“Mini” Collaboration 2: How reduction leads to internalization.

By Tommy Castronova, Jake Clark, Sammy Comstock, Nayy Diarra, Rebecca Perry, Dineen Vogler, and Quentin Wall.

William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen’s From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century makes a strong case for reparations paid to Black Americans for their continued mistreatment at the hands of the United States government. The authors describe the foundations of the American institution of slavery and its history of reducing human beings for economic exploitation. The argument made by the authors is that restitution is owed to those who survive the systematic reduction of human rights and the consequential damage of internalization for the benefit of other human beings. Throughout the course texts, Clay’s Ark, Zulus, Zone One and Darity and Mullen’s book, internalization affects individuals’ will to live and self worth.

In Clay’s Ark, by Octavia Butler, characters infected by the virus must fight against internalization at all cost. If they begin to internalize the idea that they are the infection, that the disease is more in control of them than they are, they either lose all their humanity, as Eli is terrified of, or they lose all will to live, like with Zeriam. We see this when Zeriam asks Eli  “How much of you is left?”(Butler 150). Zeriam, unconvinced by Eli’s response, chooses to end his life rather than become the virus. Butler even spells this out for us in the last lines before Zeriam’s death, writing: “ He wrote a letter to his unborn child… He talked about the impossibility of spending his life as the carrier of a deadly disease. He talked about his fear of losing himself, becoming someone or something else. Finally, he put the letters aside and cheated the microbe of the last few days it needed to tighten its hold on him. He took one of Meda’s sharp butcher knives and cut his throat.” (Butler 151). Zeriam, newly infected, has already internalized the idea that anyone infected by this disease is nothing more than a slave to it, acting on whatever impulses it gives to its hosts. Now that this would soon apply to him, he chooses to end his life rather than live out that narrative. We see Eli fighting this internalization throughout the novel, as he constantly talks about trying to preserve as much of the infected’s humanity as possible, despite the disease. We see Lupe mention it when talking to Rane: “Eli says we’re preserving humanity. I agree with him. We are. Our own humanity and everyone else’s because we let people alone”(Butler 91).

In the book Zulus, Percival Everett discusses how the protagonist, Alice Achitophel, is constantly seen as “the fat woman” (22). Everyone around her degraded her in a way that made her feel less than who she actually was. One particular woman, Body-woman Rima, called out Alice Achitophel on her body. She said to Achitophel, “you’re a stupid woman and probably a slut… and let you know how much of a thing you are” (Everett 106). Instead of calling her by her name she is referred to as “thing,” reducing her to one thing which allows others to view her as only that thing. This makes others view her as a worthless person, allowing them to act in ways that reduces Achitophel’s humanity by viewing her as only a fat person, lowering her self-esteem. After the rebirth of Alice Achitophel, Alice’s perspective of herself changed as her physical appearance was altered. In her mind, she was no longer defined as being fat and was eager to reinvent herself as a new person. However, the people in her life continue to view Alice as worthless, causing her to continue to see herself the same way. Her fatness may have been removed but Alice’s negative perception of her self-worth remains. Although Alice is given a sense of identity through the new name, Esther MacAree, she still struggles with her own identity and self-worth throughout the novel, despite her change in physical appearance, because she has so deeply internalized the way society perceives her.

Throughout Colson Whitehead’s novel Zone One, internalization affects the way the main character perceives his identity. In the end of the novel, after being asked by Gary, Mark Spitz explains why he is called “Mark Spitz.” Mark mentions the “Northeast Corridor, and the jokes when they got back to Fort Golden Gate,” after giving him this nickname. He reveals that he “laughed along with everyone else, but later had to look up Mark Spitz” in an encyclopedia (Whitehead 287). He learned that the real Mark Spitz is a successful Olympian swimmer and immediately realizes that he is being made fun of through this nickname because he is quite the opposite of the real Mark Spitz. In the beginning of the novel, Whitehead mentions, “They called him Mark Spitz nowadays. He didn’t mind” (9). Mark Spitz is aware that he is being made fun of, yet he is not offended by his nickname because has internalized it to the point that he views himself just as those individuals had when they initially gave him the name; as a joke. Mark Spitz being reduced to “Mark Spitz,” which is not his true identity, and him understanding that he has been named this as a joke, affects his self-concept and the way he views his past. Spitz begins to internalize his self worth and see himself as an average person and nothing more. For instance, he shares, “His most appropriate destination would have been Most Likely Not to Be Named the Most Likely Anything” (Whitehead 11). Mark Spitz reflects his internal thoughts regarding his significance; he shares that he had an unremarkable past. Further, Whitehead states, “His aptitude lay in the well-executed middle, never shining, never flunking, but gathering himself for what it took to progress past life’s next random obstacle” (11). Clearly, it is conveyed that Spitz internalizes his new identity. The constant reminder that others view him as a joke through the repetition of the name, Mark Spitz, leads Mark to take on their beliefs and alters the way he views himself, solely as an insignificant individual.

