Written by: Billy Bogue, Emily Bosworth, Luis Carrillo Rubio, Evelyse Cruz, Miana Ginuto, Sydney Hollister, Danielle Tomasello, and Alexander Ruiz
Throughout this course, Dr. Beth McCoy has provided her students with countless opportunities to engage with the following quote from Dionne Brand: “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice”. After the first day of class, when she introduced our class to this quote, noticing quickly became an overarching course concept that was incorporated into most lessons and extracted from all readings. Beth encouraged her students to notice details in the literature and to use conversation to inspire the same behavior in their classmates. Sharing the ideas and questions we have with one another allowed us to gain a better, more complete understanding of the course title: Literature, Medicine, & Racism.
Beth often teaches by example. When she notices something, she will take the time to share this information with the class, inspiring us to view the course materials from a different perspective. She also practices the art of noticing in her role as a professor. About halfway through the course, Beth noticed that students were falling behind on their reading assignments, which resulted in these student’s reliance on the interpretations of the text from Beth and their classmates. Listening to and believing other people’s interpretation of the course materials without cross-referencing their understanding put these students in a dangerous situation where they could not accurately assess what ideas were conveyed in good or bad faith. Upon noticing the number of students who were engaging in this dangerous practice, Beth took time to talk with our class about the dangers of trusting information without verifying it yourself. The same idea about the danger of trusting unverified information appears multiple times in the course materials; Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington, which talks about the history of medicine concerning racism in American society, Clay’s Ark, Vaccine: The Human Story, etc. Previously noticing the dangers we learned about in these works helped us to understand the danger that Beth was noticing in our class practices. Realizing the danger that other people and characters have been in due to their inability or refusal to notice encouraged our class to take advantage of the information that is given to us, and to seek out more information when something is unclear. Learning from other scenarios in which people were not directly provided the necessary information or the whole truth when making a decision provided an opportunity to learn about the importance of noticing and actively seeking out the truth for oneself.
From our class discussions and course materials, we quickly gained an appreciation for Brand’s idea that our job is to notice and to notice that others can notice. For example, in Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark, which focuses on a fictional extraterrestrial pathogen whose infection changes the human body and abilities, Blake (the uninfected father of two girls who were captured by infected individuals to infect him and his daughters) was making the conscious decision not to notice or believe what was going on around him. Despite being told and witnessing the effects of the organism, Blake believed that he knew better, convincing himself that it could be solved in a modern medical environment. Similarly, in Toni Morrison’s Home, when Cee (a young woman struggling to gain independence after her husband left her) was looking through the novels in the doctor’s office, she was impressed by the knowledge that her employer had that she didn’t. However, she didn’t have the necessary education to notice that the books she was looking at were about Communism, racism in medicine, and eugenics. We believe that Brand means to say that everyone can notice the world around them. While some people may either ignorantly choose not to notice, or don’t have the necessary education or knowledge to notice, we (through our education and training in good faith practices) can actively choose to engage with the world around us and to be continually learning from our and others’ experiences.
The act of noticing and the effects of noticing can be very different depending on the person, their experiences, and how they adapt to the information they have noticed. The things that a person notices can also change the outcome of their reaction. Noticing may cause a person to reflect on themselves and their actions, and could lead them to make changes or find other ways to cope with their discovery. A different kind of noticing could guide someone to reflect on someone else’s actions and save them from a harmful situation.
In Home, Cee’s interactions with the doctor are linked to medicine, racism, and literature through what we, the readers, noticed, and what Cee didn’t have the knowledge to notice. Although she noticed the books in the doctor’s office, she didn’t think anything of them, not knowing that her safety relied on noticing their contents. Similar to Cee’s unawareness of the dangerous relation between medicine and racism. When Frank leaves the hospital at the beginning of the book, he doesn’t think much of it when John Locke says to him “You lucky, Mr. Money. They sell a lot of bodies out of there” (Morrison 12) to which he responded “Bodies” (Morrison 12)? as he was “only vaguely caring or wondering what the man was talking about” (Morrison 12).
