The course epigraph is as follows, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice,” a quote by Dionne Brand. As someone who grew up in an area that by some would be considered “ghetto”, a place that is a lot less fortunate then some, I’m always aware. I notice small things more than the big picture. I notice when someone cuts their hair a few inches or a difference in attitude and body language. Though, in this class, I lacked my noticing skills, and genuinely struggled on noticing things. Not only with noticing, I struggled with creating ideas of my own and being descriptive and thorough.

Going back to when I first visited Geneseo, I was oddly skeptical. The environment just felt different to me as I was completely unaware of my surroundings again, on this 3-college visits in a 2-day trip. When I stepped into Doty Hall and was greeted by the tour group leaders, and a few other secretaries, etc., it felt …right. I was nervous to come here, that’s for sure. I am a first-generation college student and was scared for what my future held for me. The atmosphere at Geneseo is overwhelmingly positive and offers a variety of opportunities and access to what I may need to succeed. Looking back at my first semester I would say that college is just …hard. Though hard is a simple word that to me carries a significant meaning. I can recall times in the past semester where I had almost given up and frequently said, “This class is too hard,” and “I don’t get this, it’s too hard”. I did struggle here, that I will admit. 3 months seems like a short amount of time but, there has been exceptional growth for me. Not only as a writer, but also as a person. This English 101, “Literature, Medicine, and Racism” course Dr McCoy teaches has exposed me to a world I have never seen. I have learned the different struggles and battles different kinds of people have had to go through for succession.  

In a few short sentences the book Clay’s Ark is about a disease, a deadly parasite to be exact. It is trying to occupy and take over the population. Eli, the first one infected by the parasite, is being compelled to infect others when he returns from his space travel. Blake and his two daughters, Rane and Keira are all eventually infected and try to escape. A moment that stands out to me is, “It occurred to her as she headed for the steep incline that she could be killed. The thought did not slow her. Either way, the stick people would not tie her down again.” (pg. 539) I interpret this as not being afraid. Not being afraid to die, or in my case fail, because she would not allow the stick people to tie her down, and for me to now allow my thoughts to bring me down either. I am a person who often will beat themselves down with words. As I’ve learned, there’s a lot more meaning, and that is why I’m affected by them so much. Words are special and can make someone happy, sad, or even angry. I learned the power behind them in a discussion we had in class regarding Fortune’s Bones. In class, we discussed the African Burial Ground, and those who were buried are left nameless as their bodies are too far gone to be identified. For obvious ethical reasons, this affected me emotionally. Their name is their identity. Their name is what defines them. To not have that, leaves them almost as nothing though they are still people. I often wondered, how did this even begin? Had they consented?

Consent is a broad topic that has encased our class. We have spoken countless times about consent and the different areas that surround it. Prior to this class, I was unaware of the different meanings behind it, and how influential that word is. Looking back at another book we have read, Medical Apartheid, there are times in history, that are often never taught, were African Americans are treated horrendously and are not given the chance to consent. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study had promised, “free medical care to about six hundred sick, desperately poor sharecroppers…” (pg. 157) Though, that never happened. Rather than being treated, all the men were studied, “found a pool of infected black men, [held] treatment from them, and then charting the progression of symptoms and disorders” (Pg. 157). This study left me astonished as I had never heard about it prior to reading Medical Apartheid. Unfortunately, I feel schools lack in exposure to topics that may be hard to listen to and understand. But, it is all important and valuable knowledge to those it effects, and those it doesn’t.

As I end this class, I notice how I’ve grown. I notice how more efficiently I try and understand concepts and ideas about others’ through means of communication. I’m more aware. More aware of the impact my words have on others. I am powerful, in thought, in speech, and in my script.

Too Insecure

From birth to now, I have always been aware. Aware that I was most likely lesser off than someone else, had looked different, even lived differently. When I was younger I often found myself to be insecure about the way I lived. When my parents divorced, I was split right down the middle. I moved between the two different homes on Friday at the Stewarts Shops at 4 pm on the dot. Never earlier and never later. 