 In the book From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century written by William Darity and Kristen Mullen, it is evident that Black individuals are constantly being degraded and looked down upon by their white peers in society. For example, the novel mentions that every African American “has either directly or indirectly experienced racial discrimination or has been indirectly influenced by it”  in chapter 12 (Darity & Mullen 1). These individuals are being reduced based upon their race. Consequent to society consistently viewing African Americans as inferior human beings and treating them as such, Black individuals may begin to internalize their worth based on the perceptions of others. Inequity in their society begins to alter their self concept negatively; the unequal treatment that Blacks experience daily can affect the way they perceive their importance as a human being. When treated inhumanely, it is difficult for one not to internalize the aspect of their identity that they are being reduced to. For this reason, “Reparations could be the beginning of a true revolution in values” (Darity & Mullen ch 12-1). In order to reduce societal injustice and reverse internalization that can occur due to racial discrimintaion, steps need to be taken to repair the damage that has been inflicted on Black individuals. 

When referencing all of the texts mentioned above, the concept of Internalization comes in multiple different forms and affects people and society in numerous ways. We’ve seen time and time again the negative impact that internalization brings, whether it’s discrimination of something, to shun or belittle, or make others inferior to a norm of society. Internalization of discrimination and stereotypes is still a problem today. The inability of American society as a whole to acknowledge the lasting harm caused by the actions done as a result of reducing groups of people to one thing is arguably one of the biggest problems we face as a nation. Darity and Mullen put it best: “White America must come to terms with its false beliefs about “black behavior” and with the sanitized version of the nation’s history” (7).

The Ramifications of Character Reduction and Stereotyping

By Georgia VanDerwater, Noah Taylor, Ryan Silverstein, Riley Dilger, Marissa Volk, Jose Romero, Kelly Edmond

In their book From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-first Century, William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen introduce common arguments against reparations being paid out to Black Americans by the United States government and then contextualize and refute them. One contributing factor to the authors’ call for reparations is white America’s tendency to diminish Black Americans to a single stereotype, quality or condition. They mention the impact stereotypes have, saying “In order for reparations to be adopted, white America must come to terms with its false beliefs about ‘Black Behavior’ and with the sanitized version of the nation’s history” (Darity & Mullen 8). This text reveals the intentional or unintentional reduction of Black Americans to single traits and stereotypes as a common excuse for opposition to reparations, and racism in America as a whole. This limitation to a single trait not only appears in this text, but in other course texts such as Zulus, Clay’s Ark, and Zone One. 

In his novel Zulus, Percival Everrett continuously identifies his protagonist, Alice Achitophel, as being overweight, calling her “fat” (7), “massive” (9) and “enormous” (10) all in the first chapter. Alice and those around her continue to comment on her size and conventionally unattractive appearance, until it has mutated into the main core of her identity. It is this conception that prevents Alice from being sterilized, as she is believed too ugly and overweight to be pursued sexually. In Octavia Butler’s novel Clay’s Ark, the lives of the main characters are constantly boiled down to singular characteristics throughout the book in order to make their unjust treatment seem more fair by their kidnappers. Blake, one of these main characters, tries to avoid talking to Meda, one of the people who kidnapped his family. In response to this, Meda says “No, we’ll talk now. You’re our first doctor. We’ve wanted one for a long time” (Butler 39). By making the excuse that their group needed a doctor, Meda attempts to convince herself that her kidnapping was justified rather than acknowledge the family that she’s taken hostage. She does not see him as an individual, but a solution to her problem. In Colson Whitehead’s post-apocalyptic novel, Zone One, the main character Mark Spitz and the rest of his team are tasked with eliminating “skels,” the living dead remaining from a virus that wiped out New York civilization. By reducing the “skels” to a single aspect, such as haircut or job, the sweepers are able to kill them without feeling as guilty. Mark Spitz recalls a day when he stumbled upon “some brain-wiped wretch standing at the fry station of the big hamburger chain and had to shoot him on general principles. Out of the abundance of a life, to choose fry duty” (Whitehead 61). Reducing the skel to his previous occupation as “fry duty” made it easier for Mark Spitz to separate the skel from the rest of humanity. 

