Self-reflective Noticing

I’ve always been very fond of mystery stories. What I like about them isn’t so much the suspense or the revelation moment (where the murderer or culprit is found and their methods exposed) but rather the process. I’m fascinated by the journey the detective goes through—how they notice many different clues, comprehend all the clues, and use it to pinpoint a solution/culprit. I think part of why I’m caught up with the deduction process is because I find it hard to do myself; I’m good at noticing things but very poor at understanding what I’m noticing and how it fits into the bigger picture. For example, while reading Morrison’s Home, I was able to notice that “They [the horses Frank and Cee see in the opening chapter] stood like men” held significance. I also noticed this likely connected to the answer Tommy, the son of Billy (a man who took Frank to Goodwill to buy shoes), gives Frank about what he wants to be as an adult: “a man.” Yet I was unable to notice the larger picture; I couldn’t understand the importance this concept held in relation to the book overall. So I suppose I can’t say that I’m “good at noticing,” because I’m actually just only good at half of the process. 

Continue reading “Self-reflective Noticing”

Pyrite

                                                              According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, to “notice” means to become aware of something; to “learn” means to “gain knowledge or understanding of or skill in by study, instruction, or experience”. In order to gain knowledge or understanding, one needs to learn new information or look at information in a new way. In other words, one needs to become aware of something new. Our course epigraph, “my job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice” is therefore fundamentally related to learning. The speaker’s job is to learn, and to learn that other people can learn. There is a clear relation between the course epigraph and what we’ve been hearing about in some classes at SUNY Geneseo about the growth mindset, which asserts that we can learn and develop ourselves, that we are not immutable stone. The literature we’ve read in class, particularly Medical Apartheid, has been useful for my own noticing (or: learning) as I was almost wholly unaware of the lengthy abuse of blacks by the medical system—it was also something I had never considered or come close to thinking about, beyond many of the United States’ Founding Fathers owning slaves. Likewise, Dr. McCoy’s conscientiousness about the use of the language has encouraged me to pay more attention to my and other people’s use of speech and the subtle unintentional meanings that might hide within that speech. One example that has stood out in my mind was the distinction made between “slave” and “enslaved person”—“slave” sounding more like an ontological claim that the essence of the person who is a slave is that of a slave, rather than it being an action being done to them. Curiously, in spite of my absolute agreement with “enslaved person” being preferable to “slave”, I feel a little disgust at the notion of changing one’s usage of “slave” to “enslaved person”. Why this is, and why I can’t see myself using the terminology I agree more with, I cannot say, but it’s been on my mind for a while now. (Incidentally, I feel the same disgust whenever I see someone tell someone else that they should say something like “African American” instead of “black”, or “Caucasian” instead of “white”).

                                                               The structure of the class itself has also taught me much—I had much difficulty and frustration being required to write ten essays with the almost sole guideline being that they relate to the course themes, which are so broad that the blog posts gave what feltlike an overwhelming amount of possibilities of things to say, to such a  degree that I couldn’t say anything at all. There is much to be said about racism, medicine, and racism and medicine, but clear guidance on more focused writing topics might have been something that I could have engaged with more. The daily mention of “you can get a blog post out of that” or “there are about 50 blogposts in what you’ve all just said” has been a recurring source of frustration writing even one blog post was so difficult. Another source of frustration was the occasional encouragement to not worry about grades in a class that still requires grades and ultimately results in either a passing or a failing grade. While I completely agree with the spirit of Dr. McCoy’s emphasis on learning (or: noticing) rather than working for the sake of a grade without learning and understanding something new, it seems unfair to encourage laxity towards something essential to the progression of college students. While I strongly believe that none of these things, the openness in the course (in the sense of being given so much freedom in writing about what interests you, so long that it relates to the course), the encouragement that we (the students) have been openly discussing things which can be expanded upon (or “unpacked”), and the encouragement to not worry much about grades are by no means bad in themselves; rather, it seems that many, if not most other students have profited much from this style of class, judging by the excitement that many people have brought to the discussions involving the entire class and the seemingly high levels of engagement with material outside of the course (that is, things found on their own initiative that relate to the course, e.g. reading articles about zombies and medical history and so on). It just didn’t seem to work for me, at least not yet.

                                                              Another thing I’d like to add is about the group discussions. The discussions in which the whole class participated, and everyone is free to agree, disagree, or add whatever they’d like, often seemed to be very useful, while the smaller group discussions of 3-5 people seemed to be qualitatively far worse, with nothing insightful being shared, and the creation of little islands in the classroom seemed to encourage people to not sincerely engage with the material or each other at all; and then when the time comes to share what has been discussed, someone very graciously volunteers to spew off half-baked thoughts for a minute until everyone is satisfied. Maybe my view of the group discussions is overly cynical, but my experience in other classes seems to support it: the smaller groups accomplished very little while the whole class discussions encouraged everybody to think critically about the matter at hand, and gave everybody equal opportunity to interject where they see fit.

                                                               Lastly, I’ve learned, or rather noticed again, that it’s extremely difficult and unsatisfying to engage with any kind of schoolwork when you are very concerned and gloomy about something completely different, when all interest in these things disappears and there remains a need to pass the course so as to move on, and not to have spent in vain time of which there is never enough of. This is obviously not a fault of the course, but just a general observation from someone reflecting on things.

