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APERCU: Literature & Cultural Diversity
discourses on difference
“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.” This quote was once proclaimed by the late Stephen Hawking who was diagnosed with ALS at an early age. Even though Hawking had a degenerative disease that caused physical impairments, he was still able to make a significant impact on the world and our knowledge of theoretical physics. Within “Chickamauga: A Short Story”, Ambrose Bierce comments on the life of a person with disabilities in a war infused society. In addition, Ambrose Bierce utilizes this story to expose and refute society’s negative view of people with disabilities.
Throughout the story, the author hints that the main character has a disability; however, not till the end are the readers formally informed that the child is a deaf mute. As seen in the first few sentences of the short story, a child is introduced into the story who has escaped his home and is wandering through the forest. The author’s syntax suggests that the boy’s adventure is one of the first times that he has ventured outside of the confines of his abode. Immediately, the imagination of the child takes over as he lives out the alternative reality that inhabits in his mind. At this point in the story, Ambrose Bierce reveals the need of positivity and imagination for people with disabilities to live a full and happy life due to the everyday hardships they may face.
As the story progresses, the boy’s character is constructed in a way that focuses on his childhood and not his disabilities. The invisibility of the boy’s disabilities demonstrates that people are not defined by their disabilities and can offer a significant impact on society. By revealing the disability at the end of the story, the readers blame the boy’s ignorant acts on his age such as when he tried to ride one of the injured soldiers like a horse. If the author would have disclosed the child’s disability in the beginning of the story, the readers would have made assumption that his disability caused his lack of responsibility and social differences. Ambrose Bierce intentionally does not reveal the disability of the child in order to expose societies innate negative view of people with disabilities.
Throughout history, people with disabilities have been seen as societal burdens; however, Bierce uses this story to demonstrate the importance of people with disabilities. By basing the story around a boy who is both mute and deaf, Bierce subtly illustrates that people with disabilities can be the foundation of people’s lives. In this story, when the child was lost, his mother is heartbroken not relieved that her son is gone. Whenever the boy leaves the home, he returns to find his mother dead and his house burned to the ground. This is symbolic to how the child was the foundation of his family and not merely the burden which society may claim. People with disabilities are humans who show an incredible amount of strength during difficult times. As a society, it is necessary to fight the urge to label people as “normal” or “different” because people with “differences” can be the foundation of many social structures.
Why is it so easy to explain the flaws of others while being blind to your own shameful actions? Growing up, history books adequately explain racist Nazi Germany or the gruesome colonization of the Congo by Belgium; however, the mistreatment of American Indians by the American government and society is rarely discussed. Throughout American history, the American Indians who originally occupied the land we call our own, have been disgustingly marginalized through the implementation of programs that eliminate American Indian culture or that force tribes out of their land. In 2013, PBS released a short documentary film called “Worlds Apart” which walks through the life of Rose Vasquez and the hardships she faces as she bridges the gap between her life on the reservation and her life at college. Within Sherman Alexie’s collection of short stories called The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven, Alexie exposes many of the everyday struggles of the American Indian people especially in the chapters “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore” and “Indian education.”
Throughout the chapter “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore,” Adrian and Victor sit on a porch watching the lives of others flash bye in a continual cycle of depression and alcoholism. On this reservation, the people place their hope in a boy named Julius who was a basketball superstar; however, due to the influences of alcohol and the lack of motivation, he drifts into history. Similarly, Rose Vasquez in “Worlds Apart,” discusses the temptations to merely fall into the cycle of her ancestors whom have no major life accomplishments. In order to counter the cycle of past generations, Rose “wanted to move off of reservation for opportunities that [she] didn’t see others going for” by pursuing a college degree. Even today, it is difficult for people on American Indian reservations to break the cycle of poverty and alcoholism due to a deep desire to preserve their culture which is a reason that many have no aspiration to leave the reservation in search of other opportunities.
Within “Indian Education” in Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven, Victor gives insight into his education which consists of being educated off of the reservation in a white majority school. Being educated out of the reservations causes many different struggles between the identify and acceptance of Victor which is similar to the struggles of Rose Vasquez. Even though Victor becomes valedictorian of his class, “back home on the reservation, [his] former classmates graduate: a few can’t read, one or two are just given attendance diplomas, most look forward to the parties (179).” This quote demonstrates how the surrounding culture impacts motivation of the children; however, Rose claims “growing up without culture is the same as growing up without identity, we need it.” The only reason that the people on the reservations are able to survive surrounded by the current American culture that encourages material success and fame, is their dependence on each other and their unique culture. Even though many people on reservations may fall into the cycle of alcoholism and poverty, everyone relies on each other for survival. Because Rose is engulfed by two contrasting cultures, one of the American dream, and one of Indian cultural preservation, “every day is a struggle to bridge the gap of two worlds.” For many American Indians that venture beyond the confines of the reservations, it becomes very difficult for them to balance their innate identity with the identity that the American society forces down their throat.
Us Americans have wronged the American Indian culture by not admitting to the hardships we have caused in the past and present; however, in order to create a society of inclusiveness of all differences, it is necessary for us to recognize our faults and strive to promote and support cultural diversity.
“I’m Not Racist.” Does this claim rid you of the of the title of being a racist? Can this claim remove the guilt you have after saying a racist comment? In America, many are hiding behind the term “I’m not racist” in order to preserve their reputation.
Rapper Joyner Lucas clearly expresses this white reputation preservation in his song titled “I’m Not Racist.” This song’s music video is a conversation between a white stereotypical Donald Trump supporter and a stereotypical African American man. Beginning the video, the white man comments on the lifestyle of the African American community in an extremely condescending manner confused on why he is not able to partake in the “black experience.” The white man continues to demoralize the African American community by claiming that their struggles are caused by their own behaviors. After making statements that tear down African Americans as a whole, he claims “I’m not racist” which is justified by his connection with black friends.
