As I have read the readings, specifically, Octavia Butler’s Dawn and William Darity and Kirsten Mullen’s From Here to Equality, I have been thinking much about this course’s central question of ‘what brings and binds people together?’ It has become clear to me, through the course readings, that shared experiences and intimacy bring and bind people together while differences and associated fear of the unknown keep people apart. Implicit bias, the unconscious association, belief, or attitude toward any social group, has been another key topic of discussion in this course that has been of interest to me. Implicit bias relates to our central course question of ‘what brings and binds people together’ because it largely occurs as a result of people being divided by their differences while at the same time works to further propagate division amongst people, making it dangerous to society. Implicit bias is overcome when one realizes their connectivity with all humans, despite differences, and then chooses to consciously fight the bias. While I find myself to be one who is fair, open-minded, just, etc., this class has me thinking about the possibility that I unconsciously hold, or even act on, beliefs that are biased. This is why my goal for this course is to combat division and promote connection, in my own life, by taking the care and accountability it takes to examine myself, consistently, to acknowledge and be rid of implicit biases that I may hold. As I think about the course epigraphs, “learn and run” and “as habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent,” I recognize that it is okay to not be a perfect human free from bias and full of care for all members of society; it may take work and persistence to overcome one’s faults. But, it also helps me understand that with knowledge, one has a responsibility to do something about it. This is why I must not sit in comfortability and not make changes in myself, when I am aware of the negative effects that my implicit bias has in society. The epigraphs give me a sense of duty to do the work to overcome my own biases, so that I may effectively promote equality and show care for all members of society.
Shared experiences and intimacy bring and bind people together, while differences and associated fear of the unknown keep people apart; this is made clear to be true in the world of Dawn, while From Here to Equality manages to show readers how this works in our society today. At the beginning of Dawn, Lilith continues to feel incredibly lonely even after she is let out of solitary confinement and despite the fact that she is now surrounded by Oankali. The presence of the Oankali does not improve her loneliness because she is unable to connect with these beings due to lack of shared experiences or intimacy with them. Humans though, Lilith craves to be with, so she becomes increasingly frustrated with her captors for not allowing her to interact with other humans. She complains about this to Jdahya, “you shouldn’t have isolated any of us unless your purpose was to drive us insane. You almost succeeded with me more than once. Humans need one another”(Butler 19). Her frustration leads her to escape from Nikanj to travel to Tiej in search of a human that she overheard lived there, Fukumoto. She did not know this man in the slightest but their common experience of living on Earth and even the common experience of being a human, was enough for her to make the trek. Lilith’s disgust towards the Oankali may be explained by the differences between her and them, specifically the fear that these differences elicit in her. This logic is explained by Nikanj in Chapter 12 when he says, “different is threatening to most species…Different is dangerous. It might kill you. That was true to your animal ancestors and your nearest animal relatives. And it’s true for you”(Butler 186). In context, it is explaining why Joseph is afraid to touch him; but, this statement applies widely to human nature. Yet, despite these differences, Lilith slowly begins to form a bond with the Oankali, specifically with Nikanj. This connection can only be explained by the level of intimacy that she experiences with him. She essentially takes care of Nikanj throughout his entire process of developing sexual organs: living with him and his family, feeding him, staying by his side, etc. While, at first, Lilith is barely able to look at an Oankali, by the end of “Nursery,” she willingly touches Nikanj and even finds pleasure from it. Her ability to confide in and ask advice of it is a further demonstration of her level of intimacy with Nikanj. The fact that these two form a bond despite the disgust and fear that Lilith originally feels for it, proves that disconnect is based in a fearful unknowing/distrust of differences more than anything else; connection may occur between even the most unlikely, different match as long as there is shared experience and/or intimacy.
Division operates in the same way in our society as it does in Dawn; when people believe this idea that ‘different’ is something bad or something to be afraid of, division manifests. This may be explained by going all the way back to colonialism and slavery, the beginnings of our country. Colonizers oppressed African slaves and put themselves at the top of the hierarchy. This carried on through generations, and as the generations progressed, this false narrative of differences between colonizer and colonized, white and black, lived on and has resulted in huge inequalities between the groups’ descendants. Now, over 200 years after slavery has ended, we continue to see division between Black and white people. This manifests physically with de facto segregation in neighborhoods and schools. This also manifests itself with regards to differences in values, lifestyles, behavior, etc. These differences are enough to maintain a divide such that connection between Black and white is difficult to achieve.
