Use Your Voice…It Matters

This semester, I truly feel as though I have grown as a student and an overall member of society. Professor McCoy’s class is more than what the course description says. We read the incredible works of African-American Literature and by using these works McCoy teaches us how to be better and humane citizens, urging us to use our voice, be activists and stand up for what we think is right. By having us write blog posts, McCoy has given us the opportunity to have a voice, spread awareness, call out issues in society, and demonstrate our thought processes and respond to each other’s deeper questions. This class has lit a spark inside me and set me on a new path, a path where my voice and language is the most powerful tool I have.

At the beginning of the semester, we were asked to choose an epigraph for the syllabus and write a blog post about the deeper meaning behind it. Now, as I am sitting in the last class of the semester, I feel as though I can take on this task with a full heart and mind. The epigraph I have chosen to represent my experience in this class is “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives”-Toni Morrison. The reason I have chosen this epigraph is that Morrison has delivered a message that I feel as though I can connect with. The way that I interpret Morrison’s quote is that there is some type of power of language that forces us to communicate, spread awareness and fight for change. Language is powerful because it is always changing and can be interpreted in various ways. When I think of language, I also think of literacy. Originally, I thought that the extent of literacy meant to read and write. However, if we were to all write an autobiography on “what literacy means to me”, I am sure we would all have something different because we are all shaped from our different experiences with reading and writing and forming our own language and voice. The power of language can do so many things, it has the power to make one free and happy to captive and wistful in a heartbeat. Language can be anything you want it to be such as laughing, crying, body movement, and silence. We are always doing language, as Morrison puts it, because without it we would never practice communication; silence can be more powerful than any other type. Language is a way of life, and you have to determine what your version of the language will be.

From my own interpretation and experiences throughout the semester, this epigraph has taught me that language can be anything we use to communicate, and it has formed numerous through lines for our class. For instance, consent has been a major topic of discussion throughout this semester, being relevant to our works of literature we discussed. Ways in which consent has been a topic for our class is that McCoy stressed the fact that consent is in relation to everything, not just sexual contexts. At the beginning of the semester, we were given a handout of a poster created by a Suny Institution describing sexual consent and how to recognize it and practice it. McCoy continued to describe how consent can be applied to other contexts such as giving someone permission to tap your head, whether it is wanted or not wanted. What I admire most about McCoy’s teaching practices is her ability to make us all feel safe in her classroom environment. The reason I say this is because McCoy said in one of the very first classes that she gives us her consent to go into her office for absolutely anything; a shoulder to cry on, give and take advice, and to have our voices listened to. When I was given this consent I began to understand the importance of it. Without using this tool of language to give us permission to turn to McCoy for help, I would’ve never thought to do it in the first place. However, some students try to turn to their professors for help and they deny it because they don’t feel comfortable doing such things. Just how it is important for students to give or take away consent to peers and educators to call, text, or touch them, it is just as important for professors (and others) to reciprocate this language. Morrison’s epigraph applies to the practice of consent because, in order to give or take consent, we must do language to express ourselves. Inevitably, Morrison’s epigraph “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives” formed a through line for the amazingly varied literature we engaged with in class. Bloodchild by Octavia Butler is one of many works we discussed that engages with consent. Bloodchild deals with the humans being impregnated by the creatures; the male humans host the creatures babies and in return, they are given a home on the planet. However, in the story Gan is basically forced to host a baby because of a deal his mother made, therefore he doesn’t have true consent to do something to his body that he doesn’t really want. Consent is a huge factor in Bloodchild because Gan feels like he has no choice, and consent and choice are linked. The question we raised in class is “is it possible to give consent to all things”. I believe that if we “do language” as Morrison describes, it is possible to give your consent, but sometimes we must face the consequences. For instance, Gan took away his consent to host the baby, but his sister would have been the one to suffer, therefore he proceeded with the original plan to host. He felt trapped and confused because he felt like he had no other choice and I wouldn’t consider his actions to be true consent; giving consent to do something should be under your own conditions and no one else’s. We also see the question of consent being raised in Big Machine by Victor LaValle. In Big Machine, Ricky was impregnated with the last Angel on Earth, however, this was to his surprise. Ricky was not given the opportunity to use his language to give consent to be the host, therefore it makes me question if “it’s possible to give consent to all things”. If we don’t even give each other the opportunity to use our power of language, then we don’t have the choice to give or take away our consent which makes me lose faith in humanity. Consent is a human right, and if we take this away from each other then we will lose our humanity. Lastly, the question of consent is raised in Imperceptible Mutabilities by Suzan-Lori Parks. In Imperceptible Mutabilities, the concept of being “a fly on the wall” is used to show how the characters are being watched and fooled without their consent. Being a “fly on the wall” is when there is an unnoticed observer in a particular situation. In “Snails”, there were cameras planted to observe what was occurring, going unnoticed. I had the self-realization during the semester that we are all a “fly on a wall” and we all play the game that society wants us to play. For instance, we discussed in class how when we go to plays, we are expected to sit there and listen, being an unnoticed member in the crowd. When this boundary is broken, we get uncomfortable and unsure of how to act and react. However, we never gave the consent for this boundary to be broken or in the case of the play, there was no consent given to put the cameras around the room. Therefore, I would like to answer the question that has been hovering over me throughout the semester and in this blog post; “is it possible to always give consent?”. I would say no, it is not always possible to give consent because sometimes we don’t have the option to use our voice, language, and communication to give it. Although it is our own personal choice to give someone permission or take away that permission, it is the other person’s responsibility to give that option. In many cases, people do things like sexual abuse, planting cameras, and taking away someone’s voice without receiving the consent of the other person involved. Unfortunately, these things can’t always be prevented; what we can do as a community is educate each other and push each other to be better and to practice our tool of language to make everyone feel safe, just like McCoy did for us.  