As these books demonstrate, narrowing people down to a single quality is a tactic often used when discriminating against another person or group. In regards to this, Darity and Mullen illustrate the idea that the only solution to this sort of discrimination is for people to be informed and to endeavor to understand one another comprehensively. If white Americans subscribe to the stereotypes they have created about Black individuals, they will never even begin the process of healing the wounds created by slavery and Jim Crow. As pointed out in the section Criticisms and Responses, Frederick Douglass once said that slavery can never truly be made up for. However, by acknowledging and atoning the injustices inflicted on Black Americans through slavery and racism with reparations, Americans would be able to start working towards mending the wrongs and creating understanding of one another that is free of stereotypes. 

Reparations for the Benefit of Other Human Beings?

Dan Bast, Sarah Bryk, Phil Cai, Connor Canfield, Delaney Carnahan, Taylor Kerr, Maya Nunez, Bryanna Spaulding

Reparations are made when a group in power takes action in good faith to amend the wrongdoings towards those affected. In William A. Darity, Jr.’s and A. Kirsten Mullen’s work, Here to Equality: Reparation for Black Americans in the Twenty-first Century, they argue their perspective on the modern-day perceptions and actions towards reparations for Black people. As a group, Black individuals have suffered greatly at the hands of white Americans having been forced to work with no just compensation. Darity and Mullen tackle the difficult conversation on how compensation would be fulfilled today. They make their opinions about reparations abundantly clear, however, they are not naive enough to ignore the complications that go with it. In voicing their concerns about the impact of reparations they write,  “…I fear that reparations would be an excuse for some to say “we’ve paid our debt” and to avoid the much harder work of enforcing our anti-discrimination laws in employment and housing; the much harder work of making sure that our schools are not separate but unequal; the much harder work of lifting thirty-seven million Americans of all races out of poverty.”(Darity, Mullen). This quote shows the complex nature of reparations and how some promises may never be fully kept. It is important that all aspects of reparations are considered in order to act in good faith and amend wrongdoings. Paying back reparations will take more than “paying off our debt”, it will take recognizing and breaking down systematic and oppressive structures in American society that place Black individuals at a disadvantage. This theme of reducing a person to one quality can be tied in most literature dealing with the grotesque history of the mistreatment of Black Americans. Some of these works being; Zulus by Percival Everett, Clay’s Ark by Octavia Butler, and Zone One by Colson Whitehead. In all of these novels, the primary characters are reduced to one characteristic or role.

Within the novel Zulus, Everett writes his main character, Alice Achitophel, as a “fat” woman whose sole value from society’s perspective is reproducing. When Lucinda finds out Alice is pregnant their reaction triggers her thoughts regarding her place in the current desolate community. Following this interaction, Alice thinks, “She could hardly save herself much less us and her brain swelled with fear as she wondered what would be expected of her. Would she be asked to bear many children, by many men, and what if the baby was malformed, a product of a disturbed planet” (Everett, 70). Her sole ability to produce children felt like a tool to be used for other people’s benefit. Instead of being a contributing member of society, she was reduced to a single identity, a single purpose. Alice’s feelings can be equated to the emotions of Black individuals in America. Much like how Alice’s identity has been reduced to a single aspect, the struggles of Black Americans throughout our nation’s history have been similarly reduced to a single fix. Although we acknowledge the fact that it will take more than “paying them back” to fully repair the damage that has been done, we fail to take the necessary steps to amend systemic and structural abuses that black people face and continue to face today. Reducing the abuses towards Black Americans into one aspect like this is not the right step towards reparations. Reducing Alice to her ability to reproduce was not the right step as we saw towards the end of the book. Despite the seemingly kind treatment of Alice towards the beginning, these actions were not made in good faith. To simplify reparations to being paid a sum of money is an attempt at an easy fix, void of genuine concern or regard for the generational trauma inflicted upon these people. Just as the rebel camp wanted to silence Alice, those in power are using money to try and silence the Black community.