Implicit bias is a direct result of division as well as a way this division can be propagated in our society, which is why it may be so insidiously dangerous. In our society, division and disconnect between people causes enormous harm, while unity and connection are crucial to maintaining individuals’ sanity and well-being as well as maintaining the overall harmony of society. Firstly, divisions in society are largely imaginary and propagated by those in power; for example, race is a construct with no scientific basis, yet, divisions along the lines of race are socially real and the disconnect that occurs there has real consequences like racism, oppression, inequality etc. In Dawn, Butler does an excellent job of demonstrating that division is merely an illusion; it is this illusion of separation that causes the war that ends humanity. In this case, people and societies got hierarchical, focused on divisions and destroyed each other; humans could have, rather, focused on their connections with each other and rebuilt together. It is like Tate says in Chapter 3 of “Nursery,” “Human beings are more alike than different—damn sure more alike than we like to admit. I wonder if the same thing wouldn’t have happened eventually, no matter which two cultures gained the ability to wipe one another out along with the rest of the world”(Butler 132) From Here to Equality explains that this disconnect along the lines of race has been passed down for generations, causing centuries of hurt for people of color. The book calls for reparations for Black Americans due to the fact that they still continue to endure the adverse effects of the legacy of slavery. Specifically, according to Darity and Mullen, Black people face inequalities in wealth and quality of education. They also must deal with racism on the individual and the institutional level with racism in the police system, medical system, the prison system, etc. (Mullen, 16).
Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story,” does an excellent job of illustrating how a lack of varied perspective leads to misconceptions that may ultimately be harmful; in other words, this Ted Talk illustrates the danger of implicit bias. Adichie’s American college roommate had only one ‘story’ of Africa, one of catastrophe. Within this story there was no possibility for connection between the girls that didn’t exist without pity. (Adichie) While her roommate meant no harm, her implicit bias did cause harm for Adichie by isolating her with this narrative. Adichie is isolated by this narrative in the same way that Black Americans are isolated by oppression. Adichie’s roommate thought this way because she was divided from Adichie’s culture, by distance and lack of knowledge. This works in the same way that many non-Black Americans, who are divided from Black culture, are unable to understand the reality and extent of the inequality and oppression that Black Americans face today.
If my personal goal is to combat division and promote connectivity through getting rid of my own bias, this will take good faith, care and accountability. This work may begin by examining myself, specifically my external and internal views/beliefs. The topic of equality for Black Americans, is the perfect example of why I feel that it is important for me to examine my own bias. While I feel as though I am already a conscious citizen, specifically with regards to this issue, as I mentioned previously, socialization plays a significant role in development of bias. This makes it likely that some of the views I hold may be unconsciously ignorant, inaccurate or not representative. Black people are a group in America that is systemically treated with oppression so I feel that we all, as U.S. citizens, must be a part of the process of reconstructing the reality of what it is to be Black in the United States in order to overcome differences/divisions; this may be accomplished on an individual level through examination of our implicit biases. For this issue, this could start with widening our perspective: studying Black authors, uplifting Black voices, and educating ourselves about the true state of equality in the United States, with a comprehensive look at all sides of the story.
The course epigraphs, “learn and run!” and “as habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent,” highlight the reason I feel an obligation to challenge my own bias. With regards to the issue of equality for Black Americans, I feel that it is a radical act of care and good faith to, upon being informed about the reality of being black in the United States today, share the truth, fight for equality, advocate for reparations, vote for black representatives, have tough conversations with friends and family about race, support black businesses, and encourage others to do the same (“Learn and Run!”). And with my awareness of the negative effects of implicit bias, specifically, its tendency to promote division, I feel that it is my responsibility to consistently do the work to acknowledge and overcome bias in myself so that I am not a part of this problem but rather a part of the solution.
Adichie, Chimamanda. “The Danger of a Single Story.” YouTube. Oct. 7, 2009.
Butler, Octavia E. Dawn. Headline, 2014.
Mullen, K., Darity, W. From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the
Twenty-First Century The University of North Carolina Press, 2020.