The controversy of Ulrike Meinhof’s life and the violence of her experiences seems removed in Gerhard Richter’s dreamlike portraits of her – her image is fuzzy, almost peaceful even in her suicide. Between reality and representation, the duality and gray area of Meinhof and the RAF can be seen – activists or terrorists, visionaries or anarchists. In these paintings, the enigmatic nature of Meinhof’s true character is evoked by her blurry appearance and the lack of a clear or focused perspective in the paintings. The series seems to force the viewer to contemplate the movement within the moment depicted as opposed to stagnant snapshots, considering the full nuance of the situation instead of a simple staged perspective.
Through the pictorial depiction of Representative John C. Lewis’s speech at the March on Washington found on page 171, the authors are able to convey the passion with which Lewis addressed the audience and the transcendental ideas expressed in his words. The page consists of three panels, which move in stages to focus on different aspects of the speech and the environment surrounding Lewis. The first panel shows the Lincoln Memorial, with crowds of marchers surrounding the reflecting pool and Lewis as a minuscule figure at the center. In my personal interpretation of this text, this choice evokes an emotional reaction to the feeling of community within the crowd at the March on Washington, allowing me to imagine the weight of speaking at such an immensely historic moment. The speech bubbles on this page are smaller, holding text from Lewis’s speech that is sporadically bolded to emphasize the locations listed and demonstrate the universality of the Civil Rights movement. After reading the prior sections of the book, it was clear to me that Lewis lists some of the cities with the most violent actions towards Civil Rights marchers, including Jackson and Birmingham. For me, this further cemented the determination of Lewis – a man who had repeatedly experienced traumatic attacks while protesting in those locations – to continue until the goals of the movement were achieved. In the second bubble, a contrast is given to the violence inflicted upon those who marched at the cities listed in the first bubble – the sentence begins with “but,” and the bolded words are “love,” “dignity,” and “today,” creating a perception of the ideal movement that Lewis wishes to create.
In the second panel, a closer image of Lewis during his speech is shown with three speech bubbles. He stands at the right of the panel, allowing the eye to follow the speech through the connected bubbles, but creating an eye-catching image of his emotion while speaking. Arm outstretched and mouth wide in a shout, Lewis seems to evoke his own strength in his cause and the power of the Civil Rights Movement. Within the speech bubbles, the text gradually becomes bolder and larger, placing emphasis on a striking rhetorical choice within the speech and emphasize the rising tone of Lewis’s speech. Large bold text emphasizes “splinter the segregated South,” and even larger text at the end of the first bubble draws the eye to “the image of God and democracy.” These terms encapsulate the aims of the Civil Rights Movement, as well as their philosophy for how the changes should occur. In my reading of the text, the choice to use the “image of God” was particularly striking, as I am familiar with that concept in a religious context. The connection between the non-violence of the Civil Rights Movement and the social change advocated by Jesus in the Christian tradition is an interesting idea to explore, causing me to contemplate whether or not America was ever truly made in the “image of God.” The second bubble contains fewer words, and connects with the image of a shouting Lewis, with its largest text containing a call to action and emphasis on “WAKE UP!!” in the connected third bubble. This visual choice catches the eye and forces the viewer to understand the implications of Lewis’s message, as well as the personal call to action he presents.
The final panel on the page depicts two different images of Lewis, moving chronologically from top to bottom. The first image is a close-up of Lewis’s face – now emphasizing his furrowed brow and strong eyes to express his anger and despair at the violence, murder, and terror inflicted upon people within the Civil Rights Movement and others. His mouth is open as if speaking, and the speech bubbles are connected to him, shown on the right side of the panel unlike those in the upper panels – demonstrating a shift in tone and ideas. Within the two bubbles, two phrases are separated and evoke a pause in the speech. Only two words are bolded in the second bubble – “not” and “CANNOT,” which depicts the emphasis Lewis gives to the total refusal of the Civil Rights Movement to remain inactive while unjust harm comes to innocent people. For me, this panel is incredibly impactful, as it catches the eye and forces the reader to understand Lewis’s rage and to consider the pain – physical, emotional, and psychological – that he has endured to this point. The lower section of the panel has no words, and simply shows an image of Lewis, presumably following his speech, at the podium from behind. This provides a more humanizing view of Lewis as a human being rather than a leader speaking to a crowd, and also connects to the interspersed images of President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address throughout the graphic novel. For me, this image is possibly the most striking on the page, as it shows that the Civil Rights Movement contained not only idealized heroes, but human beings who suffered for their rights and the rights of others.