Cee was unable to see the dangers found within the household as she was not able to understand what “eugenics” was. Therefore, she was unable to notice that she was in danger, hence why the doctor was able to take advantage of her. By being unable to notice the environment she was in, she paid the price for not questioning more. This relates to literature because of the literacy gap between the doctor and Cee, to the point where Cee admired the doctor because of this gap when she should have feared him. This also relates to racism in medicine because the doctor read and believed racist books, which Cee didn’t understand, and later experimented on Cee. It proves how sheltered Cee is because when she goes back to Lotus, the women already understand what happened to her and get to work on helping her heal. Morrison illustrates, “The women took turns nursing Cee and each had a different recipe for her cure” (Morrison 119). There were people in this town who had this knowledge. Perhaps if the people who raised Cee hadn’t sheltered her so much, she could’ve seen the warning signs while working for the doctor and avoided the permanent damage she sustained to her body and mind.
Cee is a prime example of noticing and the limits of noticing. Cee begins the story of Home being dependent on others by relying on people in her life to help guide and give her support. This can be from her brother Frank, as he protected her as best as he could in their youth. When Frank gets drafted into the Korean War, she becomes dependent on a man named Prince, who quickly marries Cee and then leaves her almost immediately after, taking Cee’s family car with him. When she gets left by him, she finds guidance from her friend Thelma, who then points her toward a doctor who provides work for her. She feels secure with the doctor and his assistant Sarah, and is prideful about her accomplishment of securing a job at a respectable establishment. However, this is changed when the doctor starts to take advantage of Cee’s innocence and trust and performs horrendous experiments on her, which eventually threaten her life. These experiments left her infertile, taking away a huge part of her essence. This entire course of falling dependent on others for most of her life helped her notice the dangers of her lack of independence. She starts to realize how she must change, noticing her flaws as a person and what she needs to do to avoid making the same mistakes that put her in her current situation. By the end of the story, we can see how Cee is reclaiming her independence. Frank realizes this as well, as he notices how “Cee was not the girl who trembled at the slightest touch of the real vicious world.” Then proceeds to state that “Nor was she the not-even-fifteen-year-old who would run off with the first boy who asked her” (Morrison 127). The story comes to a full circle when Frank and Cee bury the body from the beginning when they were children, which helps to resolve a huge burden within them. Instead of Frank taking Cee home, her first protector of the story, it is however Cee, who takes her role of being this new independent person, showing her new strength emotionally as well, and takes Frank home. This is a moment of notice for Frank, as he realizes he is no longer needed as the protector for Cee, as they are not children anymore, leaving them both to be independent and self-sufficient.
The limits of Frank’s ability to notice fluctuate throughout Home. After coming back from the trauma he experienced from the war, Frank noticed that he needed a coping mechanism to help his constant thoughts of his deceased friends to subside. Therefore, he started drinking to ease his pain, only for him to notice that drinking wasn’t changing anything. When he met Lily, he had finally found a replacement for his coping mechanism, something else to relieve his pain. When he had left for Georgia to help his sister, Frank looked over their relationship, thinking about how Lily had changed. “a tired cruelty laced her voice and the buzz of her disappointment defined the silence. Sometimes Lily’s face seemed to morph into the front of a jeep—relentless headlight eyes, a bright scouring above a grill-like smile. Strange, how she had changed”(Morrison 20) This is an example of a lack of noticing on Frank’s part, as he talked about Lily changing when her behavior only changed because of him. Although he accepted that on occasion he would sit “for hours in the quiet—numb, unwilling to talk” (Morrison 21), or that “he regularly lost the few odd jobs he’d managed to secure” (Morrison 21), he didn’t notice or wasn’t willing to notice, that that the reality was much worse than what he was willing to accept. When Frank left his town, he was without Lily to distract him from thinking of his past and had nothing left to keep him from confronting and accepting it but himself. There were some parts of his life that Frank even lied to himself about to prevent noticing. For example, he lied to himself that he saw another soldier kill the Korean girl when in reality it was him. He couldn’t accept this about himself until the end of the book.
