Reflective Writing

Being a first semester freshman is probably the hardest thing to go through as college is a brand-new idea and an entirely new lifestyle. It is similar to this course as it causes for adjustment in not only thinking, but outlooks on topics and ideas. This course allowed me to stray away from the traditional English courses I have taken during my time in high school, and now transitioning into college. In the beginning of the semester I saw this course as just another class that would hand me a book and say “read by…”, since it’s what I’ve gotten used to doing, but as I have gone through this course, I’ve noticed it is much more than that. It is more about expanding your horizons and allowing yourself to become open-minded than it is reading each assignment and forgetting about it when moving on to the next. Throughout my time, I believe that I have grown as a reader, student, and overall person. This course has allowed me to become exposed to topics and real-life issues that I probably wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.

One major change between high school English courses and this one was having a course epigraph. In high school, we were given a piece of paper, a reading, or even a project and told to do it with little to no explanation as to why we were doing it in the first place. There was no rhyme or reason behind the concepts taught as well as having nothing to relate them back to.  In the syllabus there is the course epigraph reading: “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice” said by Dionne Brand. To me, this means structure. Structure that I’ve never experienced in a course taken before but finally allows me to have an anchor. The anchor gives me a chance to connect topics and ideas back to something instead of taking this course as a routine; show up, do the work, leave, repeat. It gives me a chance to expand my knowledge in a different way that I have always yearned for but didn’t know how to achieve. I have been able to develop as a reader and notice things, symbols or ideas, that may not have stood out to me within a book prior to this learning experience. Reading such specific, but still diverse books, has allowed me to gain a full insight to a world I never would’ve known was out there had I not been looking for it. This epigraph also allows one to be actively thinking and expanding their knowledge in a vast majority of topics, but also noticing when they are growing as a person and can put that newfound information into practice. 

I noticed that the epigraph became most evident during small group discussions. Each individual was able to notice something they may not have prior to talking with peers; I know this statement stands true to me. I have found it most helpful talking in groups, whether I had nothing to say about a book or article or I had too much to say about a reading. Certain ideas that group members brought up allowed me to see a different viewpoint and change my opinion on the book as a whole. It caused me to notice small, minute scenes and symbols that I had not even thought of before listening and referring back to the book alongside others. But in return, gave me the opportunity to point out my findings to my peers and expand on the outlooks I had on a reading.

One particular group discussion that had me thinking probably the most out of all was focused on Home by Toni Morrison. One of the concepts we questioned the most was about the zoot suit man. My group had concluded that the zoot suit man, seen by Frank, and later on Cee, was the father who had been killed by his son during the dog fight. This “dog fight” was between a black man and his son in front of a white crowd solely for their own entertainment; they were forced to fight until one was dead, the father being the one to sacrifice his life for the sake of his son’s. When Frank and Cee go to the burial site in the woods to give the man a proper burial, Cee sees this figure off in the distance. By now, both characters have seen this unknown figure around their daily lives, and it can be interpreted that this figure was indeed the man they were burying. After thorough discussion and finding points that backed up that idea, we allowed ourselves to have some type of closure within the book; as we referred to an overlooked concept that was introduced to us at different points throughout the book. Discussions such as that one helped me navigate this course most effectively. It allowed me to become open to different ideas that I never would’ve seen had I read the book and moved on with not giving any thought to it.

Much like the haunting of the zoot suit man in Frank and Cee’s life, there has been one thing hanging over my shoulder throughout the entirety of this class, and semester. That one thing is my grade. Although I did not try as hard as I could in this class, I was still obsessed with my grade as I tried to keep it high enough to satisfy both my parents and me. I have always been one to worry about my grades more so than the actual content of the class itself. It is one thing I try to have control over during all my years throughout school since I never really got to choose what type of class I took. As I made my way through the semester, I realized that I need to focus more on the content and teachings of the courses rather than the grade I received, as it is not the sole thing to help me in my overall life. Once I began to change my mindset on that topic and focused more on the content of the readings and in class discussions, I found myself to be learning more and more each day, allowing my experience and knowledge to grow. As I make my way through the next however many years of college, I will take this mindset into consideration and show myself that the content is where the grade itself is and as long as I can thoroughly understand what is going on in each course and the life around me, I will evolve into a more rounded human being and student with knowledge I never knew I was looking for.

What is Interesting

Throughout the novel, Home, by Toni Morrison, I was taken aback by many concepts.  At first, I was confused and questioned what was truly going on but as I continued on, concepts began to become more clear and made more sense.  By piecing together each event and understanding what was happening, the novel became more interesting to me. I started to think more about each little thing and connected occurring events back to previous ones from earlier on in the novel.  

