Friday, March 16, 2018

"America Is Coping with Black Excellence" by Madison Spence-Moore

Approximately twelve percent of the people living in the United States of America are black, but as a child growing up in the tiny hamlet of Boyertown, Pennsylvania, I could have sworn my family was the only black family in the world. Then, of course, I got a little older; my world got a little bigger. I found out that there is much more to the color spectrum than just black and white. I realized just how different I truly was, and I was unwilling to accept it. It was difficult for such a shy girl to stand apart from everybody in such a way that I could not hide. It took my entire childhood to grow into my identity. My personal sense of self was constantly being challenged as I was surrounded by people who just did not look like me; this helped me to build endurance when faced with racism and injustice. My identity grew once I stopped holding certain elements of the color spectrum to such a high standard.

It was nearly impossible for me not to notice that my dreadlocks and tanned complexion were so different from the blond strands and pale skin that surrounded me. It had been this way from kindergarten through second grade. I was sick of it. I did not like all of the random kids touching my hair without asking, or the adults in the mall asking me how I washed it. All of this attention simply did not appeal to me, which led to a very little Madison marching up to Mom and proudly stating, “I want straight hair,” which led to my very confused mom replying, “What?” However, she could not refuse me for she had been straightening her hair all of my life. So the next day we bought a box of relaxer, chopped off my dreads, and straightened out my hair.

At the time the change was fantastic. I could brush and style my own hair, I felt like I was more like my peers than ever before. Little did I know what I was really doing to my true identity. As stated by Rosheen Awais, a brilliant Hijab-wearing Muslim,“We are victims of our own conscience. We work for this audience, we earn for this audience and often we do what we hate to do in order to reach the infinite expectations of this audience. However, we should not fall victim to these expectations and the expectorants, who hide us from our true self” (Awais).  I was never trying to be more like me; I was trying to be more like them. I was putting on a mask; I was performing to fit a mold that simply was not meant for me. It was not until the end of junior high school that I was able to let the curls grow and cut the broken ends.

Now I had entered high school with brown skin made darker by the sun and curly hair that I did not know how to style. This is one of the troubles with being a brown girl attending a dominantly white school. I had no one to turn to for help within my school and no one who could give me any advice on how to take care of it. No one within my school shared the same struggles. The loneliness stung. As Muslim writer Arbaaz Khan, who was born and raised on Long Island, wrote: “This oppression is something that I dealt with throughout my high school years, which aided in masking my true self” (Khan). What questions would they ask? What racist remarks would be made? My overwhelming fear of judgement and ridicule caused me to keep my curls out of sight. I usually kept it braided, twisted, in a bun or in a ponytail. I could deal with the fact that I could not hide my skin, but I kept trying my hardest to hide my hair. I was holding on to fitting in for a little bit longer.  

There comes a time when it all becomes too much. Pretending to be somebody you are not just to please everybody else is actually quite exhausting. Dr. King expresses it best in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” stating, “If I sought to answer all of the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would be engaged in little else in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work” (King). King’s words truly helped to deal with criticisms in a smarter way. For my whole life I had only been doing what was expected of me based on the critical eyes of the white people who surrounded me. I never took the time to focus on myself and understand who I really was or what I actually wanted. I was offering less time for my own self work. I had to understand that my true identity is more important than the identity expected of me by others. For my situation, the only way that I would be able to focus on my own identity was by first blocking out any and all hateful and ignorant comments. I had to stop seeing white people as white people, and just see them as people.

I thought all of the white people around me were the same, and I was the only different one. However, I realized that I was only categorizing white people the way they had been categorizing me. We are not all only black or white. We try to divide ourselves, attempting to fit into these different boxes labeled by shape, color and size. I needed to understand that each individual person is different and should not be characterized based on things like race and gender. I had to look into one of the most well known Martin Luther King quotes for help: “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” (King). In a way, I was creating barriers around myself as my peers had been creating barriers around me. I was believing that I was the only one who was different, but in reality we all are. At face value I was seen as different in my small town, but I came to appreciate that the ignorant people who stared at me in the hall or made racist remarks are just as different to each other as to me.