Kids found it different, considering divorce wasn’t common in my area at that time. They always wondered why I would bring a large backpack packed to the brim with stuff if I stayed an extra night at either home and didn’t have time to return my items. I remember having to sit with a woman and talk about how I felt regarding the situation and if I was comfortable and enjoyed both places where I resided. 

Traveling between the two houses made me feel as if I was transforming just as much as my lifestyle would. My dad was always super easy going and a lot more carefree. On the other hand, my mom was a lot more strict and had more structure, yet was also a bit easy going. I had to be more aware and alert when at her house, she always challenged me mentally and encouraged me to do as much as I could for school to better myself. My dad was the opposite, though he did encourage school work, there was a lot less to be worried about. 

Despite that, I was always insecure. My lifestyle revolved around that idea. My father was an older man and struggled to find a steady job, until he eventually retired. Money was always tight but there was often wiggle room. We would eat the same things, and a lot of pasta, only because it was the cheapest. An article from Hunger and Health (Feeding America) states, “An estimated 1 in 9 Americans were food insecure, equating to over 37 million Americans, including more than 11 million children.”  Beginning at a young age I had become food insecure, not even realizing that it was a real thing.  

As I grew up and was able to become more independent, I would go out to eat with my friends and become insecure about what to order.  I didn’t want to order big meals because that would cost more money and I only had a small amount to spend every couple of weeks. However, my friends weren’t necessarily in the same situation as I was growing up so they would buy whatever they wanted and ended up wasting half of the food at whichever place we decided to go to, which I could never imagine doing.  

Growing up on a tight budget between both households, has taught me to manage the money I do have at any given time and not spend it on pointless things.  It has also allowed me to gain self control and appreciate the true value of a dollar. I have learned to become less insecure about the situation I have been raised in and make the most of it because there are more people in this world that live the same as I do, if not worse.

Conceptualization in Language

While writing for another blog post, I stumbled upon an interview with the author of Zulus, Percival Everett. A man who I often considered to be a bit odd before looking into his other works. In this particular interview he is being interviewed by a woman named Sylvie Bauer. She correlates pieces of Everett to the alphabet and associates him with an abecedary. 

Almost instantaneously Everett is asked about the idea of nonsense and a sense of not knowing within his books. He says, “…I’m not so much interested in writing sense that sounds like nonsense, what I really want to do is write nonsense that actually does make sense,” I find this slightly ironic, only because after reading Zulus I had completely missed what was happening, and it felt like nonsense to me. I rarely, almost never, read science fiction by choice and almost never read anything of the genre in school.

The interviewer replied to him, “There is a sense of not knowing in your books, for most characters,” which he follows up later by saying, “…it’s interesting to have this landscape of possibilities, not knowing.” Everett replies by saying how is just how life goes. I am fond of his explanation because I find the answer to be truly accurate. You never know what could or is going to happen, just like his books.

Zulus left me confused because I hadn’t necessarily read the book, though I did certainly read it, I don’t believe I truly understood and comprehended the story-line. Particularly, Alice Achiptoel and her head in the box had left me lost. Everett tends to leave you lost at the end of his books, is Alice still technically alive after the gas is released? What truly happened to the world? It is all left a mystery which he never explains the end to. A blog post by my fellow classmate Ariana Vidal titled “Zulus: A -Z” discusses two separate ways on how to read the book. She states how you can begin with the headings/titles or completely disregard them (as we both had). I thoroughly enjoyed how she had gone back and reread them, to understand the book at a more in-depth level, which I hadn’t thought to do. 

“L is for Language. Language is central to your work: you play with it, you destroy it, you can manipulate it; it manipulates and puzzles the reader,” the interviewer had said. Within Zulus, there were many words I had never heard of and certain ways of reading the book that I didn’t understand as thoroughly as I expected I would.  This made me realize that the English language is so unique and complex that regardless of how advanced of a reader one may be, there may always be a novel that they don’t fully understand or can’t grasp the true meaning behind.  That ideal was true with me in relation to this book and Everett’s writing style, as he is a well renowned author with such unrealistic scenarios and a foreign writing style.

