A Master and The Apprentice

In my Western Humanities course (HUMN221) at Geneseo, I was given the task to read a speech given by Frederick Douglass which he gave at Rochester, New York by the title of “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” In the entirety of his speech, Douglass questions what freedom African Americans have received in the United States after its independence from Great Britain. Douglass says that the “blessings in which [white people]… rejoice, are not enjoyed in common” with African Americans. He is in shock that they must “prove that [they] are men!” Having to prove and question the blessings that others receive and what they don’t, reminds me of Ella Jenkins version of “Wade in the Water”. In this song, the fugitives question God’s ability to save them when they sing “Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel well/ Then why not every man?” While this point does pique my interest,  I am also particularly interested in exploring the modern version of the song, “Hey Little Walter” by Tony! Toni! Toné! In which the main character, Little Walter, seems to be receiving blessings but is actually not. This brings me to highlight the transformation these songs go through to adapt to current problems the African-American community is experiencing.

The purpose of the hook in a song is to catch the ears attention by having a set of lyrics being repeated throughout. In “Wade in the Water” the title of the song is the actual hook. This hook is a reminder to those in the journey that as long as the stay by the water they will not be caught by dogs. In the modern version of this song by Tony! Toni! Toné! the hook is “Hey Little Walter” which is also the title of the song. The hook’s purpose it to catch Little Walter’s attention since he keeps avoiding the speaker of the song, his roommate. While there are exact lyrical differences between throughout both songs, their titles are the hooks for the song. In addition, both hooks are a voice of guidance towards their audience which for “Wade in the Water” are fugitives and for “Hey Little Walter” is for all the Little Walter’s out there who are following his footsteps.

One other aspect of these two songs I will discuss is the main character’s journey within the song. In the Jenkins version, the fugitives would wade and “wash the sins (slavery) all the way.”  The trip was dangerous as they ‘washed till [their] hands were sore” telling us how long and tiring this trip was. While some were able to complete their journey by escaping, some “could wash a-no more” and would not make the whole trip. While the journey the slaves go through fits the literal definition of a journey, in “Hey Little Walter” is completely different. The journey between both the speaker and Little Walter’s relationship. The speaker’s journey is him trying to work things out with Little Walter until he starts noticing his ability to waste money on other things besides what he is responsible for. Towards the end of their journey, the speaker  “thought [having to straight Little Walter] would be short, but it lasted half the night” followed by Little Walter being shot in the head.

Although I was aware of song covers and parodies, I am amazed at how the songs are somewhat reconstructed where we can still recognize its origin. I now wonder if this is present within other cultures too.

Is Sustainable Attainable?

Group members: Yadelin Fernandez, Jen Galvao, Michee Jacobs, Maria Papas, Jessica Riley, Courtney Statt, Toby Youngman

The International Institute for Sustainable Development defines sustainable development as, “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” When considering sustainability, there are many markers that determine whether or not an action or means of production is sustainable. The three pillars of sustainability include economic visibility, social equity, and economic viability. According to this definition, something cannot be sustainable unless it meets all three factors. However, this is the question we kept coming back to: is it possible to meet all three of these pillars? It is hard to visualize a solution because we are bound by systems already in place which we may not even know we participate in.

The heating plant is a strong example of a  complex system that many people on campus are unaware of but are simultaneously benefitting from. Prior to our visit, none of us had ever been inside of the heating plant, with the smokestack being our only indication that something was there. We weren’t even cognizant of the level of organization that heating a campus takes. As students, we often take for granted that we will be given the heat we need to be comfortable in our daily lives. As a group, this visit led us to consider the layers of production and the ways we passively participate in systems of consumption. Without having considered exactly where our heat was coming from, we also overlooked who was responsible for heating the campus. The quality of our heat is dependent upon the labor of the workers in the heating plant, yet because we operate in different spheres on the same campus, we are unaware of the work that goes into such a process. This is comparable to the interaction between the protagonist and Mr. Brockway in chapter ten of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Before speaking with Mr. Brockway, the protagonist was unaware of the systematic layers that existed in the paint factory. Initially, he assumes the paint is made upstairs, to which Mr. Brockway responds, “Naw, they just mixes in the color, make it look pretty. Right down here is where the real paint is made.” In this instance, the protagonist was only aware of the process that he was shown when he first arrives at the paint factory and has no understanding of things taking place beneath the surface. Continue reading “Is Sustainable Attainable?”

Is Identity Black or White?

Over the past few weeks, most of the literature assigned in this course has been particularly diverse from what I have usually been given to in other courses that focus on African/African American and Caribbean culture. Dionne Brand says “we define ourselves by what we say we are not” and this takes me to one particular theme that is often discussed in these courses, identity. Continue reading “Is Identity Black or White?”