Care IS the Antidote to Violence: A Self-Reflection

Throughout this course, I have been presented with multiple tools and resources which have helped me expand my learnING, knowledge and understandING. Through the semester I learned a great deal about tropical storms and means of violence that I hadn’t known about much before. The conclusion I’m about to make may not come as a surprise, but this course has taught me that care is not the antidote to violence.

As we navigated this course, there were many examples through the tropical storms that rendered my thinking that care will never be the antidote to violence although it may come close to it. During the film, When the Levees Broke, directed by Spike Lee, there were instances such as the whole evacuation process that seemed as though there was no care from the government in helping the citizens who have been affected by such violence. For example, the citizens of Louisiana attempted to cross a bridge to another connecting piece of land where they’d find refuge, safety and more resources to help those who were in desperate need of it (including elders and children). Unfortunately, the bridge was guarded by guards (thinking these people were looters) and if there were an effort to come closer there were threats that they would shoot. This is one of many instances where care was disregarded in the name of violence. I’m realizing that as I write my essay, I am currently contradicting the point I’m trying to make and perhaps I should be arguing that care is the antidote to violence. I realize this because it’s critical that those people receive the care they needed and wanted. Had they gotten the rightful attention they deserved they wouldn’t have been so furious with the situation and therefore care would’ve been the antidote to the violence of the storm they had just encountered.

            Through this course, I was challenged by the intricate readings that our course had presented and found myself drowning within the language that was being used. I am the type of person who needs things to be straight-forward and to the point. I found myself questioning a lot of the time but being too fearful to ask questions since my biggest fear is the fear of judgement. Phobias are defined as “uncontrollable, irrational and lasting fear”, but if we focus on the “uncontrollable” portion, you may even say that my phobia presented itself as a form of violence (uncontrollable disaster) in which only I carry the antidote. The antidote for overcoming this was focusing every ounce of my attention to every class discussion and ensuring that I was absolutely certain I knew what was being discussed. The antidote included a mixture of listening, cross-checking resources, and references, reading along, and an insane amount of focus.

            As I continue cross-checking and rereading the prompt to ensure I’m on the right track when it comes to writing this essay, I came back to the prompt for this essay and found a quote by Mariame Kaba. Kaba states, “They connect people in a heartfelt, direct way that teaches specific lessons about the brutality of prisons. And this can change minds and hearts, helping people to (hopefully) develop more radical politics.” I found this quote particularly interesting because it seems to summarize the idea that care, quite literally, can be the antidote to many who are suffering. Not just suffering from natural disasters, home-life issues, self-inflicted issues, but even those who have found themselves wound up in jail. Is there such a reason we shouldn’t think about a proper care plan for the treatment they are going through? Or should we simply leave it as ‘what will be, will be’. Through learning in this course as well as reflecting in our Care for Accountability; I found extreme importance on self-accountability. Had I not taken the steps to improve as a person and excel in this self-graded course, I wouldn’t have honestly given myself a deserving grade. Those in prison, although undergoing harsh treatment, should be given proper health treatments, perhaps therapy, so they can also reflect on their own actions that have brought them to the place where they are currently residing.

            Shifting my attention to one of our many course concepts, memory and forgetting. I find that as I’m reading the prompt essay, Ward rejogs my memory of a very heart wrenching scene at the end of When the Levees Broke. The scene depicts a mother who has attempted to describe the feeling of losing her daughter in the midst of such an act of violence known as Hurricane Katrina. Watching Kimberly watch the small coffin that carried her child to her final resting place was truly devastating and as terrible as it ever could be for a mother to bury her child, she did so with an act of care. Ward states, “Burying her daughter was a violence that she had to inflict on herself” and I can’t help but agree with her point of view. As Kimberly buries her daughter, she also simultaneously performs an act of care and love towards her child. This violence may not be forgiven, but Kimberly can rest at peace knowing her daughter is in a safer world up above. Speaking of the world up above, I found myself at a funeral to honor the life of my boyfriend’s grandmother, and seeing the body in the open casket was not an experience I was expecting. I hadn’t anticipated the grief, and I sure can’t imagine what it must’ve been like for the children of that mother to bury her, let alone Kimberly burying her own child.

