As I move away from this course towards an “independent life,” I feel as though I have the tools to apply thinkING to various other aspects of my life, specifically in order to be a responsible citizen that effectively cares for those members of society who are harmed by oppression who, in the U.S., are largely and disproportionately Black Americans. A significant take away from this course for me is the consideration of my own role in society, with regards to race issues. Am I actively caring for oppressed members of society or am I harming them? This semester, Butler’s belief in the value and dependability of habits and learning above all else has led me to a place of thinkING that is new for me; through my own reliance on continued learning and consistent habits, I have found that persistence brings breakthroughs and I have been able to achieve satisfaction with my thinkING specifically with regards to my interaction with race issues as a white citizen of the United States.
In our society, the line between harm and care is often blurred with regards to race issues which is why it is essential for non-Black people to be aware of the effects of their own actions on the Black community. Throughout the development of my thinkING process, I have found that adaptability is key; being prepared to change and be changed are integral skills for those who intend to live with care towards others. Non-Black people, including myself, must make it habitual to engage in constant learning about the Black experience and their wants/needs from society so that we can consistently adapt to their needs accordingly and do our part in alleviating their disproportionate oppression which consists of racial profiling, police brutality, racial disparities along the lines of education, health, incarceration, wealth, income, etc. If non-Black Americans engage in learning and adaptability and habitually, we can mend the divide that the harm of oppression has brought between American citizens. We can be brought and bound together through non-Black Americans’ care towards the Black American community in the form of consistently listening and learning from Black Americans and adapting to their needs through the examination of our own implicit bias, calling for reparations, restitution and atonement, and standing by Black people so our society may shift to a more supportive and equal environment.
All American people can be brought and bound together through non-Black Americans’ care towards the Black American community in the form of consistently listening and learning from Black Americans and adapting to their needs. Both Darity and Mullen’s From Here to Equality and Butler’s Lilith’s Brood show us that common experience is a link that allows people to relate to each other and thus, brings and binds them together. Alongside common experience, these texts show us that care brings and binds people together while harm divides people. In our society, it is unfortunately often difficult for people to show care to people who have different experiences because they either cannot relate to their experience, or because they do not try to relate to their experience. We see this in our society with the inability of many non-Black people to be able to comprehend and/or empathize with the Black experience in America. For example, some non-Black people do not understand the need for reparations for Black Americans while most Black people believe that this is the least of the care that our country should show for Black Americans after the disadvantage they have been given from their brutal oppression by the country for over 200 years. According to From Here to Equality, apologies/acknowledgement, desegregation, Brown vs. Board, etc. are clearly not enough because Black Americans continue to have access to worse schooling, continue to experience high levels of hate crimes, continue to be racially profiled by the police and medical experts, etc. Restitution for African Americans would “eliminate racial disparities in wealth, income, education, health, sentencing and incarceration, political participation, and subsequent opportunities to engage in American political and social life” (Darity 3). Thus, reparations would return to Black Americans an equal opportunity to thrive, and even survive, in the U.S., demonstrating how integral it is for non-Black people to take the care to connect, listen and adapt to Black people’s needs.
The inability of non-Black people to listen to and address the needs of Black Americans results in further harm done to Black Americans and keeps people divided along the lines of race, continuing the cycle of oppression for Black Americans. Similarly to America’s situation, in Butler’s trilogy, harm consistently pulls people apart. Lilith is harmed multiple times throughout the trilogy; she is coerced into leading humans through the transition to Earth, chosen to by Nikanj’s permanent mate without her full consent because of the withdrawal of information, nonconsensually impregnated by Nikanj, coerced into withholding information about mating from Jesusa and Tomas, etc. As this occurs, she withdraws from those who are oppressing her. For example, when she first arrives on Earth, in her anger, Lilith often takes long walks in the woods to get away from Nikanj, despite her strong attachment to it. Nikanj explains, “she used to do this you know. Nikanj had to learn very young that she would stretch the cord until it almost strangled her. And if Nikanj went after her, she would curse it and hate it” (Butler 450) Similarly, when Akin’s option to bond with his sibling is taken away from him by the Oankali, he is deeply hurt and harmed by his lack of deep connections with others. It seemed to Akin like “his world was made up of tight units of people…who could not let him in, no matter how much they might want to” (Butler 429). He copes by running away into the forest and spending very little time with other Oankali people. Instead, he spends time with human resisters because he shares the common experience of his inherent humanity as well as the time he spent amongst humans in Phoenix as a child.
