Being present in the moment is becoming increasing harder these days with the rise of technology drawing us away from reality and into our phones. It provides an easy and entertaining excuse to ignore what’s happening around us. I’m nowhere near innocent of this and it truly hit me during my English 101 class. We were discussing the location an African burial site that was uncovered and transformed into a beautiful memorial in New York City. The google maps of the location was pulled up on every laptop during class time and that’s when I noticed. I had passed by the location numerous times on my trips to New York City and neglected to appreciate its beauty. I decided not to speak up about this realization in class because quite frankly I was embarrassed. The discussion revolved around the horrific neglect and disrespect that the bodies endured and although I agreed with the many claims that they deserved better, I neglected to do so myself. I once again was a hypocrite without even realizing it, and it immediately got me thinking about the course epigraph quote from Dionne Brand that Professor Beth McCoy’s notes highlight, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.” So as every good hypocrite does I will try to explain myself in an attempt to feel less guilty about my actions.
Just as I myself had done, this burial site was ignored for far too long and its history is discussed in Alondra Nelson’s, The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome. “In 1991, archeologists uncovered several graves on a plot in lower Manhattan.” This discovery is extremely recent only being 28 years ago considering some bodies dated back to the 1600’s Nelson highlights. What is most shocking about the supposed discovery of the bodies is that the government already knew they were there as Nelson details, “While both government officials and the New Jersey-based archeological salvage company Historic Conservation and Interpretation the company conducting the land survey were aware of the presence of the graveyard, the uncovering of hundreds of intact burials at the site was nevertheless surprising because archeologists hypothesized that most remains would have been destroyed long ago.” This initially gave me peace because something as large as the government didn’t even take the time to notice the burial ground. This peace quickly turned to unsettlement that after all these years they had done nothing about the grave site. I began to question whether there were more sites like this one. Maybe ones that have also not received my attention. What else have I neglected to notice?
What I’ve learned throughout this semester is a lack of notice is a lack of willingness to appreciate and understand. Both of which are really important in connecting with others, which happens frequently throughout class time in my English 101 class, as well as with the text which can reveal some really important lessons when considered thoughtfully. While watching a video in class of the African Burial Ground National Monument, I was able to give the site my full attention and saw many things that got me thinkING. The caskets were slightly risen above the ground causing a large bump to stick out covered in grass which I had never seen before. I found this particularly interesting because it sent chills up my spine when I saw it. Whether intentionally done or not, physically seeing them poking out of the ground helped me to immediately connect that a person was buried there as opposed to seeing a gravestone, which I’m used to seeing in my burial practices, and to which I’ve become desensitized to as a coping mechanism. After the bodies were ignored for so long, being risen above the ground made sure they wouldn’t be overlooked. The indoor museum piece of the monument spoke to me as well. This gave a sense of voice to the dead who no longer had one but wanted to share their story. It highlighted the oppression faced by the people buried at the site and helped tell a story silenced and covered up so long ago.
Noticing this monument the second time around is representative of my experience in English 101 giving me a second chance to really notice medicine in its entirety. It taught me that it’s okay to have made mistakes while noticing in the past as long as they can be admitted to and change is initiated. So I encourage all to take a second look. Notice anything new?