On Thursday, November 14, I attended a speech by Raymond Santana, a member of the Exonerated Five who was jailed at age 14 for six years after the Central Park Jogger Case. I was struck by the brokenness to be found in our systems and the role that now–president Trump played, a fact that I did not know prior to Santana’s speech. Trump spent tens of thousands on full page ads calling for the death penalty for five boys between ages 14 and 16, and has refused to apologize even when asked in June 2016 – long after DNA evidence and a confession from the perpetrator of the crime proved they had no involvement, and the Exonerated Five had received a settlement for their wrongful imprisonment from New York City and State. Santana’s depiction of media impacts on the Central Park Jogger Case provided another shocking connection to today’s events. The terminology used by the media in order to sensationalize the case, terms such as “wilding” and “wolf pack,” as well as the frequent characterization of the boys on trial as “animals” is demonstrative of racist animalistic characterizations of people of color that have existed since the Ku Klux Klan promotional film “The Birth of a Nation” in order to create fear and prejudice against people of color. Santana expressed the psychological impact of such terms upon young men who had a variety of life experiences – who went to school, loved their parents, played sports and would never have committed the action of which they were accused. Santana also explained the connections between the utilization of this language to implicitly characterize crime as committed by people of color that influenced the mindset leading to the 1994 Crime Bill. This bill sparked the institution of arrest and sentencing practices that created the disproportionate imprisonment of people of color when compared to white people, as well as the prison industrial complex.
It was incredibly moving to hear Santana’s impressions of his experience, as well as to see him and personally hear his words – for me, in conjunction with Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us, this allowed me to fully comprehend the horrors that these boys had endured. Despite my greater understanding, I felt disgusted at myself and American culture for my initially dismissive attitude towards the humanity of these boys – I was unwilling to consider them as human beings that had experiences like me, and I hadn’t really heard of their case prior to the popularity of DuVernay’s docu-drama series. In a psychological lens, Santana’s expression of the emotional impact of formative years spent behind prison bars was striking in its tragedy. Santana described the impacts of the 11 year civil suit that finally gave the men compensation for their wrongful imprisonment as “Even though we have won, we still lose because at the end of the day that gap is gone. How do we keep moving, keep living? They controlled the narrative of our story.” It was amazing to me what light Santana brought to us despite everything that he had endured. He was nothing but positive and supportive of our role as the next generation of voters, activists, and leaders. His words were incredibly inspirational, and moved me to feel as if I could truly help to create change. “We found out we had a voice. We gotta use this platform to save our children. All of ’em…You have ideas. Use them. Live life to the fullest and go to the grave empty…March the truth. Don’t cut the corners. Occupy those spaces. Shoot for the top.” He ended his speech telling us to fight for change, and that “I’ll see you on the battlefield.”
Santana spoke to a packed student/community audience – there weren’t enough chairs for all of us, standing room only, which was particularly striking to me. Within Davidson College, a space where white male voices have been the only valued contribution for so long, a true change is building. A generation is forming that can create real change, informed by the mistakes and injustices of the past. I feel so lucky to be living, growing, and learning in a place where that could happen.
On Sunday, November 18, I attended the play “Back the Night” written by Melinda Lopez. The play depicts the painful story of two young college students and their broader community as they cope with surviving assault in their own unique roles. The two characters, Em and Cassie, experience assault in different ways and eventually find their own methods of empowerment. Cassie is described as a queer social justice activist, who sustains an injury from an unknown assailant and posts about the instance on her blog, where it quickly becomes a social media sensation. Cassie’s attack sparks a social movement towards the end of fraternities on the college campus as well as greater respect for women. Em is quieter and feels conflicted over her relationship with fraternity member Brandon, who initially seems to be more kind and thoughtful than the “frat boy” stereotype. At the beginning of the play, Em does not recognize her assault as being committed against her will, in order to lessen her trauma. As the play progresses, however, Em begins to cope with the mixture of emotions surrounding her experience – including self-hatred, traumatic memories, and sadness at the situation.