There seems to be a disconnect between races. “I’m Not Racist” by Joyner Lucas clearly depicts how the white culture expects all of the black culture to be exactly like them which in reality will never happen. There is a difference between cultures and that is okay. Within 2 Dope Queens’ show, they have to validate their performance by bringing on a white comedian Jon Stuart. Through the introduction of this character, the majority white audience opens up to the 2 Dope Queens’ performance. Where did this subtle belief that white culture is superior originate? Undoubtedly, the discrete racism that we see in today’s society can be linked to the oppressive views of our ancestors. This subtle racism is demonstrated anywhere from the black man denying that the 2 Dope Queens at the beginning of their show were actually the 2 Dope Queens to the disparity within this country’s education system. Many of the problems that the African American community face are not based on their own behaviors which is expressed in “I’m Not Racist;” however, these struggles are due to the governmental structures that are constructed by the white majority in order to protect their own race.
In order to address the declarations made by the white trump supporter in Joyner Lucas’s “I’m Not Racist” video, the black man responds in an explicit manner. His response includes the reasons why white people cannot say the “n-word” and the effects slavery has had on his own life. The discussion continues to expose the racism in America in addition to the fact that the color of your skin impacts different opportunities that are offered. The African American man concludes his monologue claiming that the only way racism and racial disparity will end is if all races strive to see life from the opposing side.
Within the comedy of Dave Chappelle, he is able to cleverly express his beliefs on the racial disparities that are prevalent today. Similar to the claims made by Joyner Lucas about the difficulty of finding work for a black family, Dave Chappelle opens his show by explaining how his mother had to work multiple jobs in order to provide for her family. Even though this fact about his upbringing was a small portion of his overall joke, he is able to express the hardships that the African American community face. Joyner Lucas explicitly addresses the racism in America; however, Dave Chappelle implicitly comments on the racial disparity in America. Both artists use their means of exposing racism for a specific purpose. The main audience for Joyner Lucas’s music video is the African American community who are able to fully relate to the claims made in the video. On the other hand, Dave Chappelle has a whole different audience of white people who would be turned off by his comedy if he directly exposed the racism in America. Joyner Lucas and Dave Chappelle are in the process of breaking down the barriers between races. In order to bring races together, it is necessary to accept community’s differences and accept them for who they are.
For the purpose of this reflection, I decided to analyze and comment on the short film “Tobacco Burn.” “Tobacco Burn” is a slave narrative that was recorded in the late 1930’s when Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted the Federal Writers’ Project which was designed to document oral histories from emancipated American slaves. Through this project, writers across the country were able to record over 2,300 personal stories about slavery. As discussed in class, many of the slave narratives were actually written and recorded in the early 20th century after emancipation because of projects like the Federal Writers’ Project and the increasing literacy of free slaves. “Tobacco Burn” is one of these recorded slave narratives made into a short film.
This short film walks through a revolt in a small Southern farm around 35 years before the first bullets in the Civil War flew. Starting the film, we see an implied rape scene with one of the slaves and the new overseer on the farm named Mr. Sherman. By beginning with this scene, the cruel and inhumane treatment of the slaves is expressed. Even though Mr. Sherman is not the owner of the farm, he believes that he can use the slaves in any way he desires. After the rape scene, Mr. Wentworth, the owner of the farm, privately reprimands the new overseer because of his actions. Before the arrival of Mr. Sherman, it is understood that Mr. Wentworth treated his slaves fairly based on their clothing and his conversations with the slaves. Because Mr. Sherman took advantage of the slaves in many different ways, one night while Mr. Sherman was drinking near a fire, the slaves manage to strangle him and burn his body. The next morning, Mr. Wentworth asks where Mr. Sherman is; however, the slaves claim the last time they saw him was near the fire. The film concludes with Mr. Wentworth accepting the slaves’ response and commands them to resume their normal work implying his forgiveness. Revolts similar to this were starting to increase in number as the start of the Civil War approached.
Even though the slave narrative of “Tobacco Burn” was in the form of a film, it has similarities with the slave narrative of William and Ellen Craft but also has differences. For example, both narratives give an illustration of a slave owner that treats the slaves fairly; however, in “Tobacco Burn,” there is also a representation of violence and cruelty within the story of the overseer. In both narratives, we can see the how racial differences led to systemic racism and the cruel treatment of slaves which can be related to the racism that we still can observe in today’s society. To expose the hypocrisy of Christianity during the slave era, the slave narrative of William and Ellen Craft discusses how the “Christian” slave owners continued to treat their slaves horribly even though they believed in the Bible. I find it very interesting how William and Ellen Craft are constantly making references of their Christian faith throughout their journey that continues to give them hope in the hard times of life. In many other slave narratives that I have read, I have found a continuous trend of slaves relying on God to give them hope and strength even if they are never granted freedom through escape or emancipation. The Christianity that is expressed in the slave holder’s lives, which is not based on the true love and mercy that is found in the Bible, drastically differs from the Christianity that the slaves themselves believed in. Even though Christian themes are usually conveyed in slave narratives, “Tobacco Burn” never mentions the religious background of either the slaves or the master. However, based on the forgiveness and mercy that the master shows his slaves at the end of the story, it can be implied that his treatment of the slaves is rooted in his religious beliefs. Slave narratives like “Tobacco Burn” are essential to remind the country of the past and to prevent similar atrocities from happening again.