Imperfect Assumptions

Assumptions are a part of everyday life. They transform and mold our decisions, interactions, and views of people and the world. In Butler’s Clay’s Ark, these judgements are made in what seems to be every aspect of the book. To start superficially, Blake, Rane, and Kerry were chosen as spreadable subjects for the sometimes-lethal disease. Why? Well the society of infected people made assumptions about Blake being a doctor with wealth and “knowledge” and decided that he would be a better carrier than someone from what Butler calls the “sewers.” An assumption that he would be a perfect subject to spread the disease because he could handle it better. How can one assume that because he went to school longer to be a doctor and was white that he would be a better carrier? Butler pushes not only the reader’s assumptions but the characters’ assumptions from the book as well. A stereotype that even caught me on the first read even though it’s proven that the virus shows no prejudice in it’s victims.

At the beginning of Clay’s Ark Rane and Kerry were almost immediately identified in their race, half black, and in conjunction readers assumed Blake wasn’t a racist man. I mean he couldn’t be right? How could a father of two black children possibly be racist? As easy as that assumption was, we must not exclude to notice that the disease carriers were racist in their choosing of the girls, waiting to test out different people to see who fared better after infection. Using their race as an excuse to further their knowledge of the disease was prevalent from the first chapter. This also appears in Washington’s Medical Apartheid, where black people, usually slaves, at the time of slavery were being used and abused to extract medical knowledge. Washington also notes that doctors even displayed their bodies being surgically operated on in front of an audience of people. Once black lives being unwillingly chosen to benefit the “greater” knowledge of others. 

In Butler’s Clay’s Ark, it seems Blake is just starting to get a taste of what black people might be facing in society’s judgmental eye when he is chosen by the infected people in connection with his daughters. He may have thought he knew what they were facing beforehand but when he is captured, Blake is most certainly learning what it feels like to be judged on his superficial appearance and he is clearly resentful of the infected people for it. The girls are asked about their race multiples times in the book as if they couldn’t possibly be Blake’s daughters. Butler states, “What kind of cradles have you been robbing, Doc?” The demeaning tone of this quote is undeniably racist and so is the infected man Eli. The subtle detail of Eli calling him Doc attempts to place him on a social pedestal above his daughters as if they couldn’t possibly have a father that’s a doctor. 

            I think the irony in this racism and particular choosing of people to infect is that those infected with the organism came together to combat the assumptions that others might make about them. Especially how others might view their children where Butler states, “What in hell was going to happen to a kid who ran around on all fours? A freak who could not hide his strangeness.” This is a hypocritical way of thinking since they attempt to convince others to give the infected people a chance and get defensive when questioned about their physical appearance, yet Eli clearly struggles accepting his own son Jacob. The infected people also contradict themselves by picking Blake to be infected because they believed he would be the best carrier possible based on socially constructed opinions of more education equaling a better life and overall better person. A strange judgement for people who want to delve past the physical appearance and be accepted for the people they are. Not only does Butler do her job to push the reader’s character building passed the superficial, but the reader must also do their job in identifying the assumptions they made and realize they may be just as imperfect as the characters in the book.

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