Dental Discrepancies

Being cared for by the dentist has always been one of my biggest fears. ANY doctor for that matter, causes my blood pressure to skyrocket and I begin to sweat. Some may call this white coat syndrome, which is defined as “a phenomenon in which people exhibit a blood pressure level above the normal range, in a clinical setting, although they do not exhibit it in other settings,” almost exactly what I feel. Genetically, my teeth have been doomed to be a disaster from the start. Oral health in my family has been a struggle for almost everyone. So, keep that in mind. 

When I was younger I visited a dentist for my yearly checkup and it was a trip from hell. From the beginning I was extremely uncomfortable. The woman at the reception desk was very rude and offered no help to my mother when an insurance issue came up. 

“You just have to call your insurance company,” the woman went on to say.

My mom was groaning and pleaded for her help, as she had just spoke to the company a week or two prior when my pediatrician office was giving her difficulties. But, as expected no help was offered. 

We waited almost an hour before I was called in. I was brought into the room and sat on the uncomfortable recliner. We thanked the nurse and a few moments passed before another person walked inside. A woman, who I assumed was the dentist sat on the “spinny chair”, as I used to call it. She extended her hand and gave a small hello before she began to work on my teeth. She was rough, more than I expected, pulling at my cheeks in a hurry. I glanced at my mom and she could easily see I was in pain. My mom spoke up and asked her to stop before consoling me and making sure I was okay. Afterwards, she spoke to the dentist outside for a moment shortly before we left.

Since that first incident, I have switched dentists around four to five times now. Some are for reasons such as insurance, as it is difficult to find a dentist who takes mine in the first place. In class, we read an article about people traveling at least five hours to wait in line for hours to meet with one of the 116 dentists. Also, in the article, a dentist had sent a patient, “with impacted wisdom teeth 120 miles to find a dental specialist who accepts Medicaid.”

That line in particular made me think of a similar incident I had. I had to get my wisdom teeth out in December of 2018 and had to travel an hour and a half to get the procedure done. I remember barely being able to withstand the pain as my teeth were pushing through my gums, sideways. Since I had to be put under a local anesthetic and all four teeth were impacted, the cost almost doubled. A single impacted tooth costs around $225 to $600. Some insurances cover up to half if medically necessary, and some cap a patient at $2,000 a YEAR for dental insurance. I find this outrageous. I would not want to experience the feeling of hope, yet doubt, ever again when I wasn’t even sure how much money this procedure would cost. Thankfully, I was fully covered by the state. 

Having insurance through the state, due to my father, most certainly has its pros and cons. As per the article we read in class, “ …only about 38 percent of dentists accept Medicaid — about half the rate of physicians,” which I find oddly interesting. If the state accepts and offers lower-income patients to dental insurance, why do so many dentists not accept it?  I believe that if the state offers this option to many recipients, then more places should accept it as it assists the state and insurance companies in the long run.

The Ideal

While reading Zulus I often questioned the author, Percival Everett, with the way he wrote about one of the characters weight, Alice Achitophel. I, myself, am not a woman with the average body society says we should have. There is often a standard one must meet; one that certainly isn’t achievable by all women. One’s body type is determined by 80% of genetics, and 20% environmental factors. To achieve such a body type could be considered harmful for some, because they are just not made for it. Notably, women are often put on a pedestal by men. Women must act, look, and speak certain ways to be considered “ideal”. Society pushes for the white, skinny, and blonde woman more frequently than a woman with curves or of any other particular race. I relate this back to when I was a child and used to play with Barbie dolls. These dolls were white, skinny, busty, and blonde. I perceived the dolls I had loved to be what an ideal woman had looked like. But, I hadn’t looked like that, so it used to upset me. Being an “ideal woman” had meant I had to have the perfect curves, fat in the right places, and to be outgoing and sociable. 

In Zulus, Alice Achitophel is referred to as fat, obese, and other obscenities. Alice herself says how the people at the hospital would think of her differently, “…that she was fat and ugly and could see from her file that she was an old maid..” I relate this back to Zulus in regards to Alice Achitophel seeming to be the only overweight woman, more likely only person, to reside on the planet. Where Alice resides, there is no discussion of healthy appetites and lifestyles, she is left to fend for herself. 