The difference between these two characters and what noticing does for them gives us a better understanding of the effects noticing can have. Frank and Cee take very opposing sides of noticing. Frank willingly chooses not to notice his unhealthy coping mechanisms and the reality of his life. When he notices and acknowledges his wrongs, it puts him in a difficult place as he has to reflect on his past and his decisions. Cee has the resources to notice the dangers around her when she is staying with the doctor, but she lacks the knowledge to recognize the warning signs. When Cee finally sees the harm the doctor is creating, noticing gives her freedom from that dangerous situation. The different kinds of noticing and the outcomes it had for both Frank and Cee demonstrate how the skill of noticing can help or hinder a person.
The reason why people should care about these points is because no one is without biases. Having the ability to acknowledge your own biases as well as some that others may hold can provide a safer and more understanding environment. Noticing the knowledge that one may or may not have can also help in dangerous situations, like how it could have helped Cee in Home. Noticing people’s actions and how and when they act in good or bad faith can tell someone a lot about the character of another person, and help you decide whether that person is safe to be around.
It is also important to remember that everyone comes from different backgrounds and experiences, and so everyone learns and notices at a different pace. For this reason, it is important to work without judgment of others to avoid assuming anything about and to be patient with, those around you. We should apply this restraint from assumption to the idea that not everyone acts in good faith. It is just as important to avoid assuming that everyone is acting with good intentions and to make your own interpretations and opinions. When we achieve this by collecting and taking advantage of the information available to us that is necessary to formulate our own opinions, we can start to prevent and avoid being taken advantage of. We can also begin to use our knowledge to spread awareness of, and prevent the recurrence of actions such as those in Medical Apartheid.
Finally, noticing is only the first step on the path to enacting change. Without first noticing the biases and problems that exist in the world, and how people of different backgrounds and identities are affected by them, one cannot begin to make changes in their own actions and encourage change on a greater scale. Translating noticing into taking action is an important skill that all people should continually be developing and practice.
I, Evelyse, agree with the conclusions that our group has come to on this topic. We wrote a lot about the different kinds of noticing. Before breaking down what noticing really meant, both from Dionne Brand’s quote “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice” and from unpacking our thoughts as a class and a group, I would have never considered there to be different types of noticing or different effects. We talked about the contrast between noticing something in yourself and noticing something in others. We relied mostly on Toni Morrison’s Home to fuel our conversations. We saw the distinctions in Frank and Cee and what and how they notice, and what it brings them in their life. We saw how Frank’s noticing his own wrongdoings led him to unhealthy coping mechanisms, while Cee’s noticing someone else’s wrongdoings led her to a safer place as a more independent person than she was when she arrived. Neither of these noticings or healing from said noticings are without scars. Both Frank and Cee try to find peace and solace in other areas in order to heal from the new knowledge they have of the world and themselves. We spoke briefly about Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark and how characters like Blake in that novel display an unwillingness to notice the dangers in themselves and around them. If Blake was willing to acknowledge his biases as a doctor and notice what the other members of the Clay’s Ark community were trying to educate him on, he likely wouldn’t have spread the virus because he would’ve had a wider understanding of the effects of being infected. Our collaborative conclusion can help me to consider my work in the course throughout the semester. As we talked about the types of noticing a person can exercise, I was reflecting on myself and the efforts I’ve put into this course. I was usually a person who skimmed through course texts and rushed through assignments, but this class specifically emphasized the dangers of doing that. Not only was I missing crucial information from not fully reading the texts, but I was also relying too heavily on my professors and classmates to have the right details about the books we had read and to be acting in good faith with the information. I have also been encouraged to notice, through feedback from Beth and other professors, how my own writing and responses often require more unpacking. I took those critiques into consideration while working on this final collaborative assignment. I kept in mind that even though my classmates have read the same material, they likely won’t have a full understanding of what I am trying to say about our topic unless I develop my ideas more. Sometimes all it took was talking a little longer to get all my thoughts out, and sometimes it required me to go back into the novels we were using and use evidence to help support me.
