Adapting through Voice and Authority

Throughout the past few classes of Dr. McCoy’s African-American Literature class, we have been talking a lot about authority, originality, and voice. This has gotten me to start thinking about Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass’ stories in Call and Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition. Jacobs and Douglass both told their stories about their own lives through slavery, and how they may have changed their story to grab a certain audience’s attention. Douglass and Jacobs use their voice to show their audiences about their own experiences and what happened during that time by telling their stories. Continue reading “Adapting through Voice and Authority”

Labels: Necessary or a Nuisance?

When it comes to the human race, we have a tendency to create hierarchies amongst ourselves to get further ahead in society, so to speak. The etymology of the word label comes from Old French meaning “narrow band or strip of cloth,” or “lapp” in Germanic.” In our class discussion last week Monday, we talked about the difference between an author and a writer, then we went over Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (1781) which made we question, “what is the significance of labels, other than differentiating one thing from another?” I am well aware that I might not receive a concrete answer to this question, but at least I can put it out there for others to contemplate as well.

Side note: I will be discussing race and ethnicity with examples from Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (1781). Even though I won’t be going that much into detail, I would like to forewarn what can be expected in this blog.

Continue reading “Labels: Necessary or a Nuisance?”

My Pivot Is So Strong

As my previous blog post discusses noticing, a concept that I observed in “African-American Women’s Quilting” by Elsa Barkley Brown was the statement: pivot the center. Pivoting the center entails understanding one’s self first and in that sense, the ability to identify and classify self-awareness. By first being able to identify one’s own strength, weaknesses, and prior background experiences, would then only one be comfortable and confident enough in their identity. When there is an element of uncertainty in terms of one’s identity, a lack of confidence and direction can be felt. A great deal of self-awareness may occur in this process as at times, an identity may have to deal with the balancing of two different systems: one at home and one at school, for example.

Continue reading “My Pivot Is So Strong”

Recursion in Hollywood

The past few classes have sparked me to think about the concept of originality, particularly when it comes to Hollywood with films and television. Ask yourself- how many films or TV shows have you seen that are original ideas and were made in recent years? The answer probably isn’t many. Many of the things produced today are based off of other people’s stories. This can include other writers’ books, following similar plot lines of previous works, other people’s life experiences or are simply sequels or remakes to a successful film of the past. In the simplest terms there aren’t many original pieces of entertainment being produced today. Hollywood is trying to imitate what has worked in the past. Continue reading “Recursion in Hollywood”

The Question of “Why” in a Cycle of Growth and Shrinkage

One of the most important questions I ask when attempting to understand tradition in any realm of life, social, religious, or cultural, is the “why?” I have never been one to take things for what they are, I am inquisitive, however tradition seems to be one of those things that I have trouble getting to the bottom of. As a historian I seek the roots of all things because I believe that it leads to a more modern understanding of present-day issues.

Continue reading “The Question of “Why” in a Cycle of Growth and Shrinkage”

Importance of African American literature


According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, African American literature is defined as a “body of literature written by Americans of African descent.”

Before, taking any classes in college I did not know that literature could be driven by any culture. Literature is a form of communication and a way of conveying knowledge and it is what has controlled humanity’s mindset for decades and still does. When children begin their schooling they are taught the alphabet, phonetics, words, and they learn how to read sentences and eventually they’re timed by how fast they can read and interpret their reading. Eventually it becomes a habit of simply taking in what is on the page and configuring puzzled and metaphoric quotes and vocabulary words.

African American literature is also taught to children but in a a different way. Once the minds of children have been stimulated enough so that they can comprehend complex stories and important factors such as geographic locations, cultures, the existence of various languages and the importance of all of those components, teachers have the opportunity to teach history. The most important historical concepts that are taught in educational institutions in the United States are from the origins of North America and how we got to where we are today. The importance of teaching children those concepts are so that they can understand that everything that has been done to level up to where we are now, should not be taken for granted. 

African American literature is a form of reading a history textbook. When you open a book written by an Afro-writer, especially written before the 1980s like the “Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison or “Not with Laughter” by Langston Hughes, you are not reading your average book, you are reading a piece of perspective. When I read the “Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, my eyes glistened and I was shocked by how much I learned about the culture and the amount of respect African Americans had received before the 1960s. I was able to find that African American individuals were still treated unfairly after Jim Crow laws were passed and the way that I learned that was through vivid details that seem like exaggerations but were 100% true. Although the story was not exactly true, it exemplified the actual mannerisms and events that would happen during those times.

Literature is written to provoke others to learn more and to respect what they are reading. African American literature should be respected by not only Americans but by other people who come from countries that have also been affected by the historical events that provoked Africans to write their stories and share them.

The article, “Who reads an American book”, Smith questions, “In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book?” Although these questions are asked to prove a point. I find that Afro-literature in general is so important to read that everyone should be educated about not only African American literature but, Afro-latino literature, and direct African literature. Most of the time in schools we are taught to focus on the American perspective but if you are able to read what happened during the early 1800s for example in Virginia, Colombia and Senegal you can then gain access to the a broad perspective of what was happening globally rather than just knowing one perspective.

Literature allows everyone to express their thoughts and share information. At times, literature can also be a shout of help for others. For Afro- writers, literature can be both.



Straddling between Two Worlds

Word-work is sublime, she thinks, because it is generative; it makes meaning that secures our difference, our human difference – the way in which we are like no other life.

Before reading Bernice Johnson Reagon’s article “Nobody Knows the Trouble I See”, I never thought about the constant switching between two worlds. There is an idea that we straddle between our own family beliefs while trying to master the more dominant society as a way of survival and being “who we are in both places or all places we move” (Reagon). Continue reading “Straddling between Two Worlds”

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?”

Resonance and Recursion

We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.– Toni Morrison, 1993 Nobel Lecture (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

I read this epigraph to mean that people and groups of people aren’t necessarily forgotten when they die.  The language and the culture that we engage with and contribute to when we’re alive effectively measures our lives and makes us memorable.

Bernice Johnson Reagon spoke, studied and sang about the way in which music can help people to reclaim space.  She spoke of music as a way to bond and ground a culture.  Music and the language within music effectively grounds a culture and reclaims space taken from African Americans in pre civil war times.  In and through black music, black people have been able to live through and past their deaths, reclaiming their spaces, as others have continued to sing and spread their songs.

There is a certain resonance communicated in this epigraph that is similarly found in the African American community.  Reagon herself wrote her own music in response to historical events as a way to pay homage to those who came before her.  There is a clear recursive element to this epigraph as well as to African American culture and music.  The recursion is found in the music in the way in which events seem to be recalled through music.  Reagon references history effectively bringing people and events back to the forefront of culture.  This style of song writing and historical representation is indicative of the Call and Response theme present in African American culture.