To me, the true meaning of “interesting” is when something catches my eye and I begin to actively think about it and figure out what its true meaning is.  I also consider certain concepts and ideas interesting when they pique my interest and allow me to think critically and more advanced than I was before reading about them.  One concept that became interesting to me later on in the book was when Cee displayed her angst after being told that she was unable to have children when she decided it was the right time to do so.  Prior to her finding out that she was unable to have children, there was no interest expressed from her that she would’ve liked to later on in life. It makes me think about the times that I may never have thought of doing something but the second I heard that I couldn’t do it, was the exact moment that it was all I could think about.  It was a pivotal moment in the book because it was when Frank realized that his baby sister wasn’t a baby anymore and could make decisions on her own without any input from her older brother. He felt a sense of devastation since it came across that he wasn’t needed by her anymore due to this one decision; he had never been told by Cee that she wanted to have children so when he heard it for the first time, he was taken aback and didn’t know what to think.  Frank was no longer the older brother who could guide Cee through her life and protect her from every small incident that could possibly happen to her. It was an alien concept to him and he was unable to fathom the idea of not protecting his little sister anymore.

Another concept that I found interesting was at the end of the book.  In the last two chapters, Frank and Cee decided to visit the site where the father from the fight years prior was buried.  Frank had laid the bones down in the quilt ever so carefully that he didn’t destroy the remains and treated them with respect as if the father was still alive.  Once Frank and Cee paid their respect at the make-shift grave Cee decided that it was time to go home. She tapped Frank on the shoulder and said “Come on, brother. Let’s go home.”  It was the turning point at, ironically, the end of the book. It showed the readers that Cee was finally grown up and could make decisions on her own without her big brother. This whole book was “interesting” to me and had me thinking during every chapter about each concept and scene that occurred describing the lives that Frank and Cee were going through.

A Whole New World

Being a first semester freshman does not have all the perks of being a college student.  You don’t know what classes to take when registering for the first time at orientation, changing your major seems like such a foreign concept, and deciding to speak during class discussion is probably the toughest part since you don’t want to sound ignorant about a certain topic.  However, I got lucky enough to register for this class during orientation even though I saw it and initially thought it was going to be undeniably hard. After taking this class for the entire semester, I am glad I ended up registering for it that day because it has opened my eyes to a whole new world around me.

Prior to taking this course, I thought I knew a majority about African American history and frankly, wasn’t really interested in learning more due to high school history classes making learning such hell.  This class was the complete opposite. At some points, I didn’t even realize that I was learning about such historic times in our nation’s history; I thought I was just reading an article that I was told to react to and prepare for class in the days to come.  High school history classes would introduce a topic/time period in history, just scratch the surface and practically move on to the next topic a day or two later. I’m glad this course did not do that and we were able to go in depth about certain topics and discuss with one another our own viewpoints or experiences with each reading.

One book that I was not excited to read was Medical Apartheid, even though it turned out to be one of the most informational and eye-opening readings throughout this semester.  It caused me to think of worlds outside of my own and realize that unethical testings and experimentations do indeed still occur to this day, if not just a couple years prior. One experimentation that I was not thrilled to have read about was the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.  A group of sick sharecroppers had been told they were going into a study to be examined on the progression of syphilis in black men as they would be treated for this disease. The researchers had lied to the men and did not treat them for the disease, but instead did nothing to help and solely charted/documented the progression of symptoms and disorders.  The physicians then proceeded to conduct autopsies on the bodies of these men to go more in depth in their research and “trace the ravages of the disease in their bodies” (Washington, 157).  

To me, I was taken aback by the lack of informed consent given to these men who were clearly sick and dying.  I do not agree with the reasoning for conducting this study on these men: “ …it was thought to wreak its worst havoc on the cardiovascular systems of blacks, sparing their relatively primitive and ‘underdeveloped’ brains”. Personally, I don’t believe that the view projected upon black men during that time should have had such a primitive factor in being a cause for them to suffer and die from a syphilis study where they were under the wrong assumption.  As I mentioned prior, this course has opened a new world to me and made me realize certain things were occurring in this life that I never knew could even be thought of by people around me. I am glad that I took this class as a freshman, allowing me to go through college with an open mind and a new way of looking at different situations and readings.

Is Consent Situational?