Morrison’s epigraph formed another through-line for the varied literature we engaged with throughout the semester; the link between faith and doubt. When discussing Big Machine in a small group, Andrew Weber said that “Doubt is necessary to faith, and faith, without doubt, is superficial. If we question our faith, it can make our faith stronger”. Our language is very important when discussing faith and doubt because it can apply to any aspect of life, and by using our power of language, we can ask questions about our faith. Specifically, in Big Machine, Ricky says “The dread you feel when an institution fails you” (page 290). An institution can be whatever you define it to be; a family, a university, or the government. Once we feel let down by the institution, we lose trust or faith in them. If they are filled with empty promises, how can we trust the institution to take care of our careers and prepare us for the future? If we lose trust and faith in our institution to uphold themselves to their promises, then we will constantly doubt their efforts to help us build a future. Recursion and reflection have been something that McCoy has encouraged us to do all semester, therefore I would like to reflect on a question I asked in a blog post of mine in regards to institutions failing us, “how do we keep moving forward after this earth-shaking moment?” and I think I have come to an answer. When an institution fails us, it has also failed itself. Therefore, we must use communication and language to better ourselves together. If we want to coexist with our institution, we must use our voices and use our doubt as a driving force for change. Morrison says that “But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives”. With language being the measure of our lives, anything is possible no matter how out of reach it may seem. If we want our institution to change, to represent the minority, to stick to their promises, and to be a reliable system, then we must use our voice. I am so proud of the students of Geneseo for coming together recently and using our voice in a “Black Lives Matter” walk around campus, which was a March of Solidarity. There was doubt in our institution to represent the minority and we used the power of language to bring about change, and this gives me faith in humanity. Ways that language was used was by chanting in unison to allow our voices to resonate all over campus and creating signs as a visual way to get the silent voices heard. Although there is doubt in our institution, the act of fighting for change means that there is also faith in our institution to be better.

I strongly believe that my chosen epigraph has formed numerous through lines for the amazingly varied literature we’ve engaged with this semester and it matters so much when given GLOBE’s insistence that Geneseo students should acquire the ability to “reflect upon changes in learning and outlook overtime”. I believe that we have made “personal, professional, and civic plans based on that self-reflection” according to GLOBE’s standards. As a whole, we practiced recursion and reflection to make changes and see new points of view through our peer’s blog posts. Morrison’s epigraph “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives” says that language is apart of our everyday life, and we are constantly going back and reflecting on what we had said and making changes as we grow and gain new knowledge. Suny Geneseo’s learning outcome says that we must have this ability to reflect upon changes, and our language in our blog posts have given us the opportunity to do so. With “language being the measure of our lives”, we have the ability to bring change to our world and reflect on the past overtime, much like how Suny Geneseo’s standards ask us to do in our classes. Specifically, in McCoy’s class, this act of reflection is a skill I acquired and will bring with me into all my future classes.

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