ReflectING is a very difficult thing to do because we are often given the task to write about almost anything but ourselves. So when we are given the opportunity to reflect, we tend to have a difficult time doing so. After figuring out what I wanted to discuss in my reflection, I want to share one of my many flaws that I came to notice in this process. I doubt myself a lot. I doubt my ability to do what I have already done. Struggling to trust my own instincts, I often find myself asking others for their approval on my work which is not always a bad thing, unless you are by yourself and believe that your work is not worthy which is what happens most of the time for me. And although I have taken the first step in noticing, what do I do now? I reflect!
Dr. McCoy asks us to consider how an epigraph specific to the course may or not form a through line with the readings we have done in class. Considering the number of readings done in this class, I strongly believe that Dionne Brand’s epigraph is most relevant to the course readings and myself. She says,
“My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.”
Instantly, I decided to approach this epigraph as some sort of equation. I asked myself the following question, who is “My”?
- If it’s Dr. McCoy
- That means I’m the “you”. As a professor, she would want me to notice things in the reading.
- If it’s me
- Then means whoever reads my work is the “you”. I want them to notice what I am noticing.
- Both Dr. McCoy and I
- This is equation involves one another person. McCoy makes sure I notice so I can then make sure others notice too.
Although each of these is highly possible, thinking of what we read throughout the course and the act of writing this reflection, I think the first point fits accordingly. From beginning to end, Dr. McCoy made sure to have us notice how each reading has a purpose, far from what many refer to as a deeper meaning, and one of the many ways that she notices that we can notice is through participation and blogging. Since I did not participate much in this class, blogging was the one way I knew Dr. McCoy could notice that I notice what she notices too. However, while blogging, I noticed a particular theme to each piece I read. I decided to think of blogging and the course readings as one and came to the realization that a number of my blogs and readings from the class are primarily reflecting on some sort of idea, theme or situation.
Reflecting is not always about a journey specific to your life. Reflecting to me is being able to see what is behind us and see any changes or none at all; we all start somewhere, but our journey never truly ends as it continues to be a part of others too.
Despite the fact that the focus of this reflection is primarily on Dr. McCoy’s course, ENGL 337 African-American Literature, I think it is extremely important to understand my experience as an English major in Geneseo and how it affected the way I behaved in ENGL-337.
My first semester in Geneseo, I took my first English class and major requirement, ENGL 203 Reader and Text: Marginal Spaces with Dr. Woidat. Throughout the semester, I was assigned to write multiple essays and reading responses. Dr. Woidat would often tell me that I had great ideas on my paper and that I should share my ideas to the rest of the class and asked why I never participated in class. I explained to her that I felt like I would sound STUPID. I know, not the nicest thing to say about myself but I had a reason. The first few days of class Dr. Woidat asked the class questions regarding the reading for that day and whenever classmates would participate it felt like they were speaking straight out of a dictionary and I felt like they were SMARTER than me. They had the ability to do something I could not do; they could vocalize their ideas using academic vernacular. Unlike my classmates, I never grew up speaking this way to people around me regardless of who they were and where I was. I could somehow be able to code-switch (the ability to alternate between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation) only through writing papers. Since I grew up in “the ghetto” part of New York City, my dialect is very different from my classmates, basically, not academic. I started to notice that whenever I would participate I would reiterate my ideas to the rest of the class by saying “yeah because” or “cuz like.” Knowing not participating would affect my grade, I told myself I would only participate under two circumstances; if my professor told me I should or if it would not require me expressing my ideas such as reading aloud.
Following my freshman year, I took the same approach in my Sophomore year. Last semester I had a 100 level and 300 level English class. I felt as if my writing skills were becoming weaker and felt like I was writing about the same thing in each class, X author shows Y by using literary techniques such as Z. This resulted in me questioning my major, wondering if it was actually preparing me for “the real world.” Entering Dr. McCoy’s class I was expecting the same thing, already disappointed, ready to turn in mediocre work that gave me the simple B or B+ grade I wanted. But, this was a very bad idea because I had that same mentality writing my first blog post which resulted in me receiving C+. I began to feel angry at myself and figured that mediocre work was not going to cut it for me or Dr. McCoy. My anger became bigger when many of my classmates would participate by answering McCoy’s questions and I would not have the guts to share the same answer. It had to stop, and it did, slowly. I started speaking up in smaller groups and decided to participate on random days. But the real reward came after posting my third blog posts where I received an A on it. I felt worthy, it was a “You see, you still got it!” moment. Yet, looking back at this moment what made me feel even better than the grade was Dr. McCoy’s comments. Unlike what my other professors had offered before, Dr. McCoy’s comments were very detailed and helpful. She even went out of the way to add other outside sources that could benefit my posts and tried to put herself in my blog posts most of the time.
The first day of class in ENGL 337 I was surprised by the massive syllabus Dr. McCoy gave us. I told myself “Are we reading the bible or something similar to that, this is the biggest syllabus I have ever seen in my time at Geneseo.” The syllabus offers a substantial amount of information and resources we tend to forget the school offers us. After an email exchange where I ask Dr. McCoy why the syllabus is so long. She tells me that it is primarily because she wants to be transparent but there are a number of other reasons including student need. There are also state, SUNY, Geneseo, and accreditation agencies needs and ‘then there are things that a few individuals try to work in (sometimes) bad faith, which requires [her] to add things the next time around.” (McCoy) Surprised at her response, I immediately thought of the back and forth Dr. McCoy has to go through in order to get closer to a better version of the syllabus. After I found out that most of the syllabus was not the daily schedule I then worried about what that would consist of.
