I think the course epigraph, Dionne Brand’s quote, “my job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice,” forms many through lines for the literature we have read this semester and the ideas shared along the way. I believe the most important through line that I have noticed throughout the semester relates to morality; just because certain acts of behavior were justified in the past, does not mean it is okay today. Behavior that is clearly wrong today might not have always been obviously wrong or even thought to be immoral. Morality has shifted over the years. In post-colonial times, until the middle of the 20th century, the humanity of certain individuals, particularly minorities, was often ignored and it was accepted within societal culture to withhold consent and treat these individuals in degrading ways. Not until the latter half of the 20th century did individuals begin to speak up and acknowledging the humanity of all; today “righteous” morals, such as treating individuals with equity and consent, are emphasized is societal expectations because our culture and customs place a higher value on humanity than past lineages have.
The through line relating to morality, specifically the lack of it, reflecting great ignorance for humanity, can be noticed in Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the present. For instance, Washington reveals how African American individuals were treated inhumanely in the recent past. First, she mentions the postmodern display of their bodies. She states, “Without their consent, stuffed, mummified, or skeletal black bodies have been displayed in doctor’s offices, anatomy laboratories, museums…” (Washington 134). Washington reveals that corpses of African Americans were often displayed, by white individuals, in the public eye. Morality was ignored in this situation, such display was initially justified as appropriate because it was considered to be for educational purposes. White individuals claimed that there was nothing wrong with the situation because the display of Black bodies contributes to learning. However, this act is morally wrong for many reasons. Washington shares that Blacks were subordinated even after colonialism through the creation of books that are in the skins of African Americans. She comments, these “souvenirs that were typically brought from grave robbers: Even in death, African Americans were bought and sold” (Washington 134). At the surface, it is wrong to display bodies and the skin of an individual because it is an act that disturbs the dead. Even stronger proof of immorality is the fact that consent was never given to the individuals who decided to establish such displays. These bodies were robbed from graves, without a care of respect for the diseased individual or their family. Morality in terms of righteousness has most definitely shifted since then because individuals living in today’s society would be mortified to see displays knowing that consent was not obtained; they would see this act as obviously wrong considering the aspect of humanity that was ignored.
Similarly, the topic of disturbed morality can be noticed in Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark. For example, kidnapping and knowingly infecting Blake and his daughters, Keira and Rane was an accepted standard by Eli and his people who initially supported this act as they selfishly needed Blake. When Eli and Ingraham open up Blake’s car door and begin rifling through his things, they find his identification and learn that he is a doctor. Upon this discovery, Eli tells Ingraham that having his daughters with him, “makes our lives easier. All we have to do is take one of them and he’s ours” (Butler 9). Certainly, Eli and Ingraham make it known that their purpose of kidnapping Blake’s entire family is to ensure that they get to keep Blake. Medea admits this ambition later on to Blake. She states, “you’re our first doctor. We’ve wanted one for a long time” (Butler 37). Since Blake is a doctor, and Eli’s people did not already have a doctor on sight, they justified the act of kidnapping and therefore infecting three more people, as a need. Although they did not view their actions as wrong, readers of the text immediately see the absence of morality as Eli and his people never took time to consider how their actions would affect the lives of Blake, Rane and Keira. The narrator shares that Blake “did not intend to live his life as an emaciated carrier of a deadly disease” (Butler 41). The organism that Eli and his people spread to Blake’s family, without consent, imprisoned them to their community, forcing them to leave their previous lives including their family, home, jobs, and education. Although Eli and his people did not think twice about what they were doing, morality today is highly valued and clearly establishes the act of kidnapping as wrong because it is a criminal offense.
I believe that thinkING about how often individuals falsely justify their actions to ignore the morality of a given situation goes hand in hand with the idea that Geneseo students should gain practice in the ability to “reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time.” I think that the acts we have read about in the literature from this semester, specifically in Medical Apartheid and Clay’s Ark, have always been wrong. Although justification was provided at the time, as society evolves and human beings learn and become more educated, the outlook of actions becomes more clear. Since care for humanity is a major part of our society today, including at Geneseo, treating individuals with respect is prioritized and therefore the wrongfulness of actions in the course literature is very obvious to the students who engage with this reading. Reader’s need to take into consideration the time period of which these inhumane acts happened so they can notice that morality has changed over time and such treatment is not okay. I believe understanding that providing justification for an inhumane act does not make it a righteous act, is critical when learning about historical events and customs because this part of history does not need to be repeated. Since one simple action can deeply affect an individual and generations of people, human beings need to thINK about the potential consequences of their everyday actions before they implement them.
In my goal setting essay, I emphasized my personal goal to deeply engage with our course material. Throughout the semester, I really worked to achieve this goal by taking detailed notes while reading at home and coming to class with certain ideas or quotes that I wanted to discuss with my classmates. During small group work, I actively contributed and tried to consider my peers thoughts and bounced ideas off of them. Despite times I did not feel like participating in class, I tried to really push myself so I could get the most out of this course. Another goal I set was to be open-minded in terms of drawing immediate conclusions from the literature without unpacking. I definitely think I accomplished this goal this semester. Admittedly, the readings were very challenging and a bit confusing at times; since there was so much to unpack, I found my initial thoughts constantly changing. I never shut out additional thoughts from my peers or ideas found later on in the reading, I used such elements to build a greater analysis overall throughout the course. All in all, I think I achieved the goals I set in September and I feel that I have significantly grown as a writer, reader and most definitely as a collaborator throughout this semester.
Butler, Octavia E.. Clay’s Ark. Warner Books, 1996. Print.
Washington, Harriet. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. First Anchor Books, 2006. Print.