For me, this play was eye-opening in multiple ways. I had never fully realized the role of the toxic societal norm of teaching our daughters to avoid being sexually assaulted rather than teaching our sons not to commit sexual assault in my own life. I didn’t realize how pervasive this ideology had become in my own life – I rarely walk alone at night, and make the instinctive choice to call someone or text when I am leaving a particular location. I scan parking lots before walking out to my car, and I have experienced the fear and discomfort that comes from unwanted male attention. I remember walking to lunch during a Model United Nations conference with some girlfriends at age fourteen and being casually and vulgarly catcalled while crossing the street. When I got my driver’s license at sixteen, my mother and I had a conversation about how men enjoy yelling at a young girl in a convertible and what to do if someone started to follow me. I never truly saw these actions as what they are – the actions of a human being who feels more like prey in her own community – until the play pointed out the correlation between women being “safe” and women being “scared.” I was struck by the terrifying universality of my experiences and the way I had been taught to ignore these acts for self-preservation. Would I have received the same explicit warnings against committing any of these acts if I had been born male? Nearly every woman has had an experience in which she feels the same fear, and this fact fills me with a complex mixture of emotions. Much like Cassie, I feel anger and want to help to create a world in which this experience is less common. Despite this, I also connect with Em’s distrust of the effort to help the abstract “Women” without any concrete goals, and like Em, I believe in the importance of helping one person in order to create a broader change. I believe that (at least in my interpretation) the two female leads in the play express the duality of female experience and desire for change. Another eye-opening aspect of the play was the fluid nature of truth expressed within the narrative. There is ambiguity as to whether or not Cassie was truly attacked by another student, and Em struggles with this ambiguity while coping with the remaining trauma from her own assault. The ambiguity of the situation, and the idea that positive change could result from a movement possibly based in a false premise was striking to me – how exactly could this be rationalized as a positive, not self-serving action? This ambiguity expresses the nature of sexual assault allegations and their role in our society – the audience moves from believing that Cassie is telling the truth, to suspicion of her statements, back to believing that something happened to her. This caused me to investigate my preconceptions surrounding the Me Too movement and other similar movements that have developed recently – at what point does the “Believe women” idea become carte blanche? How can justice be served to survivors of assault in a respectful manner? These are questions that I continue to study, but would not have considered without the play.
I also stayed after the play for the actor’s panel in concert with the Davidson Rape Awareness Committee, which provided further insight into the roles of the actors and their connections to the play and the characters. One interesting point expressed in that conversation was the idea of the “monolithic Theta” in the play, with a single fraternity representing the failings with the entire system and all of the assaults that had occurred on the fictional campus. This conglomerate was critiqued as being insufficient to portray the nuances of experiences with fraternities, and caused me to think on my own views towards the fraternity system. For me, I do agree that the social norms and traditions surrounding the fraternity system can be highly toxic – hazing of new members and a complicity with sexual assault in order to protect one’s “brothers” seems unjust. However, I do agree that individual members and even organizations at a particular university could be completely different from the broader perceptions.
On Monday, November 11, I attended the showing of Nicolas Renaud’s film Brave New River. This experience provided a unique perspective for me as it emphasized the stories of indigenous peoples in a manner that is not often shown. Renaud began by describing the nature of colonization in Canada and his ideas of the true definitions for reconciliation and decolonization. Renaud described true decolonization of Canada as a deconstruction of the mindset that allowed colonization to occur, rather than the allowing of indigenous peoples to live in groups on reservations. As well, Renaud explained his idea that true reconciliation between Native North Americans and the Canadian government cannot occur until truthful documentation of the horrors inflicted upon indigenous groups is shared openly and a formal apology is issued. Next, Renaud explored efforts to achieve this reconciliation through partnerships between the government and indigenous artists – specifically the choice to allow artists to search through government archives for footage of Native North Americans to create a new narrative collage based upon information hidden or idealized by the government of the time. To demonstrate this, Renaud showed the short film “Nimmiklaage” created in 2015 by Michelle Latimer. The striking visuals of indigenous women and music as well as images of nature had a strong impression on my own understanding of the experience of women in indigenous cultures. Could these women be exoticized on multiple levels – both as indigenous and as women? In Latimer’s images, I also saw an interesting connection between the meaning of the title “she dances for her people” and the association of the female body with the rhythm and cycles of nature. Renaud expressed similar connections in his analysis following the film, describing the idea of nature as a spectacle or dance much like the cultural acts of indigenous groups.