I was surprised with the first assigned reading of the course, “African Fractals.” My initial reaction was “what in the world, what do geometric patterns have to do with African literature.” I knew I had no other option but to trust Dr. McCoy and figure out its relation to the rest of the course. When it came to discussing what it meant Dr. McCoy drew something similar to this on the board. This image, better known as the “Koch snowflake” shows a never-ending snowflake. Throughout the course, Dr. McCoy made sure for us to remember this image and the iteration of “Rep & Rev” (short for repetition and revision) and its relation to some of the class readings. I now notice how reflecting fits into both the image and the“Rep & Rev.” For example, when it is time to reflect one is usually at a Koch curve similar to one in the bottom, however, in order to reflect, one must go back to the one at the top.
As mentioned earlier, reflectING is not always reflecting on one’s past and Bernice Johnson Reagon “Nobody Knows the Trouble I See,” forms a great example as to how reflecting on the past tells us a lot about what we have today. As a historian, Reagon is constantly looking at the past and shares that “we seem to believe that the work of a person will not be able to travel through history. This process of making history clean does a disservice to those who study and celebrate history.” (Reagon 111) History is a great example to the Koch curve as we are often told the history repeats itself. However, considering how many events have been catastrophic it is important to consider how we do not want these events to be repeated, but how we revise them and have conversations and reflect on them so we can try to limit the possibilities of them occurring again. Although history may have its dark times, considering Reagon’s point on cleaning the history of someone that is celebrated such as Martin Luther King Jr., not only does a disservice to those who celebrate it but does a disservice to King’s story. Taking the Koch curve into context, cleaning the history would be removing a triangle from one of the sides, making the story/journey incomplete and unable to be told the honest way. She continues to say that they do not want to reveal their flaws by “reshaping reality (truth) so that the warts and pimples (flaws) get smoothed off.” (112) Although history is being revised and also reflected on, Reagon reveals one of the biggest issues that arise when one is reflecting; having the need to make the journey appear to be entirely positive and not acknowledging that there were not any flaws in the process. Understanding Reagon’s metaphor in a different context might help us understand what she means; let’s say that someone is invited to be the cover of a magazine for having good skin (having a good journey) but photoshop editors (historians) cover up any blemishes (flaws) to make them appear more attractive even though they are already being recognized for their skin (journey). We often want people to see the best in a certain situation but it is important to mention where there were errors because errors are what make the outcome closer to perfection.
James A. Snead’s “On Repetition in Black Culture” discusses how repetition in Black culture should not be regarded to as failure or backwardness. He says that unlike White culture which usually consists of European culture which is actually stolen from countries they colonize, Black culture is repeated throughout generations. As mentioned previously, repetition is often denoted as the need to do a task again due to failure, however, Snead takes a different and more positive approach towards repetition. He says it is “a ‘progression,’ if positive, or a regression,’ if negative” (Snead 112) which tells us that repetition can be good and/ or bad. After reading Snead’s piece and listening to some songs played during class I was able to fully understand his statement. My blog post, “A Master and The Apprentice,” discusses the transformation these songs, Wade in the Water by Ella Jenkins and Hey Little Walter by Tony! Toni! Toné! go through to adapt to current problems the African-American community is experiencing. Although similar in beat and tone these songs are different. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, journeys are vital when it comes to reflectING. Although different, both songs offer us a look into the journey of a group of people.
This being the third course that focuses on people of color, I came to the realization that I am particularly attracted to working with pieces that I do not have much experience with. In my first blog post “Is Identity Black or White,” I share that “the literature assigned in [ENGL 337] has been particularly diverse from what I have usually been given to in other courses that focus on African/African American and Caribbean culture.” (Fernandez) It was not until a later blog that I wrote, “Tell your story. Or they will tell it for you, and it will not be the right one,” where I respond to Emily Tsoi’s, “The Necessity for Diversity in Children’s Literature,” where I write about how tiring it becomes to read stories that I cannot see myself in. Although I did not address this in my blog I cannot believe how the Western literary canon remains the same for years because of how exclusive it is to White literature, especially to White men. Considering the time of the semester that I am writing this reflection, finals week, when I am also writing a reflection paper on my Humanities course and its value to me, although I am sure that much of the literature is influential, much of it tells the same story. I reflect on my experience with this sort of literature and how I urge teachers and professor to have more diverse literature in their courses, but I also urge them to encourage students to write their untold stories.
Although my journey in this course has come to an end, my own continues as well as the journey of this course. I am way beyond grateful that I am given the opportunity to work with and be taught by such amazing English professors. As an elite institution, SUNY Geneseo does not fail to remind us of how talented our professors are. Just like many other top schools, Geneseo does its best to remain clear on its goals for students. One of Geneseo’s Learning Outcomes for Baccalaureate Education (GLOBE) is “To reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time.” Dr. McCoy asks us if this reflective writing process matters because of Geneseo’s assertiveness that Geneseo’s students should have the ability to reflect. As an institution, Geneseo is expected to have learning outcomes like this, but the value of this paper is not because of GLOBE. I find it somewhat hypocritical of the school to expect us to reflect when it cannot reflect on the many flaws that it has to fix. Entering this course I felt like I was attending English classes because I had to. This course challenged my own integrity, in a good way of course. I wish I could have taken a course similar to this one earlier. Even then, the timing feels right. I am about to enter my junior year expecting different results from courses and a different attitude of myself. This piece gave me the opportunity to weave my knowledge about myself and the readings into one.
Andrew Weber, a classmate in this course, tells me that he thought of “Sankofa” while reading this piece. I had never encountered the word before and decided to search up what it means. Immediately, I knew I had to use it at the end of my piece as some sort of conclusion but also as some sort of representation of the course readings and myself too. Sankofa, is usually symbolized as a bird looking backward but having its feet face forward. Let us continue to analyze the past, but continue moving forward.