This realization led to my curls coming out of the cave and into the light. At first it was difficult wearing my hair in an Afro style surrounded by such flat strands. However, by the end of the day, it truly felt right. I was more confident than ever. I focused on the love and support of my close friends, and the hateful ignorant comments slowly started to fade away. It was only after I stepped into this part of my identity that I became able to inspire my mom to go natural and for my sisters to stay natural. It took a little while, but once I was secure with myself, I could, like Raymond Chappan, a Syrian Jew growing up in Brooklyn, focus on leading others (Chappan). My mom cut her relaxed hair a few months after me, so we actually embarked on our curly hair journeys together. My younger sisters did not really have much of an opinion on the state of their hair. I was happy to know that they had our curls to look at and be inspired by.

Watching my sisters grow up in that same neighborhood I did, I realized just how much black community culture I missed out on as a child, especially music and dancing and food. An interesting question arose in my writing class: “Do you think you’ll be able to experience the culture that you missed out on now? Will the experiences have the same impact as they would have when you were younger?” Yes and yes. I did miss out on a lot culturally growing up, but that does not mean that I cannot grow to become a part of the culture. “...My sense of freedom came from going to college. I left my 'bubble' cave and went on to learn things on my own. It took me some time to adjust to the light, but now that I see clearly, I am learning a lot about the world and can finally begin to morph into my own” (Chappan).

I repeated the words of Malcolm X in his speech, "The Ballot or the Bullet" to myself: “So, where do we go from here? First, we need some friends. We need some new allies” (X). At Hofstra University, I have been able to do just that. My number of black friends has grown tremendously from high school (zero) to now (eight), four of whom live in my building. I know it does not seem like much, but after growing up in an all white area, I will take what I can get and be grateful for what I have. My new black friends do not even realize how much they are helping me to grow my identity as a black woman. Ditto the many clubs and organizations centered around black culture, such as the NAACP and the Black Student Union.

I was shocked at how perfectly Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” mimicked my situation so well. As a child I was ridiculed for how my hair looked, so I changed it. I was being chained inside of the cave, and when the shadows told me to change it because that is not how it was supposed to be, I did. I then became more aware of just how unhealthy my habits were for my hair and my health overall. I had to break free of the chains and walk out into the sun. It took my eyes a long time to adjust to the brightness and beauty of the sunshine, but soon enough, I was able to proudly walk into the sun. After I made it out, it was all Brother Malcolm. I was now able to accept myself, even though some of the white people around me could not. I had pulled my chair up to the table, but I was still unable to eat. Does this mean that I should sit back, relax and watch as Caucasians eat at the table while I stare down to an empty plate? (X) Of course not. Only when I ignore the hateful comments and embrace the color of my skin will I break down my barriers. Only when my hair grows so high that it touches the sky will I truly be satisfied. Only when my sisters can grow up to fully embody their curls as I have will I have done my job. We are all different. However, more importantly, we are all people. Only when we embrace our perfections and imperfections can we come together as one and really be happy.

Unfortunately, America was only designed for the success and prosperity of white people. It is even worse because they know just how powerful black people are, but they refuse to give up any of the credit. They cope with my excellence by telling me that how I look is wrong, and how my appearance should be changed to something less intimidating. Many folks are going to have a rude awakening once they learn that they are just as different from me as I am different from them. However, it will be a good thing. Their world will grow to be a little bit bigger, and the color spectrum will not matter as much. The chip will fall right off of their shoulder. My brown skin and curly hair are a huge part of my personal identity, and I recognize that I am different, but I also understand that we are all members of one cohesive unit, and that “every individual is an expression of the realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe” (Watts).

Works Cited
Awais, Rosheen. “A Hijab-Wearing Muslim Reflects on Identity in the Age of Trump.” TakingGiant Steps. February 2017. Web.
Chappan, Raymond. “Bursting One’s Bubble to Discover One’s Identity.” Taking Giant Steps, March 2016. Web.
Khan, Arbaaz. “Internal Jihad: My Identity as a Muslim American.” Taking Giant Steps, December 2016. Web.
King, Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” August 1963.
Plato. “The Allegory of the Cave.”
X, Malcolm. “The Ballot or the Bullet.” 1964.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