In my very first blog post of the semester I had discussed the importance of repetition and how it plays a vital role throughout one’s life.  If you continuously use something, it doesn’t have a chance to die out and be forgotten about or looked over. Throughout this course, the topic of consent has been a predominant discussion starter in the groups during the class itself.  Each group I have been in has either opened the discussion with consent or the conversation has branched off to talking about consent and what characters may have given, or not given, consent to someone else throughout the story. I believe that this specific use of repetition has been a wonderful fueler for in-depth conversation and an eye-opening process.  

In one specific group discussion during class, we focused on the idea of consent.  Throughout the conversation, my group had begun to realize that consent can very well become situational.  In certain situations one may want to say no but can feel pressured to say yes due to an outside variable. This can be seen throughout the novel Clay’s Ark by Octavia Butler.  One specific scene that demonstrates this ideal was mentioned by Adrianna. In one of her more recent blog posts, “Right State of Mind”, Adrianna addressed that possibly the only reason Keira gave consent was due to the outside variable of love, which can make someone do things that they wouldn’t normally do.  Keira sacrificed her health for the unknown outcome after coming in contact with this disease; it could be life or death for her especially since she has a pre-existing disease, leukemia.  Although Keira’s pre-existing disease was a sole reason of her not being infected by the group thus far, it became her decision whether or not to be infected (by Eli) towards the end. Stated in the novel, “She reached out and took Eli’s hands. She had been waiting to do that for so long. The hands first pulled back from her, but did not pull away…the hands closed on her hands, giving in finally, and in spite of everything, she smiled” (Butler, 552-553).  Situational consent was very clear in this plot due to the outside variable of love and Keira deciding that she rather be infected and be with Eli than stay lonely and “healthier” with her disease of leukemia.

As well as a situation affecting someone’s terms of consent, their mindset also plays a vital role in whether or not something should happen to/with them.  Agreeing with Adrianna’s statement, I believe that Keira’s judgment was indeed clouded due to the constant outside variable. Who knows if she would’ve allowed Eli to infect her with the disease if she didn’t have feelings towards him.  That type of situation is one that an alternate outcome may never be truly known; what would’ve happened from the start if Keira never had leukemia and was as healthy as her twin sister, Rane? Some situations are never thought of by the reader, therefore limiting the possibilities of what directions the story can go.  Throughout the discussion with my groups these questions developed in my head the more we talked about situational consent and how different mindsets can affect certain situations. It goes to show that one outside variable can have a dramatic effect on everything surrounding it.

Sympathy vs. Empathy

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, sympathy is the act or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings or interests of another.  Where as empathy is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present.  There is a fine line between the two but it is quite distinguishable in many situations.  When a family member or loved one dies and your friend offers their condolences, they may have an idea as to how you feel or what you need to get through it but deep down, they have no idea how you truly feel even if they’ve gone through a similar situation.

Throughout the novel Home, by Toni Morrison, Frank and Cee go through many situations together, and separate, that no one outside of their own little world can full-heartedly relate to.  A majority of the people within the novel try to understand what they have gone through; Frank living life as a retired soldier being home and Cee as, basically, a hostage. But not one person can offer their truest, deepest sympathy, as they had not had the exact same life experiences Frank and Cee did.  At one point in the novel, Frank snaps at the author’s existence of a character and says, “You can’t imagine it because you weren’t there… you can’t describe the bleak landscape because you never saw it,” referring to the Korean War. He makes it clear that no one around him can feel the same way he does after experiencing such trauma and massive turning point in his life.  Frank returned home after the war and began a journey to Georgia to rescue his younger sister, Cee. He is greeted with the same racist actions and slurs when he returns that he had left behind months back when he went to war. 

On the other hand, Cee has experienced a great deal of sympathy later on in the novel since she went through something completely different than what an average day would consist of.  When Cee was fourteen years old, she ran off with her boyfriend of the time named Prince. He ended up running off and leaving her stranded to navigate through life with no guidance. She eventually finds a job as a medical assistant to a doctor named Beauregard Scott and is shown her in-house bedroom and office by the housekeeper, Sarah.  There is a sense of suspense at this point in the novel as readers begin to gain empathy for Cee and try to feel what she is going through during this rough patch in her life. Cee is blind to what is to come while working for this doctor and his wife; her being so young and naive after being babied by Frank all her life is a main cause for this situation occurring.  As a reader, we assumed Cee was going to go through something bad especially after having an insight to the types of books that were in her bedroom, most about eugenics and medical tests. It allowed us to gain empathy, and possibly sympathy, before any tests or procedures occurred which led to the thought of: will Frank return to his old life of rescuing his little sister even though he’s struggling to rescue himself?

