Throughout the beginning weeks of American Ways: Literature, Medicine and Racism, I have begun to realize the importance of thinkING, what it means to be thinkING, and the implications it has on the course and the texts we have read thus far. The course epigraph “my job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice,” from Dionne Brand has helped foster my understanding of the process of thinkING, which I have come to see is a repetitive action of looking at current works and also continuously going back to readings and notes from the past. It’s a cyclical process that requires new understandings to be made with the progress of the course.
My primary goal for this course is to first establish a proper process of noticING and thinkING, and take what I unpack with those processes and apply it to my understanding of the course themes: literature, medicine, and racism. I feel that the ability to be actively engaged in these works can help people better develop an understanding of this country’s lack of care and failure to be actively noticing and thinking of ways to repair the damage inflicted on minorities, which is critical for change and growth. Within the community of this course, the foundation of growth is built into our collaborative efforts to care for our peers, to be able to nurture discussion and learn from our collaborations. By not learning how to notice, think, and apply, not only would I be stopping myself from learning and caring for myself, but I wouldn’t be staying true to the collaborative nature of this course.
The implications of proper care have been evident in the course texts we have read and been discussing over the beginning weeks of this semester. More often than not, we have noticed that what the texts we have worked with are demonstrating is a lack of care, and I first noticed this is Medical Apartheid, by Harriet Washington. The chapter that featured Ota Benga and William T. Hornaday was disturbing and alarming to read, and it was a clear demonstration of pure carelessness. Perhaps one of the most eye opening passages was the description of Ota Benga being described as “small, apelike, elfish creatures, furtive and mischievous, they closely parallel the brownies and goblins of our fairy tales,” (Washington 76). Beyond the blatantly racist description of Ota Benga, a human being who is being “given as a gift,” the fact that he was also “locked in the monkey house, before the staring crowd with keepers always nearby,” (Washington 76). Reading and thinkING about Medical Apartheid has been my first real view into racism and science in this course, and what was even more shocking was learning that this was happening in the Bronx Zoo, a place I have been to many times throughout my life. Granted that the careless display and concern for Ota Benga happened in 1906, it still is such a horrendous thing to think about.
We have further been able to notice similar medical racism and carelessness in Toni Morrison’s novel Home. The presence of the theme of care is recurring throughout the novel, but perhaps the strongest example is with Dr. Beauregard, where he exhibits similar scientific carelessness to that of William Horndaday. Dr. Beau purposely misled Cee into thinking that he was a friend and good person, and we see this through noticING the literature on his bookshelf. We are shown, through Cee’s perspective, books such as Out of the Night, The Passing of the Great Race, Heredity, and Race and Society (Morrison 65). Through noticING and unpacking these references to literature, as a class we were able to look up and get an idea of what these works were about and we found that they all are problematic and racist texts. Going further into the carelessness, it is tragic to see that Cee has been made to feel “this was a good, safe place, she knew, and Sarah had become her family, her friend, and her confidante,” (Morrison 65). We later come to find out that Dr. Beau leaves Cee in a horrible medical state, as she was “close to the edge of life,” (Morrison 147), and she needed to be helped by Miss Ethel in order to survive.
What I have been thinkING about throughout this course is the negative connection to carelessness, in order for me to accentuate the importance of good faith carING. By providing good faith care in the process of thinkING and noticING I feel that I am putting myself in the position to not only understand and unpack what we are working on, but also to grow my sense of recognizing what has happened historically, what is happening currently, and what direction change should be going. The knowledge and level of understanding gained from actively thinkING and noticING things in the course, both through the works we have been reading and also from collaborating with my peers, has been amazing thus far. I feel that my process for working in this class has formed (and is still forming) from realizing that learning is not linear, it is, as Dr. McCoy stated, cyclical. To read through texts and then abandon them is not how I think I am going to learn and notice. The mini collaboration exercise helped show me the impact that going back and understanding, unpacking, and connecting has in a course like this. Without returning to Fortune’s Bones I do not think that our group would have been able to clearly demonstrate what the implications of not having self identity and autonomy are. If we had not discussed and unpacked the idea of autonomy, and how we thought the parasite in the eye of fish connected to how Frank protected Cee all her life, Dr. Beau’s experimentation on her, and Miss Ethel’s healing process, then our understanding of human and self autonomy would have been incomplete. By trying to create processes that will allow myself to be thinkING and noticING better, then in turn I believe that I will be able to unpack and apply the content to both the course and my discussions with peers, and I will also be able to retain what I have learned outside the classroom in the real world.