            I can say however with great pride that my thinkING and comprehendING has greatly strengthened throughout this course. I didn’t trust myself (another inflicted act of violence) to feel confident enough in my English knowledge, comprehension and understanding to be able to get to the end of the semester. Through this course I’ve watched people tell their experiences of living through Hurricane Katrina; I’ve read about the people and seen the statistics and couldn’t help but wonder to myself, “if they can persevere, why can’t I?”. It was here that I injected myself with the antidote against my own inflicted form of violence and mustered up the confidence to feel good about my contributions to the class, to group discussions, and even feeling good about the essays I write. Had I continued putting myself down and saying that I’d never achieve greatness, then I’d be fighting violence with violence which wouldn’t have worked out for me as a person at the end of the day.

            I can truly claim that through writing this final essay, I stand firm from my original point stated in the beginning of the essay. I said, “care will never be the antidote to violence although it may come close to it”. I suppose my thinking was the sole fact that no matter how much help, kindness and care may take place, it can never undo the acts of violence that many people have faced. While some seem to cope with care as the antidote of violence, that doesn’t apply to everybody and that’s where “it may come close to it” came into play. Since writing this essay, you can see my perspective change during my writing and I do firmly believe that if you accept care as the antidote of violence, it will help you navigate the hardships that trouble you. Care truly is the antidote to violence.

Final Reflection: In relation to The Trees and Course Epigraphs

My semester’s story as told through Percival Everett’s The Trees and one of our course epigraphs could be a long one. But nonetheless, it’s still a story to tell. There are many ways in which to write a story- this could be in the form of a novel (as Everett has done in the writing of The Trees), poems, or even told through the form of oral tradition as Call and Response had done. Call and Response discussed the importance of oral tradition throughout the editors note. This course had a few quotes that would help us as students further understand the overall theme of this course. There were poems, which I wanted so strongly to connect to because I love poems. However, the course epigraph that stood out to me at the end of the semester states:

Oh, no. No, no, no. There’s too much to learn from examining that tension between the power and the impact of the art and realizing where that art comes from and what the impetus behind that art is. The best way to engage with twisted or otherwise problematic art, in my opinion, is to first off acknowledge that that art has an impact, hurts people, and understand that engaging with it could perpetuate some of the harm that that art is capable of doing, but flag it, warn it, put it off to the side where people can engage with it at their leisure, at their choice or at a point where they’re strong enough or capable of doing so, but then engage with it. There’s a line between respecting the work and honoring the person. You can respect the craft. You don’t have to put that person on a pedestal. Artists are human beings and that means you need to examine them in all their facets. You have to recognize that these are people and that the things that make them sometimes horrible people are sometimes the things that make them good writers or good artists and that’s what you want to engage with.

N.K Jemisin

As I continued to read this epigraph, I realized that this is the one that I resonated with the most, as well as understood it to represent what I have personally learned throughout this course this semester. I’m the type of student who always wants to strive for the best in my own work, but to also ensure that when I raise my hand in class or write an essay such as this that I am representing the works in a good light. Jemisin says “You don’t have to put that person on a pedestal.” And upon reading that, I realized that my previous works, participation and way of thinking always praised the author especially when it was a class about one author in particular. I didn’t want this to be the case anymore. So this year in class I made a conscious effort to look towards both good and bad faith and how the authors faith changed with the time. Dr. McCoy had said at one point in the semester that it’s very possible for the author to have said what they did in good faith, but over the decades what their intentions were and how it’s perceived today are very different.

In the middle of the semester, we as a class read brief synopsis of the varying novels written by Percival Everett that we could read to write our final essay. Our class chose The Tree’s which tells a very intricate and interesting story of two detectives solving murders that appear to be connected in Money, Mississippi. With each crime scene the detective’s approach, there is a body of a black man that seems to resemble Emmett Till but once the scene is closed, the body would disappear. The town seemed convinced it was the ghost of Emmett Till coming back for revenge, but what was puzzling the police that were involved was they weren’t entirely sure how anyone could place a body and remove it without them noticing, this in turn left them to make jokes that perhaps it really was a ghost.

