Unit 1 Assignment 3
In Toni Morrison’s “Black Matters,” one of the most attention-grabbing ideas is that the ideals which formed the “American” identity were only so prevalent due to the struggle of black people throughout American history. Before unpacking this, Morrison emphasizes that the image of an “American” is almost always associated with whiteness. She then discusses the pillars of this American identity: freedom and individuality. It seems as though these ideas are pillars because they drew settlers into the New World, away from the binding classism in Europe. However, Morrison posits that the real reason behind the pervasiveness of these ideals was slaves. At the heart of this free, democratic society were slaves who had neither freedom nor individuality. The freedom of the early Americans became so apparent through complete control over other people. This concept of ideals becoming apparent through the presence of those who lack them is interesting because it seems to be applicable to any societal differences throughout history. For instance, men have likely been aware of their own dominance because they viewed women around them having less power in society. The wealthy have likely felt their own importance because they observed the voices of those in lower classes being heard less. Finally, white people have always felt a sense of freedom not just because of the privileges their skin color has granted them, but because they witnessed many of those same privileges being withheld from people of color. In any society, the identities of the privileged are formed partly through the presence of marginalized groups around them.
Authors: Toni Morrison, Arthur Brooks, Amin Maalouf
To what extent is one’s identity a product of his/her own creation?
How achievable or unachievable is a world in which race does not play a role in one’s identity?
To whom does the responsibility of overcoming social biases fall?
Morrison, Toni. “Black Matter(s).” Grand Street 40 (1991): 204-225.
Unit 2 Assignment 2
Heraclitus’ idea that the world is in a constant state of change definitely applies to our perception of the world. As people live and grow, they are constantly taking in things that further build their paradigms, with each new construction piece making the structure slightly different. Modern science confirms this phenomenon, for science is based largely on perception. Scientists search for explanations of the world, and each discovery changed their views of the world around them. As Heraclitus implied, this change is a continuous process, for “monumental” discoveries are actually results of a build-up of contributing observations. Plato, however, might not agree with Heraclitus completely. He would acknowledge that change does happen often, but it is not a perpetual or worldwide state. While the escaped prisoner’s perception of the world changes continuously upon gaining freedom, the prisoners still in the cave continue to view the world with a stagnant frame of thought. Thus, one might say that as long as observational abilities are being used, then the world is in a constant state of change.
What I found particularly mind-bending in Thursday’s panel was Professor Jankovic’s explanation of how between multiple translation manuals, we can never truly know which one is correct. Language is the base of all communication, as well as the way we perceive the world around us – if no single manual of language can be deemed correct, how much meaning do our words and perceptions actually have? Borge emphasizes that the Tlonists have a very different perception of time, but if a human were to look at a concept so foreign, they would never truly understand what this perception entails in terms of meaning.
Borges, Jorge Luis. “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” Ficciones. Translated by Emecé Editores. Grove Press, Inc. 1956.
Plato. “The Allegory of the Cave.” Republic, VII. Translated by Thomas Sheehan.
Unit 3 Assignment 3
Sontag’s exploration of viewing other people’s suffering expands on the failure of the international community in the Rwandan genocide, which Gourevitch highlights. Specifically, Gourevitch explains that it was not just a failure to understand the situation, but a failure to take action. The United Nations, and especially the United States, knew what was happening in Rwanda, but just stood back and watched. Sontag helps expand this concept by highlighting the differences in perception of suffering based on the demographic of the image’s subject. She explains that in war photos, the faces of dead American soldiers rarely face the camera, as though it would be too painful to face their death head-on. The same courtesy does not often apply to faces of war victims from Africa or Asia. Sontag surmises that westerners view violence as a more standard part of life for these victims. The western world is more upset when faced with depictions of Anglo-European suffering. This is what happens in the story Gourevitch tells. Gourevitch includes the testimony of General Dallaire, who pointed out that the western world had poured thousands of troops and billions of dollars into stopping the violence in Yugoslavia, but had turned their backs on Rwanda.
Gourevitch, Philip. We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: stories from Rwanda. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 1998.
Sontag, Susan. Regarding the pain of others. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2003.
Unit 4 Assignment 2
The page’s main image of Aretha Franklin singing at Obama’s presidential inauguration grabbed my attention first. The scene has an aura of triumph – Mrs. Franklin’s expression, the lyrics, the hopeful faces in the background. The design leaves no questions asked about the importance and wonder of the moment, for the background is heavily detailed and the image is not confined within a panel.
The panels depicting the aftermath of the violent white mob at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery, Alabama in 1963 provide a stark contrast to the large, exuberant image that takes up most of the page. The lack of detailed background in the panels suggests that the people or body parts are the intended focus. This focus allows one to see without distractions that the violence in Montgomery was inflicted on human beings by fellow human beings. It serves as a reminder of the banality of evil – when hate infests a community, it turns average people into aggressors without reason.
I found the panel depicting a young boy staring at his hands particularly jarring. A previous page had shown that boy gouging one of the freedom rider’s eyes at the encouragement of his father. On this page, the way he stares at his hands with regret indicates he had trouble coming to terms with the violence he just committed. His expression reminds the reader that children should be too young to know hate. The masculine hand clamped on his shoulder suggests that this hate was put in place by his parents. This panel provides an understanding of how racist hatred was perpetrated generation after generation, for children were indoctrinated into a culture of violent white supremacy before they could even think for themselves.
These panel images are small, but clear and defined. They show the horrific events that were endured on the road to reaching the triumphant moment depicted in the larger image. The lyric “land where my fathers died” represent what the images convey, for it speaks of the past generations that risked and sometimes gave their lives for the cause of freedom and equality. The depiction of the hard road that led to made the large image possible shows the deep connections between the past struggles and the present. It demonstrates that the difficult past cannot be forgotten, and that moments of triumph in the present show that the fight for equality is still alive.
Lewis, John, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell, and Chris Ross. March. Vol. Book Two /. March, Bk. 2. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2015.