, like they don’t belong. And while we can realize this, it is innate in humans to want to feel accepted, to be normal.

Solomon Clay preys on this weakness. He provides a home for the homeless literally and figuratively. He attracts those who have been trodden upon, who feel that society has done them a disservice, and uses their anger to further his own goals. The Washburn Library does the same thing to the Unlikely Scholars. The institution seeks out those who are at the lowest, who have nothing, and gives them a purpose just like Clay. Ricky Rice and Adele Henry both participate in immoral acts like murder, theft, drug abuse, stealing, lying, and more in the name of the Library. Through this we can see the psychological damage of exclusion, and what those who have experienced the life of an outcast will do to keep their home.

In “Bloodchild”, Qui regards his own brother Gan as an outcast because of his status as N’tlic (a carrier of Tlic eggs). Even the Terrans and the Tlic have conflict due to each regarding the other as fundamentally different, outside of the illusion of normalcy (this is ironic because it’s mentioned the Terrans fled Earth due to persecution).

Literature reflects life. We have all been both excluder and excluded. This idea of outcasts becomes more personal to me when I think about how our society views my friend Tom. Tom and I met in third grade and he quickly became one of my best friends and remains so. When we go to the movies or restaurants, people always stare at him. They see his cerebral palsy before they see a person, and he is treated differently because of it.

I don’t like the term disabled, because it implies that persons who use a wheelchair or are unable to speak, hear, see are somehow lesser and can’t function on their own. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, things we’re good at and things we need to work on. The language we use to describe people as disabled, handicapped, crippled, is all negative. It pushes people into exclusion. Tom loves to act, writes his own plays, preforms, can’t speak, will wrestle and roughhouse with me until the sun sets, hikes, has very little control over his motor functions, laughs, cracks jokes, smiles. He is the farthest thing from disabled.

What does normal even mean? Two legs, ten fingers, one head, white skin, blue eyes, blond hair, heterosexuality? No, there is no such thing as normal. We are all born unique and different from one another in some way. Experiences vary, life changes perpetually, and this world is filled with the strange and foreign. People are to easily dismissive towards what they don’t know nor understand. We are quick to label, we value first impressions wayyyyy to much, and once we form an idea of someone in our head, we often treat it like it is set in stone. Just like life, people change, what we perceive to be true may not always be true, or may never have been true in the first place.

A lot of what we have read seems to me to speak about outcasts and how we as a group of people look for reasons to exclude others from our life and look for the differences before the commonalities. We can combat this by defining a person not by their looks but instead their character. Even the friends and family of persons with disabilities can unintentionally put them in a box. In the past, when I’ve talked to people about Tom, I have shamefully referred to him as “my friend with Cerebral Palsy” instead of just “my friend”. A good practice to remember to introduce people by their qualities and their relationship to you instead of by what makes them unique.

Here’s a couple great link outlining inclusive language with regards to people with disabilities.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/inclusive-communication/inclusive-language-words-to-use-and-avoid-when-writing-about-disability

http://nda.ie/Publications/Attitudes/Appropriate-Terms-to-Use-about-Disability/

 

 

 

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