“The Ironic Hospitality of the Kalahari Desert” by Morgan Morrill

Today, members of the modern world rush past in a whirl of color and noise, too concerned with busy schedules rather than with their quality of life. People live their lives in a strict fashion with every minute of every day planned out. There is barely time to breath in this machine-like world with the amount of meetings and activities that everyone has written on to their calendars. This is an extreme way to live, but people brush it off believing that it is the only way.  After all, it is the new and improved method of advancing civilization. This image deeply contrasts with the lifestyle of the Kalahari Bushmen that Jamie Uys presents in his 1980 film, The Gods Must Be Crazy. Deep in the parched Kalahari Desert, these tribes live a simple life devoid of all modern improvements, yet they seem perfectly content. Is there more to life than endless to-do lists? Uys uses the Bushmen in his film to show the benefits of a laid-back lifestyle as opposed to the high-strung chaos of modern life.

When the movie beings, Uys sets up his comparison promptly. Sweet playful notes fill the background as images of African animals flash across the screen. The first people that are shown are the “pretty, dainty, small and graceful” (Uys, 1:33) Bushmen. They are all dark and slender, each with a wide smile on their face. Young and old members of the small tribe are seen helping one another, as well as laughing and playing. Though only 600 miles from a city, the Bushmen live in a completely different world where there is not evil nor vices to poison their lives. As the voiceover remarks, “They must be the most contented people in the world” (Uys, 2:54). The narrator treats this scene, and all other ones, as though the movie is a nature documentary. Most of the insights that the voice makes are over the top and used as a comedic tool. For example, the narrator makes it seem like the Bushmen have no problems in their lives, but that is a strong unlikelihood. The comments do, however, emphasize the fact that these people live a peaceful life and makes it glaringly obvious to the audience.

Just as the voiceover points out the tranquility of the Bushmen, it also illustrates the chaos of modern life. The opening cuts quickly from the joyful tribe of people to the hustle of a loud city with cars speeding along its roads like blood through veins. This is how Uys depicts what the narrator deems “civilized man” (Uys, multiple occasions): fast-paced, raucous, and utterly insane. The last descriptor becomes more apparent as the voice begins to describe the lifestyle of city people. He states that “civilized man refused to adapt himself to his environment, and instead he built his environment to suit him” (Uys, 6:12). Towers, cars, assembly lines, and other inventions whiz past to further prove his point. Not a single piece of nature is seen unless it has been mowed, trimmed, and pruned to perfection. The whole scene moves with a machine-like precision, stopping and starting at just the right times. Everything is by design. Once again these characteristics are emphasized on purpose just like with the Bushmen. The severity of order in the city is being used to make it obvious to the audience and easy to contrast with the ironic hospitality of the Kalahari Desert.

The biggest difference between the Bushmen’s world and that of civilized man were not the blatant alterations, but rather the overall feel of each place. As mentioned previously, the Bushmen all had large grins across their mouths; it is as if they were born with them in place. They have to work hard to survive in the desert, but their faces never falter and they still have time for fun. The Bushmen simply radiate happiness and viewers can sense the warmth these people give off. There is no such feeling with the modern world. Smiles are few and far between in their modern scene and no laughter is heard above the blaring car horns. Everyone keeps their heads down and a bland monotony settles throughout the streets. Despite having almost everything the Bushmen do not, modern man lacks one thing: happiness.

The happiness famine in the industrialized world is nothing new. Looking at worldwide statistics, one will find that the United States has one of the highest depression rates even though it is one of the most developed countries. About 1 in every 10 Americans suffers from depression and the number of people diagnosed increases by 20% every year (“Depression Statistics”). Why is this the case? What is the cause of the robotic population in Uys‘s film and the declining mental state of America? The movie hints at an explanation when the narrator remarks, “The more [civilized man] improved his surrounding to make his life easier, the more complicated he made it” (Uys, 6:26). Modern day people spend most of their time working in order to keep society running and before that children are shoved into schools to prepare for the work. Stress consumes the population as everyone scrabbles for that house with the picket fence which they never truly get to enjoy because work is always hanging over them. As the voiceover correctly points out, “No wonder some people go off the rails a bit” (Uys, 8:08). It is as though ‘civilized’ man is running inside of a wheel, believing that if they run hard enough they will get the treat just outside of their reach, when in reality they are exhausting themselves just to stay in the same place.