Octavia Butler approaches her main character Blake and his daughters, in the novel Clay’s Ark in a similar way to Everett. Clay’s Ark portrays a world taken hold by a disease that has the unusual side effect of loss of autonomy. Once Blake and his daughters are captured by Eli and his community, all self-autonomy is taken away. Meda and the others begin to infect them with this malicious disease, and Meda explains it to Blake, “We want you on our side because you might be able to help us save more converts–that’s what Eli calls them. We…we care about the people we lose. But we have to be sure of you, and we can’t until you’re one of us. Right now you’re sort of in-between….”(43). By infecting Blake first, Meda has guaranteed his moral compass and fear for his daughter’s safety. None of the converts take into consideration what Blake and his daughter’s want in life, they were taken from the safety of their car and forced onto this farm in the middle of nowhere. Once they escape, Blake feels he is doing the right thing, yet Eli’s opinions differ as he could spread the disease at a greater impact, but if Eli had considered the freedom he was taking from the family then maybe he would have seen their willingness to fight back. Eli isn’t asking for Blake’s input similar to the way the United States isn’t asking for Black people’s input. In the article by Darity and Mullen, they touch on how the people in power making these reparations do not always reflect those they are being made for. A common thread between government and minorities is that the government sees itself as “intellectually superior” to the minority. Eli sees himself in the same way, making him unable to listen to the advice around him. The people in charge of these reparations do not have many people who can speak on the behalf of the Black community; they have a lack of voices representing them. These reparations will not be effective in helping people the way Eli’s advice was not.

The novel Zone One by Colson Whitehead follows a man known as Mark Spitz in a version of the world much different from the one today. In this world, the population and quality of life have been reduced making Mark Spitz above the average man. This is something Mark Spitz is aware of shown to the readers through his thoughts, “He was a mediocre man. He had led a mediocre life exceptional only in the magnitude of its unexceptionality. Now the world was mediocre, rendering him perfect.” (148). Mark Spitz’s awareness is not a gift, he feels the pressure of being exceptional. The pressure of rebuilding the world from a place of despair is felt by himself and his peers. However, what Mark Spitz does not appreciate is the recognition that he receives. Darity and Mullen make the loud statement, “ The greatest contribution of this country was that which was contributed by the Black man”. In context to the article, they are pointing out the lack of recognition the Black men in the past received for helping to build this country to where it is today. Connecting this to reparations Darity and Mullen argue that the Black community will not feel “repaid” until they have been acknowledged for the contributions they have made. Just as Mark Spitz will not feel at peace until he is in a world like he remembered as a child, the Black community will not feel at peace until they are in a world that they have worked for.

In the article, Darity and Mullen discuss the significance of reparations. The injustice cannot be repaired simply by monetary means, and the attempt of the government to “silence” the minorities is unacceptable. As stated by Darity and Mullen, “But the failure to pay a debt in a timely fashion does not extinguish the obligation, particularly since the consequences of past injustices continue to be visited upon the descendants of the direct victims. A national act of procrastination does not eliminate the debt” (Darity, Mullen). Reparations for the long history of injustice cannot simply be put off to be forgotten forever. While there are very few survivors left who were directly involved in slavery, this does not mean that the injustice ceases to exist. Minorities such as Black Americans continue to feel the inequality and trauma from years past, and simply ignoring this fact will not make it disappear. Reparations need to be paid to these individuals directly, to make up for the injustices and unfulfilled promises from years back in history. Acknowledgment of the sacrifice made by these Black Americans must be made before even beginning to pay reparations to these individuals. These Black individuals have been trapped in a box of slavery and racist stereotypes for centuries. The damage this has caused to their community is something that must be acknowledged. Just as the characters in the novel felt isolated as they were reduced to one quality, one aspect of their lives, so are African Americans when their hard work and struggles are being reduced to having one end solution. The characters in the novels above felt confined in the role they had been placed in, because of this, they were unable to feel connected to the people around them. If the right steps towards reparations are not taken, Black Americans will continue to feel the same way.