                                                              Throughout the semester I was frequently comparing this class to another class I was taking, African Lit. Criticism. In that class, there were extended readings on some fictional literature, particularly the novel Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta, and weekly readings of non-fictional, theoretical pieces that provided a new dimension to the text by re-contextualizing what had been read, and by providing another means to understand what would be read later in the novel. For example, in one week we would read short theoretical pieces by someone like W.E.B. Du Bois, whose concept of double-consciousness could help us better understand the actions and views of some of the characters in the story; how the maltreatment they receive at the hands of other (whiter) folk makes it necessary for them to be ever-aware of their blackness. In another week we would read pieces about African Feminism, again challenging our past and present and future readings of the text. After each reading we would write a short essay drawing connections between the theoretical works and the fictional works, applying theory to fiction, and deepening our understanding of the literature. Through the more rigid structure (writing about a book and its relations to the recently read short theoretical pieces), I was able to develop a deeper understanding of the works and draw connections between them. The more closed nature of the course, where what is expected of you is more clearly defined, seemed to have worked better for me, and was at least far less frustrating. It was interesting to observe throughout the semester that two courses that are very much in conversation with each other can differ in their approach to the material so much, and still seem to yield very positive results among students.

                                                              The course for me, therefore, has been a great noticing experience. It’s taught me much about my own learning style, has exposed me to something brand new in the poor treatment of blacks within the medical system, and has made me more conscientious about language in general. Regardless of my many frustrations, I’m still very glad to have had the opportunity to take part and to notice something new, which is always an upbuilding experience.

Final Reflection Essay // Medicine and Racism

When I was choosing courses for the Fall 2019 semester my advisor had noted that I needed another class in Literature that would fulfill the general education requirement. As I’m sifting through the registrar of various types of literature courses my eye suddenly got caught on a class titled, “Literature; Medicine and Racism”. It stood out to me because I immediately started thinking about how medicine and racism could be related and/or connected through literature. I just had never put those two together in my head before. My sister is in her last year of pharmacy school at the University of Buffalo so if you can imagine, she was the one blessed with the science brains. However, I wanted to learn more about the coexistence of medicine and racism. I gained interest by the second and signed up for it. Before classes began I was set in stone to the fact that either way this class was going to be either one of my best or a challenging one due to the fact that going into this I knew writing and reading wasn’t my strong suit. The framework completed throughout class discussions, the essay writing templates reviewed, comprehension strategies practiced, independent work, and group projects have all been an enjoyable challenge to overcome. I can confidently state that what I’ve learned in this course like the different approaches to reading, writing, and listening, has given me an exceptional opportunity to boost my knowledge on the current issue of how medicine and racism are unfortunately still currently becoming more and more intertwined all over the world. Also the ability to apply what I’ve retained in this course to my everyday life.

Since I was a young child I’ve been a ‘show me or I don’t believe you’ type person. Prior to enrolling at Geneseo, this is how I had always been.  This course and Dr. McCoy’s tactics taught me to dig deeper and really utilize your brain so that I could ‘show’ myself. I was also able to learn how to use surrounding context more and more each day because with some of the challenges these books brought me, I was inclined to refer back to the Reflective Writing article. “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice”. This is a quote from Dionne Brand that has been brought up numerous times in class and it is also the course epigraph. Acting as a general theme for everyone, my classmates and I were able to notice different things that stood out to us in each book. Then the following class we would come together in a group and discuss what jumped out at us, what didn’t make sense to us, and if there were any themes that were able to be tied back to another book that we had already read or been reading. One of the most helpful articles of this whole semester was the article about reflective writing. This article taught me the most about myself as a writer while feeding my brain with new knowledge on how to become a more effective and also reflective writer. The first thing we did in class was stand up and throw a bouncy ball of a wall continuously. One can think of this procedure as how the act of noticing and thinking flow in a group of people. When working in groups during class this semester I was more comfortable than I thought I would be because of the ball off the wall tactic. My classmates and I whether we had the same ideas and thoughts or polar opposites, were able to assist each other by offering new perception. So I wasn’t worried to say how I felt knowing that someone would bounce off of it soon after with what they feel about the topic being discussed. As noted on the syllabus for this course “We are here to listen, to learn, to teach, to debate, to change, to grow.” All of these things were achieved each class by listening to Dr. McCoy and cooperating with peers in group activity. For example, with the group blog post assignment, Dr. McCoy stressed the importance of working together in a group and bouncing ideas off of each other to get started. With having a serious case of anxiety, talking in front of people and stating my opinion has always been burdensome. However, as each class went by I became more confident in what I had to say because I kept becoming a better reader, listener, and speaker. As I read on for this class in my dorm room every week, the reflective writing article written by Kate Williams, Mary Wooliams, and Jane Spiro was always pulled up on my computer. The part about asking strategic questions, specifically, aided me the most by allowing myself to pause whenever needed during the book  to ask myself important critical questions like, What? Why? And Who? These questions may seem shallow but they give you good insight on who you are writing for and reading about. Sometimes, especially with the book Zone One, I would find myself stumbled upon words that I had never seen before like emporium, menagerie, which is like a training habitat for animals, and spirochete that is a vicious bacteria due to the effect of it being diseases like Lyme disease and Syphilis. Before Googling all of the words I was barely able to pronounce throughout this semester, I was able to remember back to the reflective writing article and the What, Why, Who strategy. Then I could piece together context clues and sometimes not even need to look up a word. Combining the use of the course epigraph, the strategies of the reflective writing article, and many more sources Dr. McCoy has given us to utilize as resources to make writing our essays less painless like the Gibbs Reflective Cycle, I have become a more well rounded reader and writer. 

During the year while I wasn’t reading a novel for this course or any of my other classes I tried to make enough time to read the biography of Tony Dungey who was an NFL player when he was younger and is now retired, a Super Bowl winning coach and an analyst. I started at the beginning of the semester when I myself didn’t believe I had the skill to absorb information at all when I would read, causing me to re-read and take double the time. Now at the end of the semester, I’m about 10 chapters in and I catch myself stopping every chapter and asking myself what just happened and how that chapter makes me feel. Along with the rest of the questions that the Gibbs Reflective Cycle follows with including the conclusion which makes me ask myself if I read it again knowing what I know now would I think or feel differently about it? It has made reading more enjoyable for me knowing that I have these templates and cycles in the back of my head now. I’ve become more of a proactive reader which I’ve noticed has helped me in other aspects in life as well.