Renaud then showed examples of his own work, including a short clip that he also showed in our Humanities plenary session entitled “Le Vivier.” In this clip, which Renaud described as a “performance haiku,” Renaud’s mouth is shown in a circular lens as he holds water and a fish inside his mouth. He described this choice as demonstrative of the “human connection to the world.” I was also struck by the connections between this visual image and experiences of indigenous peoples. By connecting the universal human experience of the physical body to nature, Renaud forces the audience to consider the relationship between indigenous people and nature in a new way. As well, the effort to hold the fish without swallowing is a metaphoric representation of the delicate balance of humans and nature. This theme of the interconnections between humans and nature continued with the showing of Renaud’s 2013 documentary film Brave New River. A quote from the film’s beginning expresses one of its central themes that “You cannot transform nature without transforming culture.” Through the film, Renaud addresses the issue of a hydroelectric dam that was built on a river within the lands belonging to an indigenous tribe. My understanding of the importance of nature to Canadian indigenous people was increased through the film, with the beautiful images of nature as well as the connections between the people interviewed in the documentary and the nature in which they live. The erasure that these people felt after the change to their homeland was particularly striking, as well as the lack of respect for their connection to the land. Despite the struggles of indigenous people portrayed in the film, Renaud also successfully depicts the efforts of the hydroelectric company to respect the rights of the Cree. Hydroelectricity is a green energy source that protects the environment from damages created by other energy creation methods. The hydroelectric company is shown in a neutral light by Renaud – including depictions of their efforts to preserve the natural course of the river, simulation of spring flooding for continuity, the creation of a company-funded trail for the Cree to reach their traplines, and artificial breeding of sturgeon to remediate fish loss due to the drop in water levels.
Overall, my experience listening to Renaud and watching his films helped to enlighten me to the struggles faced by indigenous peoples and their culture. Despite the cultural assumption that an end to active repression of indigenous peoples is sufficient, my view was changed by Renaud’s words and depictions of indigenous life. I intend to make an effort to be more considerate of indigenous lifestyles, roles, and concerns in future, and I feel that I am more able to comprehend their lives with the knowledge given within Renaud’s documentary and other film work. The film showing began with recognition that Davidson sits on the stolen land of the Catawba indigenous tribe – a fact that I had never heard before Renaud’s visit. Who does the land on which my neighborhood was built rightfully belong to? What happened to them? It was striking and shameful to me that I had never asked these questions before Renaud’s presentation forced me to consider them, however, I am glad that I experienced this event and am able to use this knowledge in future.
Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells were Black political activists in the late 19thand early 20thcenturies. Although there is a temptation in historical analysis to equate their respective actions and views due to their similar roles as Black women, Terrell and Wells had distinct ideals and tactics based upon their backgrounds and viewpoints. Terrell was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to the first Black millionaire in the South. Her parents, both formerly enslaved, built and owned successful small businesses, providing Terrell and her siblings with advantages unavailable to most African Americans during the era. Terrell attended Oberlin College, following the “Gentleman’s Path” of four years of courses rather than the abbreviated course load designated for women. She obtained a master’s degree from Oberlin and became a professor of language at Wilberforce University. She married a lawyer who became the first Black municipal court judge and continued her role in activism following her marriage, encouraged by fellow activist Frederick Douglass. Terrell had connections with the African Methodist Episcopal Church and worked with religious organizations on educational reform and charitable institutions created by African American people for those in need. The African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) was developed in response to discrimination from the Methodist Church, which required Black members to sit in a separate gallery and did not allow Black priests to minister to white congregations. Using the Methodist tenets of respect for others, Terrell advocated for the rights of African American people and women, as well as an end to racially-motivated violence and discrimination. Terrell was a charter member of the NAACP and an active member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, working closely with Susan B. Anthony. Terrell also became the first Black member of the American Association of University Women. Her activism was tied with her ability to “pass” for white due to her mixed ancestry, and she utilized this characteristic to connect and transcend Black and white feminist groups.
Ida B. Wells was an activist, journalist, and researcher who was born into slavery in Mississippi. Her parents became politically active during the Reconstruction Era, and she was able to attend Rust College for a period of time prior to her expulsion due to rebellious behavior and a confrontation with the college president. While visiting her grandmother, Wells received the news that a yellow fever epidemic had killed her parents and infant brother. Although family and friends felt that Wells’s remaining siblings should be divided between a variety of foster homes, then-sixteen year old Wells insisted that the children remain together as a family. Wells took a job as a teacher to support her siblings, moving to Memphis, TN in order to receive higher pay. Wells continued to teach in Memphis until she was fired by the Memphis School Board for an article written on insufficiencies of Black schools in the region. Memphis impacted her activism after a friend was lynched in 1892 and her expose on the horrors of racially-motivated terrorism prompted death threats that forced her to leave Memphis for Chicago. Wells worked with a variety of organizations as an activist, but was frequently considered a “perennial outsider” due to her refusal to compromise her beliefs. Wells was often ridiculed and ostracized by women’s suffrage organizations, specifically due to her dispute with Frances Willard of the majority-white Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Wells decried Willard’s rhetoric surrounding Black people and her description of Black communities as “the colored race multiplies like the locusts of Egypt..the grog shop is the center of its power.” Despite controversy with Christian organizations, Wells often connected her arguments with Christian parables against violence and the importance of respect for others.