Not only are people working themselves to death, they are also addicted to the stress. Tim Kreider addresses this topic in his article, “The ‘Busy’ Trap.” He explains that people who are constantly busy, which includes most of the population, are that way “because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence” (Kreider, par. 2). Society has come up with the notion that if a person is not running around 24 hours a day then something is terribly wrong. Standard work weeks are 40 hours, but that time is growing exponentially as the internet allows the population to bring work with them wherever they go, provided they can get a signal. It is not just adults who do this. Parents force full schedules on to their children under the pretense that it will get them ahead in life. In his article, “The Disease of Being Busy,” Omid Safi recalls how when he tried to set up a playdate between his daughter and the neighbor’s child the mother responded with this: “She has a 45-minute opening two and half weeks from now. The rest of the time it’s gymnastics, piano, and voice lessons. She’s just…. so busy” (Safi, par. 5). This toxic environment hell-bent on filling up everyone’s planners down to the last second is what produces the fast paced and apathetic society that Uys shows to his audience.

As opposed to the perpetually swamped lifestyle of modern man, the Kalahari Bushmen hold leisure time in high regard. In their small family groups or villages, these people spend a fair amount of time doing, well, nothing. Free time for all ages is available every day and they fill the time based upon actual desires. Children are also not given tasks until they are much older (“San People,” par. 10). These groups deal with something that civilized man appears to be deathly afraid of: unstructured time. Kreider describes the love of being busy as “a hedge against emptiness” (Kreider, par. 6). Modern society equals fullness with meaning so if schedules are always booked then life must be wonderful. A busy schedule blocks and shoves down unpleasant feelings brought on by difficult to answer questions. Those feelings, however, do not go away, but instead manifest themselves in the rampant outbreak of depression. This is why the Bushmen’s freedom is so important; they have the time to reflect and engage with tough topics. It is not as though they are always having deep philosophical discussions, but they are able to if need be. According to Kreider, “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets” (Kreider, par. 10). It is a simple thing, open time, but it makes all the difference and it is what allows the Bushmen to have a well-developed relationship with contentment.

Unstructured time is what will save the mental health of modern man.  It is clear enough that the way society is currently structured is detrimental to people of all ages and making them have a morbid attraction to being busy. Uys’s movie does provide an alternative model in the form of the Kalahari Bushmen. They are obviously much happier, despite living in one of the most unforgiving areas on the planet. The goal in the rehabilitation of civilized man, however, is not to relocate them all to the desert. Instead, specific alterations need to be made so that free time is not seen as a cancer to society, but rather a supplement. Certain laws and regulations have already been put into action and the results cannot be argued against. For example, Finland’s school system allots 75 minutes a day for recess and rarely gives homework. This extra time to grow and develop as a person has allowed Finnish students to graduate from high school at a rate of 93% and surpass all other countries on test scores (“There Is No Homework in Finland”). As for adults, France has only a 35 hour work week and has a law preventing workers from checking their work emails after 6 pm. The country is currently one of the top ten happiest countries in the world (Johnson, par. 2). It is clear by this data that free time is beneficial to the over worked, stressed, and tired population of civilized man.

The time to kick the addiction to busyness it now. Uys was aware of this problem when his movie came out almost 40 years ago. He saw the advantages of joy and leisure in the Kalahari Bushmen, but society has ignored its metal decline. Caught up in meetings, classes, and work, modern man has forgotten about its heart. Along the path to improvement, hearts and souls were left to deteriorate in the background, perpetually left off of anyone’s to-do list. Now, the only way to revive humanity from its emotionally diseased state is to nurture the self again. Time is a gift, not a menace breathing down everyone’s neck till they meet the deadline, and it should be celebrated. That is when people get to know themselves and it is where possibility lies. It is time to put down the paperwork, turn off cell phones, and stop being so busy. Life is a meeting that cannot be missed and there is no way to reschedule it when the time has passed.

Works Cited

“Depression Statistics” Infographic. Healthline. Health On The Net. 2012. Web. 2 April. 2017.

