The Importance of Language: A Self-Reflection on Writing

At the beginning of this semester, we were provided a detailed epigraph serving as our course compass. It is a quote by Dionne Brand that Dr. McCoy noted while attending Brond’s reading at the Northeast Modern Language Association in Toronto. To quote, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.” This powerful statement applies both to the academic and cultural perspectives offered.

In my first blog post, I wrote about the possible significance of this quote. I write, “Realizing that we have a conscious effort to be (or not to be) accepting of racial differences is something that all Americans must come to terms with. Simply knowing isn’t enough.” At the beginning of this class, I did not know the material in this class would challenge my views of the world. Looking back, I can not say that I fully understood the course epigraph at first. I objectively viewed racial issues: either one is racist, or they are not. After experiencing the texts in this class, however, I am led to believe that the experiences of black people are far more complex than I had originally known.

The topics in this class are very sensitive, especially for those who may experience racism to this very day. As a white male, I often asked myself “How do I speak on the experiences of people I did not live?” After many conversations and research, I realized the only way to confront these issues is to change my own narrative. I learned through this course’s texts that vocabulary is everything. For example, the terms “enslaved peoples” is one that recognizes the various backgrounds of people brought to this nation via the slave trades. It seems to me that pushing ourselves to expand our vocabulary is necessary for understanding the complexities these texts may offer. This appeared to be a common theme in Colson Whitehead’s Zone One. He uses a host of vocabulary words that we may not be familiar with. In class, the number of words that we collectively had difficulty in defining may indicate the complexities of any conversation or story.

I used the phrase oppressive master in my first blog post to describe the power dynamic of slavery. However, I recognize now that I was guilty of prescribing the single story of slavery to black people in America. Many public schools only teach about enslavement or Jim Crow laws, thus limiting the dark history of African Americans to only a few stories. My first reading of Medical Apartheid was quite shocking to me. I did not realize that enslaved people were publicly displayed in zoos or dissected in large university classrooms of well-known medical schools. Given the texts explored in this class, there exists a variety in nonfiction and fictional accounts of black lives. Home by Toni Morrison is a historical fiction set in 1950s America while Medical Apartheid addresses the factual accounts of medical research and experimentation on black bodies in the past few hundred years. Making connections between nonfiction and fictional texts was a difficult task because it required me to consider the implications of racism in a broader sense of the word. It is easy to look at a character in any novel, especially of a different time, and simply observe their role in the novel. This was how I approached English classes prior to this one, a strategy that was difficult for me to leave in the past. The gruesome details of disrespecting black bodies, found in Fortune Bones or Home, gave me a different reading experience than I had previously known The challenge for blogging was being able to address racial issues in the novels while applying them to real-life experiences found within Medical Apartheid. I found that recognizing the vocabulary used by each author to address their claims was necessary to be able to create my own academic work. By doing so, I could address issues that I may not have personally lived through. Instead, understanding the language and vocabulary of this discipline was a lesson that I can continue to use in my academic and personal life.

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