While reading Medical Apartheid, I was exposed to a lot of new information that I had never heard before. My perception on the topics in the book had taken a side because now I have proper knowledge on topics like African American reproductive rights and the amount of abusive medical practices being done on African Americans. Prior to diving into this novel I had not much of a viewpoint on the linkage of Medicine and Racism but in finishing it I was able to form an educated opinion. The whole science and medicine industry needs to come together and fix this recurring issue because minorities anywhere in the world shouldn’t be treated like lab rats and lied to about their medication. Washington in the beginning of the book speaks about back in the day when slaves weren’t able to get medical care due to their unpleasant working conditions and they were actually used as lab rats for new medicines (Washington 29). Many people who are a part of the science or medicine industry often argue that the aboloshment of slavery was so long ago and that is also when unfair medical treatment was halt to a stop. However, according to the “sixth U.S. census (of 1840)”, the free blacks suffered far worse mental and physical issues and diseases than did enslaved blacks and of course white males and females (Washington 145,146). What Washington was trying to tell readers is that sadly racism is still present in relation to medical treatment regardless of slavery officially being banished in the United States.

Now that finals are just about over and classes are wrapping up, I noticed the usefulness of the things taught to me during this course. With the Reflective Writing article and all the tips and templates practiced over the semester I not only feel more confident internally with my speaking skills, I also feel like I am more able now to help people with writing and word play. Increasing my ability to comprehend in general and speak aloud in front of a group of people is the one thing I think has been most important to my personal growth this semester because I truly can apply those skills to everyday life.

Noticing to Notice

Noticing is something every single human on the planet should do. We should see when a situation or event in front of us is wrong and stand up for what we believe in. We should notice how what we say and what we do affects others. I would describe myself as a very observant person, I notice a lot and almost everything. However, it is hard to notice things when they are unspoken of, which I think happens a lot especially with the ideals of racism especially in the United States because I believe for most of us, it is something we are very ashamed of. This is why it’s important to discuss and talk about especially the history of the medical field. I believe power comes from knowledge. We learn from our mistakes, figure out where we went wrong and how we can fix and improve conditions as we move forward. 

The course epigraph, “my job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice” said by Dionne Brand, is important to everyone. This creates a through-line especially in this class with this subject matter. Specifically, in “Medical Apartheid”, we are shown the wrong doings to black people that were built and structured into the foundations of the medical field. It is our job to notice these wrongdoings, acknowledge that they happened and do better because we believe in change. Because unless we acknowledge these wrong doings nothing will change. We will not become a better society because we did not learn from our horrendous mistakes. In order for us as a whole society to grow from our mistakes, we MUST acknowledge them and figure out what went wrong.  To answer Professor McCoy’s question saying, “does it matter given GLOBE’s insistence that Geneseo students should gain practice in the ability to reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time?”  Yes, we as educated adults should be able to have the ability to reflect upon our mistakes, learn from them and be better because of them. However, have we as a society become better from our mistakes? Have we fully understood the effects of forcing someone to do something when they are unwilling? Take for example the circumstances of “Clay’s Ark” written by Octavia Butler. These people were taken unwillingly, did NOT want to participate and did not want to be carriers of the disease that would completely change them forever; however, they were forced to do so by people of power in the circumstances. In a lot of circumstances that were written about in Medical Apartheid, the same is true. White people in positions of power and knowledge who should’ve known better based on basic biology and science (although they were not as scientifically advanced as we are now, however not a justifying reason to do the things they did to black people), made people forcibly endure traumatic and tremendously horrifying acts of “research” that more often than not resulted in that same individual’s meaningless death. It was their job to notice how cruel and inhumane they were being to people. The people who they were experimenting on may have looked different than them, but they should’ve noticed they were alike, the same species, that the person they were putting through the worst experience of their life was just like them. And by not noticing they have failed those individuals by becoming doctors who took lives rather than saved them. They have failed to notice and by doing so gives more power to ignorance and hate that had instated within our society. 

This semester, I have focused a lot of my thinking on the ever-changing word, consent. Consent is meaningless unless we learn something from our past mistakes and can notice what our mistakes were. Speaking in the course content, we must learn that consent is needed from the individual being researched on in order to do right by that person. In Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington, we learned how mostly black people were taken forcibly and experimented on resulting in horrific deaths. We learned how black people were put in cages at zoos where white passersby looked and watched them as they would an animal in a cage at a zoo. They literally thought that a black person was a wild animal, inhuman in fact, they needed to be caged. But what they failed to realize is they were looking at a human who was forcibly held in a cage to gain a profit.  It was someone’s job to notice this was wrong. It was a time for someone to say, “this is not okay, this should not be happening”. People began to notice that their family members were going missing, that something was happening to their family members. That something horrible had happened or was happening to them. In these circumstances, Washington investigated. She told her readers that these people were taken forcibly, kidnapped, and experimented on. Although, it was difficult to do anything about it especially since both the hospital and the police force tended to turn their heads in the opposite direction and I think this still happens in the present. Instead of engaging in an uncomfortable topic or conversation, people tend to look the other way and pretend they didn’t see anything. This is why it is both important to notice but also to actively take action against what you think is wrong. 