            I didn’t want to make the mistake of misinterpreting the author and his words. I found myself puzzled trying to find the words to properly describe how I felt after reading this book and all I had was, “wow”. The characters as depicted by Everett were so detailed, yet humorous at times. I wanted so badly to feel what the characters were going through, but when I turned the page- the detectives, Jim Davis and Ed Morgan would be cracking a joke and I felt bad for thinking it was funny when the book was made to really keep you thinkING.

I found myself thinkING over the title of the book at various times, I asked myself questions such as why the title The Trees? Why not give it the title Rise? Why wouldn’t Everett want to express the importance of rising together to make change? And I don’t have an answer for that. No matter how hard I searched the internet. I’ll be completely honest with you too, it bothers me that I don’t have an answer, but it’s because I didn’t that I had made interpretations in good faith. I thought that it wasn’t titled ‘Rise’ because to condone an ending in which murders had to occur to feel powerful and rise against the hate wouldn’t be a decision made in good faith by Everett. The few times Everett mentions trees would be ““‘There,” Hind said. She pointed. In the trees. Hanging in the trees were the bodies of Digby and Brady, their legs crazy with blood, their pants drawn around their ankles, their boots stopping the clothing from falling off” (256). This mention of the lynchings at the trees may suggest that Everett wanted to open the eyes to the reader that police can experience violence as well. But nonetheless, Everett was determined to guarantee that you as a reader never forget the names of all those who were lynched.

As I continue to apply the course epigraph, I realized that I’m engaging with this complicated piece of work that handles racism, police brutality, and several other difficult topics, I find myself working with this quote of our course epigraph, “The best way to engage with twisted or otherwise problematic art, in my opinion, is to first off acknowledge that that art has an impact, hurts people, and understand that engaging with it could perpetuate some of the harm that that art is capable of doing”.

Everett made it a point to call out the issues that Mississippi, as well as other areas in the South have had on people, specifically minorities. As I continued reading, I found myself upset. I despised the sheer thought that there are still people out there today that feel as though it’s in their right to hurt others for racist reasons. As I write this essay past it’s due date, I find myself even more upset that there aren’t just killings happening for racist reasons such as the shooting in Buffalo by an 18 year-old white male against the Black community, but also because there is a huge mental health issue in our nation, the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

This piece of work written by Percival Everett is nothing short of a twisted problematic art piece and I, as well as the class recognized it’s huge impact on how we felt during and after reading it. This story although having some pieces of history tied into it, is a nonfictional novel in which you need to feel to understand each and every character. As Jemisin pointed out within his quote, the course epigraph, is “You can respect the craft.” And this is exactly what I did. I respected the craft, I analyzed it as well as Everett and his faith in writing the story, I looked beyond the scope of the book and saw implications of real life scenarios and what I’m writing is my direct reflection of these instances. I never thought that I could take the author off the pedestal and just simply analyze the basics of the author. I have always taken it farther than needed every time I read any piece of work. But I’ve learned that by analyzing work over time, it helps you to become a better person, more attentive as well as studious. All traits that I was striving for at the beginning of this semester.

Call & Response : A Cultural Nationalist Approach

As I first began thinking about African American traditions, I instantly began to think about cultural traditions and values. Perhaps I was right and wrong to an extent. I was right to think that traditions involve cultural values, but I was wrong to think that that was all the word ‘tradition’ had to offer. When looking back at the governing aesthetics of Call and Response, the editors state that it is a Black Aesthetic. I was intrigued and wanted to know and learn more. Upon further research, I determined that the editors note, which states its aesthetic is a “call” to the reason why they’ve put together this book (a response). I came to the conclusion that the editor’s note is a cultural nationalist one. 

There are three distinct motifs that the editors wanted to ensure the reader understands about this book, the first is the antiphonal pattern, the “Theme of the journey of African American people toward freedom, justice, and social equality.”(Hill, xxxiii), and the overall call and response pattern that this book follows.