I, Danielle Tomasello, agree with the collaborative conclusion. Our collaborative conclusion was about how important it is to be able to acknowledge your own biases along with the biases of your peers which is a very important factor in critical thinking. It opens you up to new perspectives that you may have never even thought about or noticed before. Noticing other people’s perspectives can cause you to compare and contrast your own thoughts and ideas which can then lead to a deeper understanding of the topic. We also brought up the point of Cee in Home not being able to notice actions acting in bad faith which shows how noticing can help you in unfortunate circumstances. Being able to notice people’s actions and how exactly they are meant towards you can say a lot about the character of a person and their intentions. By being able to notice, we are using our knowledge to its fullest capacity and potentially helping ourselves and/or others
I, Sydney Hollister, believe that, yes, educating leads to noticing, and noticing, in turn, leads to change. We cannot change the world without first noticing the flaws around us. And we cannot notice the flaws around us if we don’t first learn that they are. You wouldn’t know something is wrong unless you learn so. There are so many social issues rooted deep in our systems that need to be fixed, but since they are such a normalized part of our society, it’s hard to see them for the faults they are. This leads to the lack of proper education about such topics. What this means for me going forward is that I must always be checking myself for any preconceived notions or beliefs that I gained through living in a society. As I grow to become my own person, I have a chance to grow into who I want to be and what I want to believe in. As I grow up, I will be faced with lots of different ideas and beliefs that I wasn’t faced with before. And with that will come a chance for me to notice more and to fix myself.
I, Billy Bogue, strongly support our collaborative conclusion and the entirety of the exercise. I stand by this claim because of the multiple discussions we had as a group, where we were able to discuss what we agreed and disagreed on, leading to a conclusion that was liked by everyone. The collaboration part was a success, we as a group were able to communicate and share our ideas. We did not diminish anyone’s thoughts; however, we combined everyone’s ideas into the entire piece of writing. No one was excluded. Everyone pitched in as best as they could, which in my opinion led to a strong final conclusion. One of the big concepts that we all tended to agree on was noticing and its importance. The term noticing came from our course epigraph “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice” from Dionne Brand. We were given this idea right at the start of the class, which made all of us think of what it could mean for us in the long run. Throughout this course, I’ve become familiar with the concept of noticing and the dangers of not noticing. At the start of this semester, I was a different student. I came from a place of not needing to notice and never facing the severity of not. Once I entered college, my knowledge and realization changed. I learned that noticing is the first step towards making a change, a change that could help me become not just a better student but a better person. This leads to my own reflection on my work in this course. Coming from high school with very little experience of caring for my writing, my abilities were not at their peak. I was struggling with slowing down, like Beth had told me at the start of the semester, to slow down, take my time, and try to really notice what I’m writing. This was confusing at first, but with time and careful examination of the concept of noticing, I began to see a change in my writing. I’m not a perfect writer, and I still make the same mistakes. The big difference however is how I am to acknowledge my mistakes and grow from them. I can handle criticism and notice what Beth is trying to help me with. I hope I can continue to grow even outside of this class because nothing can help solve problems, create realizations to avoid problems and help make a positive change.
I, Miana Ginuto, find myself agreeing with the notion that noticing gives an individual power to make educated decisions. I also agree that it is important to notice the diversity that exists in the world around us and how diverse populations are affected by our society. I think that these two ideas are intertwined with the final point that it is most important to notice in order to take the next step in enacting change; in order to take action, one must be educated on a problem that exists so they can notice it in real life practices and choose the best path to achieve a solution. In my own professional life, I plan to engage with these notions, seeking to always be learning and committed to noticing so that I may actively decide to involve myself in the efforts to correct mistakes and injustices in our society. I am hoping that my decisions will guide me into a career in the medical field, giving me a unique opportunity to engage with our course concepts and apply the course epigraph to my daily life and medical practice. Noticing is an essential practice for medical care providers. While a patient may be able to explain their symptoms (which can also be complicated by barriers such as a difference in language comprehension between the patient and provider, inability to speak due to age, awareness, and/or consciousness), there are often other crucial details that a healthcare professional must notice in order to make an accurate diagnosis and prescribe the best course of treatment. Further, healthcare providers must also notice when there are gaps in care due to the structure of our healthcare system. Noticing how access to and provision of care differs from one population to another can give a medical professional the evidence to become a stronger advocate to change the system to better support all people equitably. By committing to noticing the details of my career field, I hope to be a participant in the efforts to make healthcare more accessible and equitable for all populations and their diverse medical needs.