Thus, we can see that when non-Black people take the care to try to relate and listen to Black people’s experience in America, they will better understand why Black Americans hold the opinions they do and they will begin to work towards helping Black Americans reach their needs. Darity and Mullen assert that those who have, “benefitted from the exercise of the atrocities” (Darity, 3) must “recognize the avantages they gained and commit themselves to the cause of redress,” (Darity, 3) meaning restitution and atonement. With listening, they will likely agree that Black Americans are owed reparations for the damage that slavery has done and that in general, Black Americans deserve care for the oppression and disadvantage that they have faced, and continue to face, due to racism. Thus, because non-Black Americans do not share the common experience of Black folks’ history of oppression, this care to put ourselves in Black peoples’ shoes can serve as a way to bring and bind the people of the U.S. together into an united force that stands for the healing and reparation of Black people. When all American people are bound together to accomplish this goal it becomes attainable.
In our society, the line between harm and care is often blurred with regards to race issues which is why it is essential for non-Black people to be aware of the effects of their own actions on the Black community. I find that non-Black people, including myself, must be habitual about engaging in constant learning about the Black experience and their wants/needs from society so that we can consistently adapt to their needs accordingly and do our part in alleviating their disproportionate oppression. We can look to Butler’s trilogy to understand that oftentimes there is a thin line between harm and care. For example, the Oankali try to care for humans by healing them, giving them the option to live away from them or join them, extending their life span, etc. yet, these humans suffer and resist because they have no freedom in their current position on Earth. They cannot even reproduce without the involvement of Oankali. Tino describes the humans’ pain when he says, “my people never had a chance! They didn’t make the war. They didn’t make the Oankali. And they didn’t make themselves sterile” (Butler 280). Furthermore, Gabe calls the life of humans a, “pointless endless existence,” he says, “we don’t get old, we don’t have kids, nothing we do means shit” (Butler, 402). Thus, while the Oankali think that they are caring for humans, from the humans’ perspective, the Oankali are doing nothing but harm towards them. Similarly to this example, the line between harm and care is often blurred with regards to the issue of consent in these novels. Jodahs saves Jesusa and Tomas from their ailments and the two of them say that they want to mate with Jodahs but, it withholds the information that once they stay they will need it forever; thus, did Jesusa and Tomas actually give their consent to this mating? Is Jodahs serving them by fulfilling what he knows they truly want or is he harming them by manipulating them and taking away their free will?
In our society, implicit racial bias, something that may seem relatively harmless, is oftentimes unconscious and thus, goes unnoticed to those who are privileged enough to not be harmed by it. But, in reality it can be extraordinarily harmful to those affected by it who, in America are largely Black folks. The definition of implicit bias is ‘bias that results from the tendency to process information based on unconscious associations and feelings, even when these are contrary to one’s conscious or declared beliefs.’ Herein lies how implicit bias manages to blur the lines between harm and care. People may consciously think that they are not racist, they may even believe that they are part of the fight against racism yet they tell a Black female employee that her hair is too unkempt for the workplace. This kind of statement is extremely harmful; Black women have long been penalized for not fitting into the construct of whiteness and Black women have historically not been hired for jobs due to wearing their hair naturally, making this a contribution to the oppression of Black Americans. This example of implicit bias can kill people’s self esteem and promotes white supremacy in the workplace. Yet, because this bias does not directly affect the person holding it, often this type of person will not take the steps to observe her biases and thus, will continue to hold offensive and harmful biases like this and.
An effective way to get around this ambivalence of harm and care, is continued learning. This takes us back to this course’s core concepts, “as habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent,” and “learn and run.” It has become clear to me that non-Black Americans, including myself, must take responsibility for caring for the oppressed in society by taking the steps to examine our own implicit racial biases surrounding Black Americans. We must adopt the mindset that as soon as we are made aware that something that we do, say, some view that we hold, furthers the harm of Black Americans, we must understand that it is our duty to stop what we are doing. We must show care for the oppressed members of American society by listening to them, listening to how our actions may contribute to their harm, and making changes accordingly.
