Connecting People In and Out of The Classroom: Lessons of Consent, Acceptance, and Good-Faith Through the Lens of Octavia Butler

Although we are coming together as a class where we are reading the same texts and having discussions about our interpretations and experiences, it is essential to use what we learn both through our education and individual experiences, and share our newfound discoveries with others. I think the most important sequence of concepts to be learned from Professor McCoy’s course, ENGL 431-01, and many other English courses is first to set goals for what we would like to learn, share our learning among our peers, and then to run with these takeaways and see how far we can go with applying these ideas to our own lives outside of class. The three epigraphs that Professor McCoy has established for this course all have to do with the act of growing through our learning, and bringing our thoughts and ideas to life in areas where our knowledge can be beneficial in changing the way we see issues that are discussed in the sources we are diving into throughout this course, including affirmative consent, implicit bias, and demonstrating good faith. 

In our group discussion “To the Forums! 4: Noticing Again,” there were many exchanged about the complexities of consent, especially at Geneseo, including efforts being made to increase awareness about sexual harassment and how it can be stopped. In relation to “Womb” in Dawn, something that Lilith stood out to me: “Even her flesh could be cut and stitched without her consent or knowledge” (Butler 3). This reminds me of many horror stories I have heard of my peers being taken advantage of and manipulated without their consent, and sometimes even without them having known what actually happened, as they may have been in a physical state in which they could not provide proper affirmative consent. Forced interactions will never be beneficial, but when done so in a mutually affirmative manner, we can move towards these connections that have the potential to bind us together. It is important to learn from these mistakes and “run” with them, which is one of our course epigraphs, as said by Butler to “Learn and Run!” in Dawn, so that we can improve upon these mistakes for the better and prevent a future of our society that is similar to what Lilith experiences throughout the various Awakenings. Something that Jdahya says in Dawn stood out to me and led me to some thoughts about how Jdahya’s interactions with Lilith relate to our work in Professor McCoy’s class: “‘I can only say that your people have something we value. You may begin to know how much we value it when I tell you that by your way of measuring time, it has been several million years since we dared to interfere in another people’s act of self-destruction. Many of us disputed the wisdom of doing it this time. We thought … that there had been a consensus among you, that you had agreed to die’” (Butler 15). Jdahya and his people make the assumption that humans like Lilith were purposely trying to destroy themselves, when really, all humans make mistakes that they can learn from and work together to overcome. Jdahya goes on to explain to Lilith his relatives’ confusion when he says “We didn’t know what to think when some of your people killed themselves” (Butler 19). I think that these weaknesses, mistakes, and areas in need of improvement are what bring and bind humans together in the strongest ways. Without these downfalls, we wouldn’t necessarily  have as much of a reason to confide in and learn from each other.

Implicit bias is one of the most prominent themes throughout Dawn and another basis for my critical thinking and the goals I hope to achieve from this course. In Jerry Kang’s TED Talk “Immaculate perception,” he explains implicit bias by doing an exercise with the audience in which he wants them to read words that identify colors on a screen, but ignoring letters of the word and focusing only on the colors the words are printed in. He goes on to say, “The whole point is that any two concepts that are tightly associated in our brains we can actually pair together very quickly” (Kang 5:50). This relates to the implicit bias that Lilith shows towards Jdahya, assuming that he might harm her in some way if she were to sleep: “She lay down herself, wondering whether she could relax enough to sleep with him there. It would be like going to sleep knowing there was a rattlesnake in the room, knowing she could wake up and find it in her bed” (Butler 21). Lilith even goes so far as to refer to Jdahya as “Medusa,” a mythological creature having a negative connotation, thus being reflected onto Lilith’s perspective of Jdahya and his relatives. There is a mutual misunderstanding between both Lilith and Jdahya because instead of getting to truly know and understand each other, they continue to make assumptions about the other. At one point, Lilith asks herself, “Why couldn’t she just accept him? All he seemed to be asking was that she not panic at the sight of him or others like him. Why couldn’t she do that?” (Butler 25). Lilith’s thoughts here go along with my overall goal for this course which is to come out of it as a more open-minded individual, who also encourages others to pursue their own version of being open-minded, wherever this is applicable in their own lives. I think we live in a society where people are so concerned with themselves that they become ignorant of issues that affect them, whether they want to admit it or not.

As told by Adichie in her TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story,” it is necessary that people regain the necessary power to change a “single story” that marginalizes a group of people and instead recognize them for who they truly are. Africans are included in the many groups of people who are marginalized in society and therefore have created pieces of important literature to shift the perspective to accommodate themselves in a way that will lead to inclusion in the world. Overall, there is a feeling of belonging that is associated with literature because of how it defines us personally and not how society chooses to label us. This TED Talk raises the question of “who gets to tell which stories?” Adichie addresses what happens when a “single” story is told and how she has experienced this in her life. This is a very useful talk as it addresses the dangers of what happens when a story is told in such a way and how it takes away from the authenticity and reality of one’s experience. I think that this goes along with the ideas in our course of “meeting people where they are” and “asking questions instead of presuming.” 

When Jdahya says that the Oankali trade themselves, Lilith asks “You mean … each other? Slaves?” Jdahya responds, “No. We’ve never done that.” Lilith asks “What, then?” and Jdahya says “Ourselves.” (Butler 25-26). In relation to the idea of growth within this course, I think that we “trade” the individual experiences we have with each other so that we can learn and grow from them. We each have our own “independent lives” as Butler discusses “positioning movements of independent life” in one of our course epigraphs from Imago. By sharing our own interpretations of the world and people around us, this can bring us together.

I have learned that the way we engage with literature from very early on in life and as we grow older, impacts the ways we see the world around us, as well as ourselves individually. The best way we can reap the potential of literature is by using good-faith practices that make us vulnerable to reconsidering various points of view that may not match our own and may end up causing us to change our beliefs and values. By making ourselves more vulnerable in this way, we are bound to learn more about others and ourselves through the way we interpret literature, ideally in a respectful, courteous, and open-minded manner. There are still some ideas in question that I have left to figure out throughout the rest of this course, and even after the end of this semester because thinking and learning is an ongoing process. There will always be newfound issues to contemplate and viewpoints to consider.

Works Cited

Adichie, Chimamanda. “The Danger of a Single Story.” TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, July 2009,

www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story/up-next?language=en.

Butler, Octavia E. Lilith’s brood. New York: Aspect/Warner Books, 2000. Print.

Kang, Jerry. “Immaculate perception.” TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, January 2014,

www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=357&v=9VGbwNI6Ssk&feature=emb_title