The term cultural nationalism as found on, defines it as referencing “to movements of group allegiance based on a shared heritage as in language, history, literature, songs, religion, ideology, symbols, land, or monuments. Cultural nationalists emphasize heritage or culture, rather than race or ethnicity or institutions of statehood.”(, 2022). When I said I was wrong “to an extent” this is why. I didn’t take into account that any traditions shared could be even more reason for a group of people to want to share with the larger community. This definition relates back to the editors note when they state “It is the first comprehensive anthology of literature by African Americans presented according to the Black Aesthetic, a criteria for black art developed by Americans of African descent”(Hill, xxxiii). I feel that it is important to acknowledge that the first call in relation to this book is because the editors felt as though there was not a book already existing or established that tells the whole truth and story of various African American authors, writers, and artists. While putting together this anthology, there are over 150 authors (major and minor) and of these 150+, about 70+ are female writers (which is less than half). However, the women that are mentioned include Elizabeth Keckley, Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson, and Harriet A. Jacobs. Now that there is an anthology out there that shares the stories of African American authors, from a cultural nationalist perspective, there is so much more room to learn and expand our ways of learning.

In class we learned about an African American author, Elsa Barkley Brown and read “African American Quilting”. Brown’s anthology helps explain that there is a large majority of people who simply don’t understand the importance of African American culture and in an attempt to connect with the audience, she compares quilts. “In other words, the symmetry in African-American quilts does not come from the uniformity as it does in Euro-American quilts; rather, the symmetry comes through the diversity” (Brown, 924). Brown is taking a cultural nationalist approach towards teaching African American women’s history. In the beginning of her writing she starts off with stating how the most centralized problem in trying to teach or write about “non-white, non-middle class, non-Western persons is how to center our work, our teaching, in the lives of the people about whom we are teaching and writing” and later states “in my own teaching… [I] address both the conscious level, through the material, and the unconscious level, through the very structure of the course, thus, perhaps, allowing my students, in Bettina Aptheker’s words, to “pivot the center,” to center in another experience”(Brown, 921). Brown continues to connect to her audience by sharing experiences, cultural traditions, and history. These are all things that a cultural nationalist does in their approach towards educating a specific set of individuals or persons in order to fully have them be able to comprehend the full experience. 

Another instance in which the editors note demonstrates taking a cultural nationalist approach towards educating their target audience, states, “Unlike other literature anthologies, Call and Response unfolds the historical development of the oral tradition simultaneously with the written literature” (Hill, xxxiii). This is important to note because oral tradition is a distinct tradition within African American literature. Not only does Call and Response utilize this tradition in their work, in fact one of the motifs mentioned in the editors note mentions the antiphonal pattern. Upon researching, for a better understanding of this definition I found that it is “a collection of antiphons, hymns, or psalms sung in alternating parts” (Dictionary, 2022). The book includes a lyric, song, or other musical pieces before diving into the story they’re about to tell as the response. The oral tradition has been used in song, and text to tell the stories of African Americans throughout history. A lot of songs that we know as freedom songs were sung while many were still enslaved. Cultural heritage is kept alive beyond slavery through song, sermon, and other spoken written forms. Another artist that kept the culture alive through oral tradition and also taking a cultural nationalist approach in how they carried themselves was Bernice Johnson Reagon. Reagon reiterates in “Nobody Knows the Trouble I See” how critical it is to acknowledge that there is often an ideal image for African Americans to portray in the larger society, but to also find a way to balance their own understanding of their culture and values beyond the greater scope. She further emphasizes that the experience of African Americans is to straddle. She states “We are born in one place, and we are sent to achieve in the larger culture, and in order to survive we work out a way to be who we are in both places or all places we move” (Reagon, 114). Reagon is trying to point out what must feel so obvious to African Americans, but took the time to explain why we can’t simply just celebrate those who speak up, such as Martin Luther King Jr. as heroes. Of course they appear as heroes, but in fact it’s every single African American man and woman who are brave enough to speak up about their experiences. And when they all come together such as the authors and editors of this book, Call and Response; they demonstrate how a cultural nationalist perspective can shape thinking altogether.

It’s quite incredible how it took so long for something as well put together as Call and Response, an anthology of the Black aesthetic.  There are so many great artists, writers and contributors to this book that can finally share their true, authentic stories. The stories that were undermined by others trying to learn and understand their culture in good faith, but ended up studying research conducted by white people who hadn’t had any of those experiences. The cultural nationalist approach truly allows for the editors to ensure that they’re educating in the ways that will benefit the larger community/society. The underlying aesthetic is meant to guide us with stories of those who simply lived through their experiences. The way this book is set up allows for the larger community/society to indulge in the beliefs, values, and pride that African Americans have and to continue hearing their voices and stories that will be shared throughout history.