Before this class, I had absolutely no idea that most of any of these events happened. But now that I do, how could I not notice. How could I not notice that people still are probably experiencing events like those in Medical Apartheid, how could I not notice how racism is still heavily engraved and rooted deeply within this country. How could I not believe that everyone should read this book? Everyone should know the truth about how the medical field was started.  And when I notice these things, how could I not do something about it? How can I go on as an educated adult who wants to make the world a better place but not even acknowledge that things like this actually happened? By acknowledging that it happened, by acknowledging that these attitudes are still very much present in our society, I can learn and grow. However may challenging this material at times was hard to read, hard to think about and hard to swallow, I think it was a necessary experience to be able to understand and empathize with others. 

That Black Person: A Self-Reflection

The course epigraph for ENGL 101 Literature, Medicine, and Racism is “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.” by Dionne Brand. Meaning, during this course, as readers and thinkers, we need to realize and bring attention to situations that one may have not noticed before. With that being said before entering this class, I had already created a preconceived notion that my classmates, even possibly my professor, would have an ignorant mindset. Would they genuinely understand a heavy topic such as racism, when they have a privileged lifestyle? However, as the classed developed, and we began having discussions, I realized my judgments were wrong. My classmates were openminded and understanding people. That Professor McCoy was mindful of the topic while still including the challenges that came with talking about racism. Furthermore, as my judgments were debunked, my focus was redirected. I started to connect with the characters in the novels, feeling as if a piece of my identity had been written. Though with those connections came an unimaginable burden, that changed me from a speaker to a listener. I changed because I did not want to become “that black person,” meaning I did not want to carry the African American culture on my back, nor did I want to continue to bring the topic back to race and ethnicity. Overall, my transitions in the classroom have changed me as a person and allowed my burdens to be released. 

Furthermore, my connections with the characters in the book have brought to light the hidden issues we have in society. With the assignment to notice on my hands, I realized that every author for our reading in the course is African American. My first initial thought was irony, its ironic that every author is African American, and was I the only one who noticed this characteristic. With me noticing this, I asked, why? Why would Dr. McCoy specifically make all the authors in this course, African Americans? I came to the answer that racism and oppression is a systemic issue. I say that because when looking at the books, Home by Toni Morrison, Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem by Marilyn Nelson, Zulus by Percival Everett, and Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington each of these sources reveals that no matter what time period oppression and racism is a constant behavior.

With that being said, there is a clear indication with each reading it creates a timeline that shows the continuation of oppression and racism, mostly with African Americans. Starting with Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem by Marilyn Nelson, a story about a man named Fortune, who was a slave freed from slavery by death. Fortune was a “father, husband, a baptized Christian, and a slave” (Nelson,12). Nelson took us, readers, through the story of Fortune’s bones, how they started in possession of his master Dr. Porter to now being in the hands of Mattatuck Museum. “His bones say only that he served and died, that he was useful, even into death, stripped of his name, his story, and his flesh.” (Nelson, 13). This book shows a glimpse of the continuum of oppression of African Americans in the late 1700s into the 1800s. That when it came to slaves, they were only needed for labor, and unfortunately for Fortune, his use continued for other purposes.  In the novel, Home by Toni Morrison, which goes back to the 1950s and shows how traumatic the Korean War was and how African Americans were experimented on. Not only the novel touch on the experimentation of African Americans and the Korean war but the culture in the south with segregation, discrimination, and racism. In Frank Money’s trip to rescue his sister from experimentation, he encounters a family that has experienced police brutality. “Drive-by cop… He had a cap pistol. Eight years old, running up and down the sidewalk pointing it. Some redneck rookie thought his dick was underappreciated by his brother cops.” “You can’t just shoot a kid, said Frank. Cops shoot anything they want. This here’s a mob city” (Morrison, 31). This passage shows the mere control white people during this time have over African Americans, having the ability to shoot a young child to prove and earn respect. Looking at Morrison and Nelson, there is a notion of a transition of positions for African Americans, but the treatment stayed the same.

Now with looking at the past, it is only right to look at the future. Likewise, with the past, the future still holds the characteristics of oppression. In the novel, Zulus by Percival Everett it looked into a potential future that may lie ahead. In the novel Zulus, there is a society that was created years after a thermonuclear war, where people get their daily cheese, crackers, and egg substitute mix packages out of a truck. And if one goes against the rules of the government, they are considered a rebel. However, with this novel, oppression is not defined by color but ability, weight, and looks. Everett uses terms such as “fat women,” “the little man,” “the little women,” “large black male,” all describing the characters he introduces, intentionally oppressing them. They all have names, Alice Achitophel, Kevin Peters, Theodore Theodore, and Lucinda Knotes, but the author decides to describe them by their insecurity. I feel as Everett is saying what everyone is thinking, as people, we use one another’s outside appearances, to talk about one another even though we all have names. Additionally, when looking at the narrator, Alice Achitophel is a 300-pound lady who may be the last woman alive who is not sterile. Alice escapes the city and seeks refuge in the rebel camp due to her mischievous actions, and for the possible sake, she may be pregnant. Alice arrives at the camp, and she travels with her boss and his friends, who are connected to the rebel camp. When the rebel camp confirms Alice’s ability to conceive children, they put her into a room with no windows, only white walls and a bed, no connection with the outside world. “I want out of here… That’s not possible. Don’t misread your position, Alice Achitophel. Your condition is hardly one for which you can claim credit and it is this fact we bear in mind in our gauging of you. You are a vehicle and nothing more, an any woman, and you just happen to have been raped, you instead of some other unfortunate. It was fat luck, Alice, and no promise of specialness of yours. You will be treated as the thing you are and we will take the life you offer. It is as simple as that.” (Everett, 105). Even though Everett is a black man who has likely experienced oppression, made it known that African Americans are not the only people to experience cruel treatment.  