 I believe in the past decade or so the talk of obesity has increased, and people have become more aware due to the acts of Michelle Obama and her “Let’s Move” movement. Obesity is growing at a much faster pace than in previous years, which I believe is related to our access. When I say access I’m referring to our access to different chains of fast food restaurants that have become more present. No one is really telling you how you should be eating, so how can this be fixed? Everyone is different, and what they intake depends on the individual and the influence from others, their environments, societal factors, etc. But, as per, there are approximately 160 million Americans who are considered obese or overweight. I ask again, how can we fix this health epidemic that is encasing our communities? Now as a college student, I find myself eating more processed foods along with food from fast food restaurants. Considering my status of wealth is little to none, I can’t afford fresh produce and other items to fulfill my daily vitamins and suggested diet. According to the CDC, “men and women with a college degree have lower obesity prevalence,” and another article from the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health also agrees with the same statement. The article goes on with the theme of discussing how people with a degree are often healthier than those without. 

I can conclude this has something to do with the prevalence of health awareness in the two discussed environments. On one hand, people who don’t have a degree generally find themselves in working class jobs where health awareness and appreciation is scarce. Those with degrees are more frequently employed in professional and upper class jobs where an abundance of people who want to look good are present. These people are often wealthier and can afford the resources to stay fit and healthy. Fresh produce in particular can be on the pricier side, and generally off the radar of a working class family. An article from National Health Corps says, “eating healthy costs about $1.50 more a day than the unhealthy alternative,” which further helps prove my point. 

Having been exposed to different forms of health awareness and being on a campus where a balanced diet is often plastered across the walls, I can see in other places where this may fall short. Being aware of things, and noticing them is a task that is difficult for some and even harder to comprehend and understand. Not affording or being able to grasp these different items or concepts for that matter makes me thankful for the exposure I’ve seemed to encounter in the different settings I find myself in.

“So, have you been tested?”

One day in class, I made a link between this course and my Intro to Sociology lecture. On this day in particular we were discussing chapter 7 of Medical Apartheid. Chapter 7 discusses the Tuskegee Syphilis Study that ran from 1932 to 1972. This study is notorious for their racist and unethical practices. While it’s not directly correlated to the conversation in my sociology class, it initiated a rush of thoughts and ideas that were important to discuss.

In my sociology course, we are discussing the effect of social class, race, and gender and the role they play within regards to HIV/AIDS. More specifically, we are discussing those effects on lower income African American communities, homosexual relationships, and women. In a piece of writing by Celeste Watkins-Hayes, she discusses the effect of living in a low-income neighborhood. Watkins-Hayes specifically shows how these low-income communities are often less likely to have access to treatment for HIV, which results in a higher transmission rate. Infection rates skyrocket in these communities and offer an explanation for why, “groups that have been socially or economically marginalized are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection.” 

Along with my connection between classes, my memory sparked with ideas connected to an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Law and Order: SVU has been my favorite show for years, and I have seen almost every episode. An episode titled, “Quickie”, follows the story of a man, Peter Butler, who engages in sexual relations with women from a social media app, but never discloses that he is HIV positive. The entirety of the episode follows the victims murder and discussing if the squad could potentially put Butler away for not disclosing his HIV status. Unfortunately, there are no direct laws that hand out consequences for this circumstance, besides a charge of assault. This episode references the case of the State of Texas vs. Philippe Padieu. The plot almost follows the same rhythm with Philippe Padieu, a man who knowingly has contracted HIV and begins engaging in sexual contact with countless women, without their consent. A jury convicted Padieu of assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced for more than 70 years. Something else to consider is Padieu had a prior conviction that effected this trial, if he hadn’t would his sentence have been shorter? Would justice have been served for the six women he exposed HIV to?