I, Emily Bosworth, agree with our collaborative conclusion. Mindfulness is an important skill in reading as well as communicating with others. Being aware of your surroundings, and choosing careful word choice when talking to others, is something that one must learn in order to communicate effectively. This collaborative exercise teaches us, as well as the reader, an important lesson in learning to notice what is happening around you not only for yourself, but for those around you as well. As a group, we learned to be aware of those around us and make sure that everyone was heard. Before writing something down or editing someone’s work, it was made clear beforehand that we had everyone’s consent to do so. The ability to notice is one that everyone needs to learn in order to make their own decisions, interpretations, and make choices on who to trust when it comes to information given. From our interpretations of Medical Apartheid to that of Clay’s Ark, I believe that we as a group have learned the importance of noticing our surroundings. Noticing is something that we can apply to ourselves and our own individual choices, as well as to our communities in order to attempt to make a difference in our society. There is so much suffering and loss in our world because of people who act in bad faith, and for this reason, the act of noticing is one that society must learn in order to prevent further suffering. I believe that from this collaborative exercise, we as individuals have become more aware of our surroundings, and my hope is that the readers will experience the same impact on their lives.
I, Alexander Ruiz, agree with our collaborative conclusion. Throughout our discussion, it was clear that the role of noticing responsibilities us to continue to cognitively think about our environments including our peers. Using education and experience as the vehicle for continuous noticing, we must be devoid of any practice of avoidance as it places our education as a tool to act in good faith. While discussing the epigraph in totality as it related to our course work, it was evident that the collaborative nature of this group ensured that we had to be vigilant about the input we may add to one another’s work, almost as if a compromise of thought was expected in order to truly respect the space. A true highlight of this tool existed when discussing Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark and its story full of strange harm. Investing in an experience genuinely foreign to all, the internalization of details hits our canvas (minds) uniquely. As themes and anecdotal retellings come to us legitimately alien- we had to ensure the work of overstanding each other was the basis of our noticing. I also acknowledged prior, that for many identities you are expected to notice for your own safety regardless. Before the definition of a condition given by the epigraph, it was something we had to learn and often let it take its course in our lives as a burden. The noticing is the telling of always seeing and understanding that you are always being seen. A double-edged sword that is difficult to grapple with as you attempt to act in good faith- as the fear of nonreciprocal movement is often expected. Reference the trust someone should have when seeking medical aid- now consume that statement with the reality put forth by Harriet Washington’s work- to see is to be critical and pessimistic for some. Even a consistent noticing that never ends in classrooms, halls, or everywhere else you seek to preserve your agency… a disdain that I think has become naturalised exist: The burden of noticing.
I, Luis Carrillo Rubio, agree with multiple of the conclusions that our group has come to. Noticing is essential when it comes to literature, and most importantly the world around us. “Home” by Toni Morrison is a great example of the extreme danger of not noticing. Cee being in the doctor’s office and not “noticing” that the books on the shelf were an indication for her to try and get out of that place. However, this does bring an excellent point to the forefront. That being that noticing with ignorance is futile. Cee saw the books in the doctor’s office, but she didn’t realize those books contained extremely racist undertones and she should not be there. This just goes to show that noticing is not the only thing that is needed, what is needed is also the knowledge to notice the “correct way.” And I don’t say noticing the correct way as if there is some form or right or wrong way to look at the world, but rather noticing while having prior knowledge and making an informed decision. This again, comes back to Cee and how Cee’s sheltered life was their downfall. One great thing that Dr. McCoy does is that they try not to maintain this sort of sheltered life. Dr. McCoy constantly throws us out and gives us the knowledge to learn by ourselves. It is only after receiving this knowledge that she begins a conversation with the class, not directing the conversation in any particular way but always making sure that viewpoints within the class are well informed. This class is a valuable lesson on not only noticing but also noticing the “correct way” and acting on what we notice making sure that nothing is ever thrown by the wayside.