There is a clear notion that the past and future societies changed because of the environment around them. But what about now? Has our society in the present changed? As a history major, I have realized the main saying is, “we learn the past, so we do not repeat history.” Well, in the book Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington shows how, as a country, we continuously do the same thing without consciously knowing it. Washington connects the past and present, giving a timeline of what American has been like when it comes to racism and oppression. At the beginning of the book, Washington starts with colonial times and uses the example of Dr. Sims’ passion for caring and curing women’s disorders. “… each surgical scene was a violent struggle between the slaves and physicians, and each women’s body was a bloodied battleground. Each naked, unanesthetized slave woman had to be forcibly restrained by the other physicians through her shrieks of agony as Sims determinedly sliced, then sutured her genitalia. The other doctors, who could, fled when they could bear the horrific scenes no longer. It fell to the women to restain one another.” (Washington, 2). When reading this passage, I realized slavery had hit more boundaries than I thought, for an African American, I did not even know, which makes me think how many others do not either. You cannot learn from something you do not know. Fast forward to the 2000s, HIV/AIDS has become the third leading cause of death for young adult African Americans, and there is a consistent pattern with novel surgical technologies when it comes to African Americans. Washington compares Sims vesicovaginal-fistula research on black slaves to now poor black women are least likely to benefit from surgery. “Today’s highly visible role of blacks testing heart-transplantation technology parallels a deluge of medical-journal articles documenting how blacks are less likely than whites to receive high-tech cardiac interventions once they are perfected and become the standard of care” (Washington, 349). Meaning as an African American woman, I am more likely to be tested on for further investment in science for white people. So for the patients, John Quinn and Robert Tools, black men tested with the artificial heart were only to benefit white Americans, not black Americans? So the oppression and racism continued, Dr. Harry Bailey once said: “..it was cheaper to use niggers than cats, because they were everywhere and cheap experimental animals…” Overall, I have realized that my position in America is that I am no more than a guinea pig; someone made for the benefits of others. Slavery still exists; it is just not seen. 

Without a doubt,  noticing the authors were all black, there had to be a reason why. Furthermore, the answer is that they are laying out the past, present, and future of American society. White Americans were taking people of color across the sea unwillingly, then forcing them to work without profit. Nevertheless, once slavery ends war and experimentations begin, its more straightforward to use a black man; it is cheaper and more accessible. People of color are here to help you live. I realized I got so connected with characters and events because it hit home. I have the knowledge now to think that my ill mother may be just another experiment and that doctors could have helped my father while he was on his death bed. I questioned that maybe my life is only for others, but then I stopped and realized America is not America without black people. America is nothing without me or any black person. Percival Everett, Toni Morrison, Marilyn Nelson, and Harriet A. Washington are those black people, who speak out, make everything uncomfortable, and I realized that is okay. It is okay to be “that black person” because who else will? My job is to notice and help others notice, as well. My burden has been set free, thank you to the authors that made me realize, my life and voice matters.

Reflection on Literature, Medicine, and Racism

The epigraph of this course is a quote from Dionne Brand, which says “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.” This epigraph has helped guide us when reading and attempting to understand the material throughout the semester. As we have continued our understanding of the literature and built off of it in order to make connections, both between the literature and within our daily lives, there becomes a clear understanding of how this epigraph was meant to help us along the way. When the authors wrote these pieces, they were responding to the mistreatment that black people have been subjected to in the U.S., and continue to be subjected to in the present. While there are authors that may more directly bring up issues of race outside of the medical field, for the purposes of this course we were given examples that directly corresponded with the medical industry rather than other areas where black people may be systemically harmed. As the authors wrote they seemed to notice the abuse that had been done to them, and they wrote as a way to respond and mirror the issues that concerned them the most deeply.

 By going through these readings and connecting them to real life examples given to us in Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid we were in many ways able to notice the authors noticing. By paying attention to conversations occurring between the fictional worlds being written about and the world around us we can reflect on what it all means. As we continue to see medical injustices being mirrored in these writings we are forced to realize that the systematic oppression of black people and the consequences on their health has not simply disappeared overnight. While we have to carefully read the text in order to understand what is being referenced, we must do the same thing when examining our surroundings as well. We cannot just passively acknowledge the horror of our past as a nation, but rather we are required to carefully address the concerning practices we see going on around us in order to actually affect change. Washington even says in the epilogue to Medical Apartheid that when it comes to medical treatment, “Although less rife, it remains a contemporary reality, and an ever-present one (386).”  This is why we have continually discussed the idea of thinkING as an active, not passive, process. Reflection is not just a process where you can understand the material and move on. In order to truly reflect you must go back and test yourself when you have learned from your experiences or from your intellectual growth. While Washington is aware of the history of the medical field, as well as the current practices that take place within it, she is able to reflect on what has happened and where it has led us today. If she had not been able to properly reflect on the crimes from the past and presented it to us, it may have been easier for us to judge those who were mistreated and sympathize with those who enacted these horrors in the name of “medical advancements.”

When we first read Home, it was easy for us to judge the characters and question their choices, but as we have moved on I think their actions and thought processes have become more understandable. The context of each situation is essential to understanding the motives of the characters, and although we had the opportunity to become slightly immersed in the material of Medical Apartheid, it was difficult to fully understand before hearing the narrative of Cee and Frank. When we learned about the structural systems that have caused harm within the medical field we were also given an example of how these systems could directly harm an individual. When Cee is discussing her short-lived marriage to Principal, she discusses her brother Frank, saying “That’s the other side, she thought, of having a smart, tough brother close at hand to take care of you and protect you- you are slow to develop your own brain muscle (Morrison: 48).” From the beginning of her narrative Cee sees herself as weak and simple-minded, but by the end of her story she proves to herself and those around her that she is strong and capable. I found myself judging her for putting herself down without recognizing the context in which she lived her life. Before it became clear to see the ways in which doctors harmed black people with no remorse it was easier for us to judge Cee for becoming part of the system of abuse.