Towards the end of the novel, we have seen the difference between the lives that Cee and Frank lived from when they were children “attached at the hip” and on to postwar when they had experienced two completely separate lives for their first time ever.  No character that was introduced throughout the novel had been able to offer sympathy for these two protagonists and all the struggles they overcame together and apart. Sometimes, offering empathy is the most one can do and still means just as much to someone who is struggling to find themselves.

The Root of the Problem

For as long as I can remember, my family has always struggled with dentists.  Staying with one practice for more than three to four years was a struggle for us and it always boiled down to insurance coverage and costs rising.  I believe I have been to at least four different dentists throughout my life and left each one due to the lack of insurance coverage. Once I turned thirteen, I was told by my *former* dentist that I was most likely going to need braces and he urged me to get them as soon as I could.  My parents tried to put it off for as long as possible due to the overall cost and how expensive it would really be; about a year later I ended up having to start the process of getting braces.  

Many people, like myself, have had the dreadful “opportunity” to go through the process of braces.  Some last as long as four years or as little as one; I had to go through the experience for about two years.  I grew up with decently straight teeth but as I aged, due to my family’s horrible dental genetics, my teeth became more crooked every year as well as causing an overbite.  I was lucky I only had to deal with the metal mouth for two years; I can say it was not a pleasant experience, nor inexpensive. It was practically the complete opposite. The braces process was quite painful before the braces themselves were even put on. I started out the experience with spacers for a week and eventually got the braces put on afterwards. Then began the monthly checks and wire tightening due to my family’s insurance not covering the expenses unless I visited every single month… it was tragic, but it sped up the process in the long run.

Some people throughout the United States aren’t as fortunate as I was to even have a thought of getting braces or any sort of dental care.  This idea was evident throughout an article I read quite recently. One of the class assignments was to read an article titled “The Painful Truth About Teeth”, by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan, which turned into much more than another article to read, but an eye opening opportunity that I was given to realize the lives of other people aren’t always that easy either.  One early morning in Salisbury, Maryland, 1,000 people lined up outside of an arena in hopes to receive free dental care from one of the many dentists who arrived from across five states in the US. Free dental care is unheard of nowadays as someone may spend over $1 billion a year in high-end cosmetic dentistry to make their teeth a few shades whiter, so for 1,000 to have the opportunity to get whatever dental work they may need for no cost was a once in a lifetime deal.  The people who attended the civic center weren’t all necessarily poor or unemployed, they just didn’t have much money to spend on things other than daily necessities such as food or other household needs; the majority of the people just didn’t have dental insurance which made the idea of dental work nearly impossible to fathom.  “The country is way too divided between well-off people and people struggling for everything — even to see the dentist,” says Dee Matello, one of the lucky individuals to receive free dental care that cold morning. A simple dentist visit to some may be the difference between a pain in the mouth for another year or food for the family to others, but why? Why must such a simplistic ideal be so painstakingly hard to achieve?

In today’s society, bright white, perfectly straight teeth automatically signals to wealth in the family, whether it be the person themselves or even their parents.  If someone were to have just a slight yellow tint to their teeth or one ever so improperly placed tooth, one may assume that they’re not as better off or don’t choose to take care of them; no one thinks of the genetics behind it and how it may not be their fault or choice to have “imperfect” teeth.  It just goes to show that the most simple things in someone’s life may be the hardest decision in someone else’s and it may not ever be their choice, but just a way of life.  

Secrets Are No Fun

Secrets are something we learned starting at a very young age to never have.  Don’t lie to friends or family, don’t cheat on tests, and don’t keep secrets from anyone.  Parents used to say “you’re too young to know what’s going on” or “I’ll tell you when you get older”, but when are we “old enough” to know and how long do we have to wait to know important secrets that are being kept.  At this point in time, you may not know what secrets are being kept from you whether it’s by the government, your friends or even your family, but I can guarantee that you’re never too young to know the truth about something or what you could be getting yourself into.  

Within the medical field, many secrets are kept daily across doctors and different boards.  Patients don’t always know the whole truth, which is morally and ethically wrong since the information is regarding them and their health.  People have a certain set of expectations regarding the medical field; they assume doctors are going to keep their patients’ health in their best interest and do anything they possibly can to make sure that everything is perfect and goes smoothly.  When this expectation is not lived up to or a patient finds out the doctor has not disclosed all important and necessary information, trust will be lost between the doctor and patient and may cause health issues.  

