From Confusion to Appreciation: Growth from Beginning to End of the Semester

To wrap up my posts for the semester and expand my thoughts beyond the classroom I will highlight how Colson Whitehead’s Zone One spoke to me in a way I had never experienced before. His at times frustrating text evoked emotions in me that sparked connections to the many victims of racism shown in a video of  the African Burial Ground National Monument.

As I read through Whitehead’s Zone One I found myself feeling frustrated throughout the book and struggling to distinguish flashback moments from reality. For instance Whitehead writes, “He and his friend Kyle had spent a few nights in Atlantic City at one of the new boutique casinos, adrift among the dazzling surfaces. Inside the enclosure, they imagined themselves libertines at the trough, snout-deep and rooting.” It was moments like these where I would flip back through the pages to try and find a starting point and regain my sense of reality in the text. Having to constantly search for these answers and most of the time still remaining confused was extremely frustrating for me. I didn’t possess the complex skills required to grasp his words into understanding. This however, was not the only challenge I faced. The vocabulary at times was not only tough for me but having to stop and look up the words online left me having to pick up where I left off about 5 minutes after stopping and exacerbated my previous problem of distinguishing reality from flashback. Whitehead used words such as “sommelier,” “ennobled,” and “homunculi” which were only a few out of the many that left me feeling clueless. I started putting down the book in frustration and giving up because it was easier than reading one page every ten minutes. 

It wasn’t until I watched a walkthrough video of the African Burial Ground National Monument that I realized how important Whitehead’s Zone One really was as I navigated this class. During the video, the descriptions of the various people who were buried there was listed in a circular pattern on the ground. All that could be included were the ages, genders, and cultural background of the bodies laid to rest. The absence of names and life stories left me feeling frustrated for the families of these people. Not only did racism ultimately force these bodies to reside here, unknown to their loved ones, but now it was impossible to identify their lineage. How frustrated those family members must feel that they can’t trace back their family line because someone decided their life wasn’t worth remembering. I quickly realized how selfish I was to feel such frustration over not being able to track the story line in Whitehead’s Zone One when I had the opportunity to trace back my entire bloodline.  

I had taken for granted something that contributed so much to my identity growing up. In my family we have access to a whole bookshelf full of photos and memories and stories tracing back my family bloodline almost 400 years. Reading these books as a kid were some of my fondest memories that I share with my grandparents who used them to teach me our values and the hard work that went into immigrating from Italy to the United States. I can’t imagine not having access to this type of information and how devastating to have a loved one potentially buried at this site without even being aware of it. I realized that racism can never truly diminish and the damage that has been done will leave lasting effects for generations. These names can never be uncovered, and their families must carry on without their memory or being able to contribute their respective burial practices. 

Whitehead has not only made me appreciate all that I have, but has helped me empathize with those who can never have access to this luxury I grew up learning from. I hope to teach my children the importance and value of our family tree and how many don’t have this abundance of access to it as we do.  This class has taught me more about myself sometimes, than the actual history of racism and medicine and I am eternally grateful for the person I am walking away from it as. 

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