During my time in college I have taken anthropology courses and have begun viewing things as I would view them in an anthropology course. In the field of anthropology ethnographic field methods are used in order to study cultures and people. Ethnographies rely on the researcher to immerse themselves into the culture they are studying for a long period of time so that they can come to understand the culture as best they can, and then present the information they have learned to the world. While we started off not wanting to believe what Home was trying to tell us, anthropologists rely on individuals to provide them with knowledge of the cultural context they find themselves in. Of course, they must also be well versed in the theoretical and methodological history of anthropology as a whole, but they would be doing a disservice to their research subjects if they were not willing to fully listen to them, and I could see that scenario being played out when many of us could not believe what we were being told by Cee and Frank. By not fully understanding the context within which Cee and Frank lived we are also unable to understand their narratives as people. Even within Home, we hear from Frank and Cee that their grandmother was a cruel, awful woman who mistreated them every chance she got. While her actions towards them are still cruel, it becomes easier to understand why she acted in those ways after we get to hear from her directly in her own chapter. After her first husband is shot and killed and she feels forced to move away and remarry, her experience is described by the following quote- “Just as Lenore began to safe and comfortable so far from Alabama, a passel of Salem’s relatives- ragged and run out of their home- arrived (Morrison: 87).”  As we learn more and more about the context of the situations throughout history we have to reflect on what we have learned and how it impacts our view on the matter.

Professor McCoy told us when we first started Clay’s Ark that Octavia Butler can play off of her readers’ expectations and biases as and make us examine them. Butler was able to notice that people make snap judgments and use that to her advantage. As we moved through Clay’s Ark, I found myself looking for someone to blame, but I couldn’t blame an organism. By not being able to place the blame on one single person or source I felt uncomfortable and unsettled. Going off of the same branch, we are unable to place blame on one singular person or situation when looking back on the course of our medical history. There are, of course, many people that we can blame for the torture and experimentation of black people, but this is the result of systemic racism, not one person’s will. Even in the case of the slave system that led to the experimentation of black people as a whole, we cannot find the first person that suggested or created it, or at least I cannot as an inexperienced historian and scholar. We can blame colonialism, systemic racism, and the institution of slavery as a whole, but we are unable to pinpoint exactly how far racism has permeated throughout our culture to this day. I have found it more difficult to blame a bureaucratic system for racism than to blame an individual for their wrongdoing. That is not to say that the structures have not been as harmful, but at least when an individual is harmful you can receive closure. When a system is harmful as a whole it is much harder to address and come to terms with, whatever that may mean to someone.

Even when we are able to contextualize the systems we are trying to understand, this does not guarantee that we will be in a position to actually understand what we are hearing. Reading the material this semester and discussing it in class has forced me to look at the privileges I have in our society under a more critical light. The discussions we have had have challenged me to look at my life and try to empathize with people who have experienced things I have never been through. If we were just expected to read these books and make connections between them I don’t think I would have learned as much as I learned from simply conversing with people and understanding others experiences and interpretations of what they were experiencing.

As Professor McCoy mentioned earlier on in the course, no one is able to reach the horizon. However much they may chase it, we will always fall behind it. I feel the same way about understanding and recognizing the medical torture enacted on black people from the perspective of a white person; I don’t think I will ever be able to truly understand what it feels like, but I can keep trying my best to empathize regardless. Although I will never be able to reach this horizon of fully understanding, I can keep chasing it, even while I know it will never be reached. If we are not all willing to accept these horrors on our past and try to understand the expansive reach of its impact on our world today then we are not really trying to address the consequences and reach the horizon. As the authors of the literature we have read this semester have noticed the inequities surrounding medicine and race, they have forced us to notice along with them, which I can only assume was their plan from the beginning.

Reflective Writing

Being a first semester freshman is probably the hardest thing to go through as college is a brand-new idea and an entirely new lifestyle. It is similar to this course as it causes for adjustment in not only thinking, but outlooks on topics and ideas. This course allowed me to stray away from the traditional English courses I have taken during my time in high school, and now transitioning into college. In the beginning of the semester I saw this course as just another class that would hand me a book and say “read by…”, since it’s what I’ve gotten used to doing, but as I have gone through this course, I’ve noticed it is much more than that. It is more about expanding your horizons and allowing yourself to become open-minded than it is reading each assignment and forgetting about it when moving on to the next. Throughout my time, I believe that I have grown as a reader, student, and overall person. This course has allowed me to become exposed to topics and real-life issues that I probably wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.

One major change between high school English courses and this one was having a course epigraph. In high school, we were given a piece of paper, a reading, or even a project and told to do it with little to no explanation as to why we were doing it in the first place. There was no rhyme or reason behind the concepts taught as well as having nothing to relate them back to.  In the syllabus there is the course epigraph reading: “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice” said by Dionne Brand. To me, this means structure. Structure that I’ve never experienced in a course taken before but finally allows me to have an anchor. The anchor gives me a chance to connect topics and ideas back to something instead of taking this course as a routine; show up, do the work, leave, repeat. It gives me a chance to expand my knowledge in a different way that I have always yearned for but didn’t know how to achieve. I have been able to develop as a reader and notice things, symbols or ideas, that may not have stood out to me within a book prior to this learning experience. Reading such specific, but still diverse books, has allowed me to gain a full insight to a world I never would’ve known was out there had I not been looking for it. This epigraph also allows one to be actively thinking and expanding their knowledge in a vast majority of topics, but also noticing when they are growing as a person and can put that newfound information into practice. 