Throughout the development of my thinkING process, I have found that adaptability is key; being prepared to change and be changed are integral skills for those who intend to live with care towards others. The reason that engaging in constant learning about the Black experience and their wants/needs from society is crucial is so that non-Black people can consistently adapt to their needs accordingly and do our part in alleviating their disproportionate oppression. We are able to see the power of adaptability in Butler’s trilogy. In the novels, the Oankali do not really want to hear that they are harming humans until one of their own, Akin, is able to show them. Butler writes, “Akin could feed the people avoiding the subject of Akjai humans. He did not understand their reactions to it: a turning away, a warding off, a denial, a revulsion”(Butler 469). In this case, this inability to recognize the harm that they are causing humans is a result of the Oankali’s fear of the humans’ fatal flaw, their hierarchical tendencies; because they themselves feel uncomfortable understanding humans on a deeper level, they avoid contact with humans and, as a result, continue to allow the humans to suffer while they live in blissful ignorance. Of course, Akin, along with humans themselves, do not have this privilege which is why they both fight so hard for the freedom of humans. In the trilogy, adaptability proves to be necessary in saving peoples lives. As soon as the Oankali are willing to change and allow the humans a place for life on Mars, a huge sum of humans are taken out of their misery on Earth and given back their freedom. We also see that by allowing Aaor and Jonahs to stay on Earth and create a community rather than be forced into exile on the ship, the way it was originally decided, the Oankali’s adaptability saves the quality of life of Aaor, Jonahs and their mates and children.
In life, it is essential for us to swallow our pride when necessary, be willing to hear others out and be willing to change if our intention is to provide care for those who need it. To circle back to implicit bias along the lines of race in America, if people fail to listen to the voices of Black people who express that implicit biases, like stereotyping and profiling, directly harm their community, and if they fail to observe their own biases and change their actions accordingly, Black Americans will continue to suffer. Unfortunately, because this type of examination of one’s own biases makes people uncomfortable, people avoid it, the same way that the Oankali avoid a deeper understanding of humans. Thus, often, for the comfort of non-Black people, Black people continue to suffer in American society. Non-Black people can say that they are not racist and that they care for Black Americans, but until they are ready to do a thorough examination of the biases they may hold against this oppressed group, these people continue to contribute to that very oppression. Once this work is done, if Black Americans are calling for reparations in the form of redress restitution and atonement, we must no longer ignore their request. It has been made clear that the government will not change without overwhelming demand from all people–there has been a long history of ignoring the calls for justice from Black folks–which is why it is truly up to non-Black Americans to stand beside Black Americans and declare support of a reparation plan.
It is in the Oankali’s nature to constantly reach for ‘more life.’ It is their nature to pick up and incorporate new genes so that they evolve as a species, showing that change is necessary for evolution into an even more advanced species. By the end of the trilogy, we see the formation of an entirely new species, the ooloi constructs, who are unique to the Oankali and skilled in ways that the Oankali are not. These ooloi constructs have mastered contact with humans in ways that other constructs and Oankali have been unable to. Nijanj says that Jodahs, “is the gene trade”(Butler 609) rather than a part of it. Thus, due to their continuous adaptability, on top of accomplishing evolution, the Oankali are eventually able to accomplish a kind of peace between themselves and the humans thanks to the humans’ affinity for the construct ooloi. Thus, if we are going to reach for ‘more life’ for all members of our society, our society as a whole is going to need to shift. The way society functions currently is not sustainable. Black Americans continue to experience inequality along the lines of wealth, education, income, health incarceration etc. and it is a result of, “sustained American failure to recognize the pernicious impact of white supremacy and the sustained American failure to adopt national policies that reverse the effects of white supremacy” (Darity 4). We must make the decision to unite and adapt so we may finally reach a society that we can call equal; a society in which we all recognize that we are bound together, so that we can shift to a society that functions off of caring for one other before all else. This new society consists of changes made at the governmental level: reparations, redress, retributions, atonement. Darrity explains, “closure involves mutual reconciliation between African Americans and the beneficiaries of slavery, legal segregation, and ongoing discrimination towards blacks. Whites and blacks would come to terms over the past, confront the present, and unite to create a new and transformed United States of America”(Darity 3). Black Americans have long been calling for change; non-Black Americans need to do everything that they can to wholeheartedly be a part of making this change come to fruition.
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.