Johnson, John. “France bans work e-mail after 6 p.m.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite         Information Network, LLC. 11 April. 2014. Web. 2 April. 2017.

Kreider, Tim. “The ‘Busy’ Trap.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company., 30 June.    2012. Web. 2 April. 2017

Safi, Omid. “The Disease of Being Busy.” On Being. Disqus., 6 Nov. 2014. Web. 2 April. 2017.

“San People.” Wikipedia. MediaWiki. 23 March. 2017. Web. 2 April 2017

The Gods Must Be Crazy. Dir. Jamie Uys. Perf. N!xau, Marius Weyers, and Sandra Prinsloo. 20th   Century Fox., 13 July. 1984. Film.

“There’s No Homework In Finland.” Infographic. NeoMam Studios. NeoMam Studios. 4 March.   2013. Web. 2 April. 2017.

Monday, March 5, 2018

“If You Can’t Drive, Ride Shotgun: A Student Guide to Survival” by Tyrone Behari Jnr

In order to complete driver’s education, students must not only learn the traffic code to pass a written theory exam, but in addition, they have to display practical driving proficiency and exhibit proof of their skills to pass a road test.  In order to prepare for this, in-car driving lessons are taken where the student is either driving, or in the front passenger seat (shotgun) observing the instructor drive.  One place a student is never situated is in a backseat of the car.

Typically, people would say that they are endeavoring to “learn how to drive,” as opposed to phrasing it perhaps more simply as trying to “get a driver’s license.”  Where the education industry is concerned, it would appear that things are quite the contrary—“students educate themselves in pursuit of a degree instead of in the pursuit of learning” (Parker par. 2).  Different to an aspiring driver, a student is likely to say that they are going to “get a degree,” as opposed to “learn how to be a [insert desired profession here].”  Herein, we discover the problem where career training within the education industry is concerned: there is a backseat, passenger culture. 

It has become increasingly common for students to simply recycle, regurgitate and reproduce information that they are given in class onto assignments and exams simply to meet a pass grade and obtain their bachelor’s degree.  The professor drives the metaphorical car (teaching the class), while students stay in the backseat and simply wait to arrive at the end of the journey (course).  There is little to no chance for the student to show gumption; they assume the role of a nodding dog car accessory.  As students, it makes little sense to simply go from A to B.  “You do not play a sonata in order to reach the final chord, and if the meanings of things were simply in ends, composers would write nothing but finales” (Watts).  Good musicians ought to understand the journey of the music; otherwise, they will never truly appreciate or fully comprehend the beauty of the final sound.  Likewise, an ideal student should not simply try to pass exams and make good papers.  They should go through a myriad of other benefitting experiences along the way, such as further reading and group discussion, which help shape submitted work even if not directly referenced.  With every assignment, there is great insight to be grasped along the way.  Students should dread being like receptacles, having a brain filled to capacity yet not possessing genuine understanding (Freire). 

Typically, the professor is put upon a figurative pedestal, where the classroom is their court, and they are the judge and jury.  They adopt the role of the Big Chief, while also being lucky enough to simultaneously hold the position of Dean of Discipline (Gordon).  The paternalism that ran colonialism, runs the classroom (Freire).  Once within such an environment, the easiest option is to submit.  Herein, the student is fully immersed within the “edu-cage-tion machine” (Brookes); trapped, sentenced until the end of the semester.  Correction---the subsequent semesters will only have difference chiefs---the student is sentenced until graduation. 

Where grading is concerned, the bell curve system of which most professors follow, immediately limits students, shackles and all.  Why is the system so intent on having the majority of students tacitly labelled “average,” simply one of the crowd, hovering between a B and C- grade? Why can’t there be more than, say, five A grades in a class?  Surely, such an environment would be indispensable and much more beneficial at large.  Just picture classmates universally working with one another as they know that they can all receive an A if it is deserved.  Collaboration would be encouraged, and that only pays dividends due to the fact that an individual’s horizons are broadened when working with peers.  One’s empathy would be encouraged, which can only be a good thing due to the strength that possessing people skills and moral development holds within education. 