I noticed that the epigraph became most evident during small group discussions. Each individual was able to notice something they may not have prior to talking with peers; I know this statement stands true to me. I have found it most helpful talking in groups, whether I had nothing to say about a book or article or I had too much to say about a reading. Certain ideas that group members brought up allowed me to see a different viewpoint and change my opinion on the book as a whole. It caused me to notice small, minute scenes and symbols that I had not even thought of before listening and referring back to the book alongside others. But in return, gave me the opportunity to point out my findings to my peers and expand on the outlooks I had on a reading.

One particular group discussion that had me thinking probably the most out of all was focused on Home by Toni Morrison. One of the concepts we questioned the most was about the zoot suit man. My group had concluded that the zoot suit man, seen by Frank, and later on Cee, was the father who had been killed by his son during the dog fight. This “dog fight” was between a black man and his son in front of a white crowd solely for their own entertainment; they were forced to fight until one was dead, the father being the one to sacrifice his life for the sake of his son’s. When Frank and Cee go to the burial site in the woods to give the man a proper burial, Cee sees this figure off in the distance. By now, both characters have seen this unknown figure around their daily lives, and it can be interpreted that this figure was indeed the man they were burying. After thorough discussion and finding points that backed up that idea, we allowed ourselves to have some type of closure within the book; as we referred to an overlooked concept that was introduced to us at different points throughout the book. Discussions such as that one helped me navigate this course most effectively. It allowed me to become open to different ideas that I never would’ve seen had I read the book and moved on with not giving any thought to it.

Much like the haunting of the zoot suit man in Frank and Cee’s life, there has been one thing hanging over my shoulder throughout the entirety of this class, and semester. That one thing is my grade. Although I did not try as hard as I could in this class, I was still obsessed with my grade as I tried to keep it high enough to satisfy both my parents and me. I have always been one to worry about my grades more so than the actual content of the class itself. It is one thing I try to have control over during all my years throughout school since I never really got to choose what type of class I took. As I made my way through the semester, I realized that I need to focus more on the content and teachings of the courses rather than the grade I received, as it is not the sole thing to help me in my overall life. Once I began to change my mindset on that topic and focused more on the content of the readings and in class discussions, I found myself to be learning more and more each day, allowing my experience and knowledge to grow. As I make my way through the next however many years of college, I will take this mindset into consideration and show myself that the content is where the grade itself is and as long as I can thoroughly understand what is going on in each course and the life around me, I will evolve into a more rounded human being and student with knowledge I never knew I was looking for.

My Reflection

“My job is to notice… and notice that you can notice.” This quote from Dionne Brand was the epigraph for this course. The idea of noticing small things such as random hand gestures seems irrelevant but ended up being was helpful. Although this was our epigraph during the semester, “Both/and” might as well have been, especially considering how often we reference this simple, yet effective, technique when creating insightful and meaningful connections. This phrase shaped a lot of my thinking when forming connections between the course material and my prior knowledge that was relevant to the topics.

When this course began, I found myself confused. I figured that this would dissipate when I had a lightbulb moment and everything would begin to piece together, making sense. However, about halfway through the semester, my frustrations began to increase because I did not have the lightbulb moment I expected and was left in confusion. This confusion left me with great respect for my peers who were able to find all these connections and share them with the class. This also left me feeling envious because in my other English classes I was able to find those connections. I felt left out in class despite the fact that I was constantly included and given opportunities to share my ideas. As questions were asked, I was unable to give my feedback considering that I hardly had any, and what I did have seemed insignificant to me, which embarrassing.

After noticing my struggles as the course progressed, I began to work on them, trying to become more open-minded. I focused on the idea that training does not mean understanding. To me, it seems a particularly relevant idea as this course has continued. In class, we kept progressing by reading, writing, and forming connections, yet even as we did so, I noticed times when I didn’t fully understand the books, articles, or some of the deeper connections between the two. I became frustrated when I was unable to distinguish any though lines in the course material other than the obvious connections between medicine and literature and the disrespectful treatment of the lower class. Usually when I am unable to find an answer, after some time, that answer was given to me. Yet, that is not how this course works and I have been unsure of what to make of that ever since. Professor McCoy reminded the class to pay attention to our emotions throughout this course when trying to absorb the material content. I have been able consider my feelings about the blog posts and why they are so. Despite this, I have been stuck and unable to find the solution to this problem which has amplified my frustrations.

I came into this class knowing that I am a visual, hands on learner who understands language well, preferring the possibilities of having many solutions to a problem rather than only one. I work well when given direct directions but struggle without them. My organized, orderly, and neat habits help me focus and allow me to create a better learning experience for myself. Due to this, the book Zulus by Percival Everett was a difficult for me to read, understand, and connect with. The book jumps between what old Alice’s head was seeing and what the new Alice was experiencing. I failed to understand the importance of the connection, making the book harder for me to read. Additionally, I wish I had gotten more out of Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington, but something so factual was difficult for me to become interested in. My strategy for this was to focus on reading it in small portions. I usually find books most interesting when they are relatable to my life or when they take me on a journey through well written story telling. With this being said, it surprises me that I felt a strong dislike for Zone One by Colon Whitehead because it is in some ways, it had similarities to some books I’ve read and enjoyed in the past. None of the books we read had content that I could connect to my personal life which made it hard to relate to the characters. When I noticed that I felt this way, I tried to put myself in their shoes but failed to do so. Out of all the readings, Home and Clay’s Ark were the two texts I was able to comprehend most effectively.

Home by Toni Morrison was a book written most similarly to those in which I have studied prior to this. As a result, I was able to accomplish more meaningful reflections. Surprisingly, the book Clay’s Ark by Octavia E. Butler drew me in and kept me hooked. The book continually jumped between past and present which confused me at first, but once I began understanding the structure, I was able to engage in the story and found myself wanting to read ahead. I just wish I had reached this point with Zone One and Zulus. With these texts we were supposed to create insightful blog posts, but I’ve noticed my difficulties when attempting to begin writing and how they effected my learning.

