“My job is to notice…”

Most recently I have felt internally challenged by some of the events that have taken place on campus this year and in the three previous years that I have attended this institution. I have also been concerned and confused by the ways in which these events have been “handled.” I mention this again, as I did in one of my earlier blog posts, not to beat a dead horse, but maybe to save a live one. On the first page of the syllabus Dr. McCoy lists the values of the campus as being learning, creativity, inclusivity, civic responsibility and sustainability. These are values that she emphasizes in all of her classes and tries to instill in her students, however a question that often comes to mind is what she wrote about in her personal blog post today. The question of whether or not the small impact of her classroom and a few other professors, actually reflects the values of the campus overall. I want to draw your attention to the epigraph by Dionne Brand, “my job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.” I intend to demonstrate the validity of this statement through many examples that may seem unrelated at first, but ultimately explain the root of my everlasting internal challenge that I have faced at Geneseo.

Let’s take the specifics of Dr. McCoy’s course out of the equation for just a moment to consider the raw intentions of this course. The course is titled “African-American Literature,” a category in itself. Within this course, the instructor has the freedom to teach any works of literature written by African-Americans as they please. This proved to be an intellectual challenge particularly because of the variety of genres and literature types that exist under the grand umbrella of what our university would identify as “African-American Literature.” That being said, it was important for me to notice and be present and aware while reading through the texts in this class because otherwise I would be doing the authors a disservice of the most basic form of categorization. Also, because there was no outlined method to tell what style of text we were reading, it was especially important that I remain observatory and aware of what message the author was trying to relay. Which brings me back to Dionne Brand’s statement, “my job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.” This, to me, is a synonym for being aware and being present in any situation, in reading, in creating and in thinkING.

In the beginning of the semester, two of the readings that really stuck out to me were Bernice Johnson Reagon’s, Nobody Knows the Troubles I See and Alice Walker’s Everyday Use. Both seem to embody just one of the exact feelings I am experiencing on this campus, not directly but in essence. Nobody Knows the Troubles I See discusses the duality of worlds that some black activists, like Martin Luther King Jr. and ordinary black people like myself, exist under. It explains the way that people feel they are owed something in both of these worlds and you must produce it or you are not a true member of either community. She says, “There are those of us who straddle. We are born in and of one place and culture and are sent by our parents and the elders of our community to master and achieve access and mobility for ourselves, and thus our people, in the larger dominant society.” This is the reason that I was sent to college, to further my education in hopes of achieving access and to improve the mobility for others in my community. However I am often faced with the feeling of discomfort, like I don’t fit properly in either space.

When I am in my home environment, for the most part I feel comfortable. Because my dad and my cousin are undergraduate, and law school graduates, they have bared most of the burden of “straddling.” My dad being the first person in my family to survive college, I believe he carried most of the weight, and the rest was dumped off onto my cousin. People on both sides of the fence, academic and minority community, questioned their legitimacy, value, and deservingness, but they did not allow that to deter them from becoming successful and completing their challenge. The challenge for me on the other hand is a little bit different, having been exposed to their academic and social habits. I was well prepared for what I would face when stepping onto a college campus as a minority student. Unfortunately, it seems that this preparedness has placed me in another position of discomfort because I am coming in contact with other students like myself who were not prepared for the discrimination that they would face here at Geneseo. In this aspect I find myself straddling between two different worlds than my dad or my cousin may have. While this may be unfortunate to acknowledge, I was well-aware of the types of inconsiderate ideas I might face that are supported by some of my fellow students and some faculty, but this did not deter me nor intimidate me to continue with my goals. Overall I understood that I am here for a greater purpose and that is completing this level of my education so that I can enforce change on a larger scale.

Taking this unresponsive stance on the issues that have been happening on campus, without pointing them out specifically, has put me at odds with some of the other students who have also felt targeted by these actions. A lot of students want change and they want it now, which is completely understandable considering the amount of years that our school has been facing problems of this nature but has not done enough to create campus-wide change. I understand this fully and in support of my community, I encourage social change and activism, however I am not as personally or mentally challenged by the situations at hand. My calm response to the presentation of these issues is often what makes people uncomfortable because I am expected to have this feeling of outrage and betrayal that I just don’t feel. This could easily be the result of me being a history major and understanding that everything occurs in a cyclical manner, like African Fractals, or it could be the preparation that my dad passed to me before leaving me at school. Either way, it has left me with a strange feeling of “straddling” like Bernice Johnson Reagon says. I would like to stand in support of my campus minority community, but at other end of the balancing beam I would also like to remain stoic in my ability to bypass the challenging ideas with which we are facing.

This brings me back to Dionne Brand, “my job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.” Being vigilant of the lines that I straddle and the ways that my influence may affect the people around me is something that I notice. Staying aware of the issues taking place on my campus and understanding the impact that these events may have on other students is something that even myself, as a member of an underrepresented community, can continue to grow in. In times when I wish that every student could deflect their feelings and harden their hearts towards hate and inconsiderate ideas, I also understand that it does not only take mentalities like my own to enforce change, but also the people who are willing to march endlessly and use their voices to advocate for the community at large. In accordance with one of my new favorite poems by Dudley Randall, “Booker T. and W.E.B.,” I notice that it takes more than one set of ideas to influence change. After all, as I mentioned in the beginning, that is what this class is all about, understanding the diversity within African-American literature and cultural ideas and noticing that contrary to the school course curriculum, it cannot be grouped under one big umbrella of “African-American Ideas.”

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