In Roksa and Arum’s “Life After College,” a study found that students who had substantial levels of peer-to-peer interaction while at college adjusted into vocational life with greater ease (Roksa and Arum).  It is said that 80-85% of career success is dependent on social (soft) skills, while only 15-20% is dependent on technical (hard) skills.  Lawrence Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development shows that there is a strong relationship between moral development and level of education (Kohlberg).  It would appear that the education industry as a whole currently falls within a pre-conventional morality (namely due to self-interest orientation).  According to Kohlberg, this stage should be outgrown during childhood!  With an empathetic, peer-orientated style of learning, students would rise from a pre-conventional morality, leapfrog a conventional morality, and achieve the most advanced stage of development under a post-conventional morality: universal ethics orientation.  Under this mindset, students would take a different approach to intelligent input from peers.  The competitive, “I don’t understand, so I must be stupid” mentality would be put aside for a self-enlightening echo of “I feel smart, as I had to stretch myself to comprehend” (Shah).

Under the professor-concentrated style of learning, the student is in the backseat.  A peer orientated style of learning brings the student into shotgun.  Feedback learning encourages the student to be an agent of change.  As humans, we should embrace this.  96% of our DNA is shared with chimpanzees; the difference is less than that between mice and rats (“Chimps, Humans 96 Percent the Same, Gene Study Finds”).  One of the principal characteristics that sets us apart as a more intelligent species is our opposable thumbs, the attribute ability of the precision grip.  We were made to be adaptable.

The adaptable nature of humans should be naturally complimented by college.  The word education is derived from mid-16th century Latin and the word educāre: to train or to mold.  By definition of its origin, education should be exercising and developing students’ minds.  A good example of this taking place is in the class I write this very essay for.  Our professor, Paul Kirpal Gordon, emphasized from the very first day that we need to develop ourselves within the KP Trident (as a thinker, reader, and writer).  However, throughout the industry this is not always the case.  “So what is the solution?” I hear you ask.  My answer is work—occupational experience, namely internships and work-study programs.   

Occupational experiences are a gateway to endless opportunities.  Schools should actively encourage and help students to seek out opportunities, or even go as far as making sure that all students acquire work experience within their desired field by the time they graduate.  At the workplace, students get the opportunity to meet people living the life they wish to live (Gordon), as well as having the chance to apply their developed skills to the “real world.”  Similar to the peer-to-peer relationship at college, relationships with extremely valuable dialogue can be developed in the professional world.  Mentorship is the ultimate career training from the front seat (Goodman).  One college that is particularly following my suggested modus operandi is the University of Chicago.  The Jeff Metcalf Internship Program provides a $4,000 grant for a 10 week period, if an employer cannot afford to hire interns at the local minimum wage (“When Internships Don’t Pay, Some Colleges Will”).  Clearly, this school sees the value that I do when it comes to occupational experiences.    

We must be mindful how we go about changes to the education industry.  “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose” (Karr).  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Especially in the current political climate, radical desires will not be attended to.  They will ultimately not affect reality.  As with most matters, we need a progressive approach to help adjust the status quo.  For now, on the individual level, students should be proactive.  If you can’t drive, ride shotgun…just please do not get into the backseat.

Works Cited

Arum, Richard, and Roksa, Josipa. “Life after College: The Challenging Transitions of the Academically Adrift Cohort.” Change Magazine, June 19, 2012

Brookes, Samantha. “Rusted Gears: My Triumph over the American Education Factory.” Taking Giant Steps, June 29, 2016.  american.html. Accessed November 11, 2017.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th Anniversary edition, Bloomsbury Academic, 2000

Goodman, Hannah. “Career Development for Undergraduates: A Genius-Bar Idea”. Taking Giant Steps, January 15, 2017.    development-for undergraduates.html. Accessed November 11, 2017.

Gordon, Paul Kirpal. WSC 001 class discussion. Hofstra, October 26, 2017.

Hartocollis, Anemona. “When Internships Don’t Pay, Some Colleges Will”. The New York Times. Nov 2, 2017.

Karr, Jean-Baptiste A. Les Guêpes.  Journal, January 1949.

Kohlberg, Lawrence. Lawrence Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development. 2012.

Lovgren, Stefan. “Chimps, Humands 96 Percent the Same, Gene Study Finds”. National   Geographic News. August 31, 2005.