When I am forced to write something, I struggle to figure out how I want to setup my writing. Then, after I did create an idea and attempted to build off it, one thought kept reoccurring in my mind: This isn’t good enough, I need something better. But how am I supposed to accomplish that? During this course I continually discouraged myself. English is one of my favorite subjects and I’ve always been able to bring lots of thoughts and ideas into the classrooms I’ve been a part of. However, this class challenged me so much that I was unsure what to make of that. This class pushed me out of my comfort zone with the course content and blog post assignments. This was a good example of a Geneseo course meant to meet the ideals of the GLOBE awareness, pushing students to learn more things about the world around them that they may not have known otherwise. I learned about things I would have never assumed to be relevant in a class about literature, medicine, and racism, like the African Burial ground that inspired my thoughts about respecting the dead which I was able to turn into a blog post. Also, who knew that dental health would connect to the books we had been studying or that the history of applause would have anything to do with this class? But they do connect, and those little details helped me make sense of this big confusing picture I’ve been trying to understand. It is okay not to fully understand, but rather embrace what you do take away from it and apply it to other aspects of life in a continuous cycle of learning.      

Bounce. Catch. Bounce. Catch. Were the thoughts running through my mind as we preformed the bouncy ball exercise in our classroom. At first, when we began the exercise, I did not understand its purpose. After having a class discussion regarding the activity, my understanding began to grow, starting with connecting the bouncy ball activity to the power of repeated practice. As the exercise was referenced in connection to what we were learning throughout classes, I formed new understandings of what this activity represented. I began to see the connections between this and the loops/cycles we kept coming across in our studies.

While in class, we would do both small and large group work. The small groups allowed me to feel more comfortable sharing my ideas with my peers without feeling judged. In our groups I noticed that we bounced ideas off each other which lead to us creating theories about the books and their endings, which were some of the most productive conversations I had. While in contrast, the larger group convening after having spent time within smaller groups allowed for each of the groups to share the most relevant things they discussed and turn that into a large group discussion that was monitored by our professor who helped to guide the discussion by asking leading questions and providing insightful comments.

One of the things Professor McCoy mentioned in a class discussion was, “The power of realistic expectations,” which inspired me to consider that I should have expected more from myself in some parts of this course and less in others. I feel as though my knowledge and understanding have developed much less than what I predicted and would have preferred, but I’m also not walking away from this class empty handed. I have learned strategies, learned new ways to find things in books, learned about myself, and have been humbled. Moving forward, I will notice when I need to ask for help and then do so. I will also have more experiences with these different ideas, book styles, and blog posts and apply these experiences to other things I learn and be able to notice that I am noticing, form connections, and use those connections to enhance my learning and share my ideas with others.

If I could go back and do this class over I would ask for more insights from my professor and teaching assistants and try to learn how I need to think rather than just struggling, wasting my own time, and damaging my grade in the process. I know I have not done my best work. I have worked hard and put in lots of time and effort into this class, however, the results of what I have accomplished are limited due to myself. I found it hard to piece together connections and make it into an entire blog post that would be interesting to read, which is funny, because finding connections in books and hidden meanings is typically my favorite part of English classes. When the course began, my professor kept mentioning cross checking and why it was important. Honestly, at first I ignored her words, but as she continued to bring it up during the semester I began to understand how it was relevant and applied to the learning and work that I was doing, not only in this class, but in others. One of my takeaways from this course was learning about food safety and how that can be an important part of daily life that makes a big difference. What I didn’t notice then, because I was trying find more relevant connections between food safety and this course, was that sometimes those small day to day activities make the biggest differences in our lives. We should not forget about all the small details as we look at the big picture. If I could take this class again, I would remind myself to look beyond the big picture and notice things within myself.

Noticing through Literary Evidence: A Self-Reflection of ENGL 101

Dionne Brand’s course epigraph, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice,” served as the foundation for ENGL 101: Literature, Medicine, and Racism. The epigraph is included at the top of the course syllabus and was highlighted as we discussed the syllabus on the first day of class. Dr. McCoy explained to us that the epigraph would be a trope in literature and nonfiction works on racism and medicine throughout the semester. Specifically, she encouraged us to pay attention to two issues associated with the epigraph that would act as “life-savers” as the semester progressed. The first issue is the idea of consent and particularly when consent is not obtained. Neglecting to ensure consent can refer to a blatantly non-consensual actions or not informing an individual of the dangers an action exposes them to. The latter example is known as a failure to acquire informed consent and is generally less obvious and more complicated than an outright non-consensual action. The second issue is the concept of “both/and,” which denotes the complexities inherent in the subjects of literature, racism, and medicine, yet can be generalized to all complex topics. “Both/and” indicates that a notion can have similarities to other ideas but can also be distinct from those ideas in certain respects. Therefore, the connections between the course epigraph and the tropes of consent and “both/and” act as the guiding themes for the semester.

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Final Reflection

It is now the end of the semester and it is time to reflect on our courses taken this semester at Geneseo. This assignment is my reflective essay for my ENG 101 course. The course epigraph is a remark spoken by Dionne Brand at the Northeast Modern Language Association in Toronto. At the event, Professor McCoy noted down her saying, “my job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice”. This quote was introduced to us day one of class, or even before day one when I previewed the syllabus on canvas. The experience of learning in this course has been challenging, yet with each challenge that I confronted I was able to grow, even if this meant, at times, just noticing my shortcomings. In the literature assigned in this course, I was able to connect with many of the characters, which I always have enjoyed doing when I have read literature. In so doing this, I was able to read the texts critically and connect it back to the course topic and epigraph. My process of growing as a writer this semester has been set powerfully in to motion from this class, I think in large part because of being able to notice.

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