Goal-Setting Essay: Look to Yourself

  When reading the course epigraph by Dionne Brand, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice,” the words that stand out to me the most are, “My job is.” The notion that it is solely my job and my responsibility to remain accountable for the work I produce, and the work I put into class, is one that I am aiming to focus on this semester. The accountability I place on myself, directly correlates to what I will get out of this class, and out of life as a whole. If I choose to exist as if others must hold me accountable or push me to do the work I need to, I will never succeed or live up to my fullest potential. The concept of accountability is one that can be seen throughout the literature we have read so far this semester. 

In Toni Morrison’s novel, Home, Miss Ethel speaks to Cee after treating her. She understands how much Cee has gone through in her life, and was previously harsh and quite cold in her delivery of treatment and healing. This behavior is better understood when she says to Cee, 

Look to yourself. You free. Nothing and nobody is obliged to save you but you. Seed your own land. You young and a woman and there’s serious limitation in both, but you a person too. Don’t let Lenore or some trifling boyfriend and certainly no devil doctor decide who you are. That’s slavery. Somewhere inside you is that free person I’m talking about. Locate her, and let her do some good in the world.

This quote is extremely powerful in that it is brutally honest. She does not sugar coat, nor does she treat Cee like a child in any way. Miss Ethel makes it very clear that it is Cee’s responsibility to take care of herself and not allow others to control her life or her happiness. She must take accountability for how she allows others actions to affect her, and choose to find strength in those challenges in order to use them to “do some good in the world.” As it is Cee’s responsibility to do this, it is my job, within this class, to hold myself accountable to how I treat myself as well as others. I am in control of my own growth, my ability to remain open minded and compassionate to not only my classmates, but to myself as well, as I navigate through this class and the course material. 

  Marylin Nelson’s Fortune’s Bones, tells the story of a slave named Fortune, whose skeleton was preserved and hung in a museum under a false name. When this was discovered, historians took accountability for the mistake, and removed Fortune until they could properly display him with an accurate name and life story. This reminds me to keep myself accountable for my mistakes. I may not always be perfect when navigating sensitive subject matter such as the experiences of people of color, specifically stories I am not able to relate to in any way. It is important that I learn from any mistakes I may make, and continue to remain open minded to the fact that I must navigate the Black literary space with understanding and acknowledgement of my privilege as a white woman. It is possible that I will make mistakes, not only in my engagement with the literature, but with my work ethic and contribution to the class. There may be times when I do not keep up on readings or coursework and it is only the responsibility of myself to catch up and change my study habits, if necessary. I will continue to hold myself accountable for how much work I put into the class, the work I produce for this class, as well as how I approach sensitive topics and conversations with my peers. 

Harriet A. Washington’s book Medical Apartheid, is a groundbreaking example of holding others accountable for their horrific evils. This book outlines the centuries of horrific experimentation African Americans suffered at the hands of so-called “medical professionals.” These accounts are extremely disturbing and heart wrenching to read. Washington goes into specific details regarding the mutilation of female slaves, the “scientific racism” that was used to justify these actions, as well as the belief that “The problem of slaves would disappear with their color” when describing the skin bleaching that was used in an attempt to turn Black Americans’ skin white. Navigating this material has been mentally and emotionally difficult, but has made me realize the importance of accountability when it comes to the way I go about reading and understanding the importance behind this history. I read with an open mind and heart to experiences I know I will never be able to fully grasp the extent or weight of, as well as acknowledging the privilege I hold in my ignorance. I will never fully understand what it is like to exist in America as a person of color, and I must recognize the space I am navigating as a white woman, and how I go about holding myself accountable for the way I approach topics and conversations within this course. 

Throughout the remainder of this class, my goal is to hold myself accountable in all aspects relating to the course. I will hold myself accountable for the work I produce, the work I put in, for understanding my place within the Black literary space, and for treating others, as well as myself with compassion and open mindedness. I hope to continue to work hard this semester, to learn as much as I possibly can, and to engage in meaningful conversations and dialogue with my classmates. If I have learned one thing so far from this class, although I have learned many things, it is that there is so much we can learn from others. Twenty students may read the same piece of literature, but they will all take something completely different from it. We are all navigating this space in different ways and it is so important to remain open to what we can learn from each other. It is our own job to allow ourselves to listen and learn from the experiences and interpretations of those around us. I hope to continue my own personal growth throughout the remainder of the semester, as well as to contribute to, and watch the growth of those around me in class.