“In 2010, women represented one in four people living with HIV,” since then the rate has remained continuous and women are at the forefront of having HIV. Women can be considered an oppressed group in society, and the effects this labeling has are shown. Often, women reach towards prostitution as an easy gateway to gain protection, money, and employment. Bodies are exploited just to attain necessities to fulfill basic needs. Sex workers, in particular, experience exponentially higher HIV transmission rates due to the inconsistent use of condoms and the high number of partners they engage with. Women, usually younger women, are looked at to be more vulnerable and could potentially be less likely to be vocal about condom use by their partners. If sexual education was more prominent during their schooling or overall more accessible, a percentage of women would be more verbal about consenting.

            Throughout middle and high school, sex education was rarely spoken about unless you were in a health class. For myself in particular, I can’t remember a single time, besides health class, that sex education was mentioned. I believe this topic is important and I wish I had been exposed more regularly to something that affected the population. All I remember hearing is, “Abstinence is key,” yet I believe the opposite. Instead of teaching young adults to not engage in any sexual activity, you should be teaching them how to avoid and be aware of STDs/STIs and ways to prevent pregnancy. Being aware of the simple, yet powerful question, “Have you been tested?” could offer countless outcomes. Referring to the article by Watkins-Hayes, she speaks about how low-income, specifically African American communities, are not exposed to sexual education classes as much as a middle-class community would be. I grew up in a middle to lower class area, if that was all I was taught, I can’t begin to imagine the education other communities were offered. All in all, “HIV transmission can be prevented, why do an estimated 50,000 new infections occur annually in the United States?”

Slave or Enslaved?

Dionne Brand once said, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.” To me, this quote is involving both concepts of observation and the act of understanding the things you notice. I feel as if this epigraph is asking me to look beyond my own views and to look as if I am a fly on the wall, looking in on society. The amount of injustice that has been carried throughout history since 1619 is extremely unfortunate, which still continues today. Reading literature such as Medical Apartheid and Fortune’s Bones, along with the view points of my classmates has given me a new perspective on these topics. 

Unlike some other classmates, I chose to be in this class out of interest. The ideas this class focused on was one I had never been exposed to. The ideas being expressed in this class have been foreign to me, combining the topics of literature, medicine, and racism. Although I have been exposed to different forms of literature throughout my schooling, I have never been thoroughly exposed to these different ideas. I feel as though my confusion is based solely on my lack of understanding from the beginning of my education career.. Although I may not be the most informed about many things, my interests have peaked and I am extremely interested in learning more.

I have been fascinated by medicine and the medical profession as a whole since I could speak. My interest in the realms of medicine is another reason I jumped on this course. Since I was young I always dreamed of being able to help others, figuring out their pain, their mental anguish, being able to lend a helping hand. Yet, while reading the first few beginning chapters of Medical Apartheid, I am left at a standstill. This career I have always dreamt of being apart of had once done this to the people they were trying to help? Was this going to hinder my knowledge and abilities to become apart of this profession now that I know about the acts of my colleagues? I have yet to answer these questions.

In Medical Apartheid, Washington explores the 19th century during the times when students in the medical field relied on black bodies to train the physicians.  Students used the bodies to conduct experiments, provide further medical research, and allow themselves to understand the human body and all it has to offer throughout the medical field.  Washington says, “Most physicians of the day also believed that blacks had low intellectual capacities” which opens discussion for the topics of genetics and predisposed disabilities. The use of African Americans for further medical practices has left me astonished. Since slavery began in 1619, when privateer The White Lion brought African Americans from the British colonies into the United States, African Americans have been belittled and degraded. Doctor McCoy has helped me develop new ideas, particularly using with the terms “slave” and “enslaved person”. I was never aware of the difference and the impact it had on the people it surrounded. I am shocked at the lack of knowledge I have about a time period that wasn’t that long ago. I feel as if my school has let me down, and the people they have hurt when teaching these subjects. To refer to someone as a slave, is demeaning, and is characterizing them by a term that they have no control over. The word is defined as, “a human being classed as property and who is forced to work for nothing.” While the word enslaved person is, “a human being who is made to be a slave.” Enslaved person offers humanity back to not only the one being spoken about, but the society surrounding it.