Throughout the book Medical Apartheid, there were many cases where people were not aware of what they were getting themselves into and had secrets kept from them which in turn, allowed health issues to develop over time.  In my opinion, this is morally and ethically wrong and should never be done; informed consent should always be present in certain studies. Say one is going in for surgery and they are told one thing by the doctor but come out of surgery having something completely different done to them while under anesthesia.  The patient was expecting the doctor to stick to their word and follow through with the given consent but in return, was blindsided and did not foresee the actual outcome that was not given by verbal or transcribed consent.  

Cases in the past decade have had similar situations, where the patient was told one thing, or nothing, and something was done to them where they had no say.  For example, sterilization or birth control techniques. Sterilization became a huge deal in the past few years, although many people had never heard of the matter, or the great significance of it.  It was most popular amongst black women and black teenage girls since they didn’t seem fit enough to have an opinion and give consent. In 1991, a procedure occurred that involved planting, the now popular Norplant birth control device, into teenage girls in Baltimore, Maryland in order to “reduce the underclass”.  To convey how messed up doctors and people in general were regarding certain procedures, observers applauded this technique and found it fitting and just in order to “reduce the underclass” in such a degrading and subjectifying manner.  In just over fifteen years later, a similar study was conducted in 2007 due to the government’s approval. Men, women, and children that were classified as “poor, unwed, and mentally disabled”, had been sterilized because the government decided on its own conscious and say-so.  I don’t know where the people involved, including the doctors, figured they had every right to decide who could have children in the future whether they wanted to or not, but they had a skewed view of the world and the people in it. I could never imagine growing up and knowing someone who was already sterilized because the government ruled them fit to be “poor” and/or “mentally disabled”.  

After finding out and reading about so many discrete studies, including this one, it makes me think how many others are out there and do I know someone who had gone through something similar to this without anyone even knowing?  I had become taken aback by how secretive and selfish these doctors could be conducting such invasive studies and procedures on other humans due to the fact that they purely wanted to or the government told them to. I do not see this issue going away anytime soon but if more insight to this issue was brought forth, I believe something could be done about it or more people would become open to the fact that things like this do truly happen in this day and age.  

Importance of Repetition

In the beginning of the course, I realized that Dr. McCoy repeated one thing more than others almost every day of class.  It got me thinking and made me understand the true concept behind it. That one thing was repetition and if you continuously repeat something, it won’t have a chance to die out; make use of it or lose it.  This concept carries over to the novel Fortune’s Bones. This book explained and elaborated on the research process that occured on a former enslaved person who went by the name of “Fortune”. Fortune’s body was discovered in a museum in Connecticut and “has been in the town [Mattatuck] for over 200 years”.  Research was conducted on the remains by medical experts and newfound information was discovered. The researchers had discovered that Fortune was married, raised children, and had been baptized later on in his life. He and his family lived on a farm and worked for a man known as Dr. Porter. There, they planted/cared for crops and raised different animals.  Dr. Porter ended up preserving Fortune’s body instead of burying him because he felt that it could be used for future research purposes. The use of repetition was displayed here by preserving the bones and passing the remains throughout the generations to come for continued research and teaching purposes.

There was a line in the book that caught my attention the most out of all and that was, “You are not your body, you are not your bones.  What’s essential about you is what can’t be owned.” Although the book was based off of bones and bodily remains, this line was expressing how people are not just what they’re made of genetically and physically but how they present themselves and act towards others.  It’s all about your way of going through life and what you take out of daily situations that makes you, you; your bones don’t do that for you. 

It was quite eye-opening to see that one person, who happened to be enslaved, could contribute so much to medical research even 200 years after dying.  Fortune lived a hard, rigorous life while still being able to provide for his family; his wife and two kids. Although his remains were taken advantage of and invaded after his passing, Fortune provided a lot of information to medical experts to help society better understand the lives of an enslaved person.  It was interesting how you could find out so much about a person 200 years later based solely off their bones and how the remains were left.

The course epigraph of “my job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice” plays into the role of my realization that repetition throughout life does have an impact on society.  In Fortune’s Bones, repetition had a vital impact on research tactics and how generations starting 200 years ago until now have had the same understanding as to how Fortune lived, died, and lasted during his afterlife.  Dr. Porter was the main source in beginning this repetitive cycle. He began this by leaving the remains for his children and grandchildren to do research and experiments on and allow them to also use the bones as teaching methods for more people to learn from and carry on the “routine” in the continuous years.  I believe that this eye-opening experience was vital to my life because I have a better understanding as to how just one enslaved person lived his life and that repetition is a key to getting through life in more than one way. It allows for something to be carried on for generations and never die because if you continue to use something, there’s no way it could ever die off and be lost in the past forever.