In my reading of the two texts we are addressing in this unit of our Humes course, I initially found only one similarity between the views presented by Gourevitch and Sontag – both depictions of human suffering and our reactions to it were strikingly painful to read. As I read further into these texts, my understanding of the views presented by the authors grew, and I began to contemplate the initial reaction I had to texts that cover very different materials but explore common themes. Why was it difficult for me to read these texts without feeling sadness afterward? In my meditation on this question, I discovered that this question evokes the subjects being explored by Gourevitch and Sontag – human reactions to suffering felt by others with whom they can identify, as well as the pervasive dehumanization found in situations of genocide and warfare. While Gourevitch discusses a specific instance of this dehumanization and suffering, with the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, Sontag explores this psychological contrast within the context of a variety of instances throughout history. Despite these differences in scope, the two texts are similar in their subject, as well as the choices they make in approaching the struggles of the human condition – the incredible capacity for empathy as well as the violent effects of dehumanization to “others.”
Through my experience in the “Create Your Own Passport” Workshop with visiting artist Tintin Wulia, I gained a greater understanding of what it means to be a citizen, as well as the random nature of one’s citizenship or role as a stateless individual. When I entered the workshop, we were instructed to take a rolled slip of paper that listed our assignment – member of a nation or stateless. Many world nations were included, yielding a diverse experience for the students involved – whether they were a member of a historically powerful nation or one that is considered to be “developing.” When one nation was assigned to each student, there was greater awareness of the number of and issues within each of these “developing” nations. Although a large part of the global narrative is created by those in powerful, wealthy nations, it is important to be aware that we – as privileged people to live in nations without widespread famine, civil warfare, or crumbling infrastructure – exist in a minority. When students who held “passports” from nations with serious issues were able to share and discuss with other students, the extensive issues facing the global community became clear – our society will not be truly equal until all people have the same opportunity. Could you be happy with your possibilities if the passport you selected randomly was the nation in which you had to live – no matter what nation was selected? Until we can confidently say that each human being possesses opportunity to match their capacity for success, citizenship continues to be the division between those who are free and those who are trapped.
Option 2: What’s the most effective way to reduce the amount of bullshit in contemporary discourse? Be sure to use Frankfurt’s specific notion of bullshit—so in that sense, the question is really asking: What’s the best way to get people to care about truth when they speak or write?
In order to reduce bullshit in contemporary discourse, it is essential to facilitate a socio-political environment in which it is more widely acceptable to admit one’s own mistakes. When people bullshit, they value the perception of themselves more than the truth – actively choosing to ignore or adapt the truth in order to fit a personally beneficial narrative. With admission of mistakes or gaps in one’s own knowledge, however, the urge to bullshit is actively rejected in favor of truth. I saw an example of this during a Democratic Primary Debate, when candidate Pete Buttigieg responded to a question about the racially related tensions in South Bend, Indiana – an officer-involved shooting while he was serving as mayor generated serious controversy, especially in his handling of the police responses to the shooting. Buttigieg responded to the question about why the South Bend police force remained disproportionately white under his mayorship without bullshit – no diatribes about complexity of police hiring or racial relations in Indiana to excuse his actions, but simply and bluntly stated “I just couldn’t get it done. It’s a mess, and we’re hurting.” This admission is remarkable in the political sphere for its lack of bullshit – there is not benefit for Buttigieg in admitting his inability to solve the racial crisis in South Bend. Although admission of mistake isn’t the only way to reduce bullshit in our society, societal norms stressing perfection and competition contribute to the prevalence of bullshit. If these norms were reduced in order to allow for a focus on the truth rather than personal gain, our society could reduce the prevalence of bullshit.
Option 3: In my lecture on Thursday, I’ll spend part of the time recapping Unit 2. In your post, ask a question about any part of Unit 2. Time permitting, I’ll address some of these in lecture. Aim for about a paragraph: in addition to asking the question, explain why you’re asking it—that is, why did you find this puzzling? You might also speculate briefly on what the answer might be.
In what ways does personal perspective influence communication? Throughout Unit 2, a central question for me has been the role of our preconceptions in our communication with others – whether through translation, scientific communication, or the idea of bullshit. I am interested in this question because I have often wondered whether or not it is possible to create a fully unbiased perspective on any issue. As well, many of humanity’s issues have been either partially caused or impacted by gaps in communication – between nations, religious differences, political movements, and personal conflicts. Therefore, I feel that the idea of communication and personal viewpoints is an interesting and crucial topic for exploration. With the examination of this question, we are better able to comprehend our own personal biases in communication and identify these biases in others – allowing for a world that becomes truly, comprehensively understanding of all.