Parker, Morgan. Do Not Pass Graduation, Do Not Collect $200,000 Degree. 2015.

Shah, Ria. “Has the University Stolen the Fire in Our Bellies?” Taking Giant Steps, October 27, 2015. our.html. Accessed November 11, 2017.

Watts, Alan W. The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety. Vintage Books,  2011

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

“The Same Old Story: Tamed Women and Their Misogynistic Male Counterparts” by Anna Rudegeair

After stripping away the distinct features of the film Swept Away, at its heart the storyline follows a trope seen throughout history: a headstrong and independent woman meeting her match in a misogynistic man set to “tame her.” While watching Swept Away, I was eerily reminded of the Shakespearean classic The Taming of the Shrew. Though these stories end differently and vary in time period, location, and character backgrounds, the common themes of gender roles and the purpose of relationships remain. These two relationships are built on misogynistic and fragile men who need to suck the life force from women in order to feel powerful and fulfilled. If one explores these stories with more scrutiny, perhaps they are not as black and white as they seem; perhaps the tamer will in his own way become the tamed.

Swept Away, directed by Lina Wertmuller in 1974, tells the story of a “manically self-involved blonde named Rafaella” and a “hunky and brooding and self-righteous Communist Party member” named Gennarino, who is a crew member on the yacht of Raffaella’s husband (Ulaby par. 2). The two clash immediately due to Rafaella’s demanding presence and hatred for the Communist party. Early on in the film, Rafaella aligns herself with the views of many of today’s feminists, pronouncing her beliefs that abortion should be free and contraceptives advertised on television (Wertmuller 4:43). Though shrill and often scornful, Rafaella is introduced as a woman who speaks her mind, and does not easily back down. Gennarino despises everything that Rafaella stands for, saying to a crew mate, “If that damn bitch doesn’t keep her mouth shut, I’ll murder her. She’s getting on my nerves” (Wertmuller 7:21). Despite this, Gennarino finds himself sexually attracted to Rafaella, and can only act on this when the two are swept away to a deserted island with no immediate way of escaping. As Roger Ebert puts it, "Ashore and on board the yacht, the woman held the unquestioned upper hand because of her husband's money. But on the island, it's the man, with his survival skills and (most controversial, this) his very masculinity, who's the dominant figure” (Ebert par. 4). Because this shift in power has occurred, Gennarino abuses Rafaella, verbally and physically berating her, and denying her basic human resources like food and shelter unless she submits to his dominance. Though at first Rafaella fights back, she transitions to submissive behavior. Her change is shown in a disturbing  scene, in which she comes to Gennarino crying and saying that she feels “like that rabbit [he] killed” (Wertmuller 1:15:54) before laying down at his feet. Wertmuller presents a troubling relationship in which the more sexually and verbally submissive Rafaella is, the more ecstasy she encounters, to the point where she believes that she is in love with Gennarino. He cannot accept her love as an equal however, saying to her, “If you only knew how beautiful you become when I beat you” (Wertmuller 1:28:03). The two characters spend the rest of their time on the island becoming more intimately intertwined in their lusty relationship. Up to this point in the film, it seems that Gennarino has tamed his woman into what he wants her to be, a notion that calls to mind Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.

In this comedy, the tempestuous Katherine, known throughout Padua for her tantrums and shrewishness, is wooed by the brutish Petruchio against her will. Like Rafaella, Kate is subject to the whims of men in power. In order for Kate’s beautiful (and complacent) younger sister to marry, Kate must first be handed off to a worthy suitor. Unlike Gennarino, who wins over Rafaella with his assault, Petruchio insistently flatters and threatens Kate despite her protests. Kate and Rafaella, both presented as feisty and unwilling to comply, find themselves in need of what the men can provide: marriage and a way to survive. If these women acted as society dictates a proper lady should, perhaps the men would not feel the need to break them down and build them back up again. While it is true that both Kate and Raffaella are often rude and caustic, the real problem stems from the reality that they are women with those traits.

Though Petruchio and Gennarino both intend to tame their respective women, their reason for doing so contrasts one another. Petruchio clearly states that in looking for a wife, “I come to wive it wealthily in Padua; If wealthily, then happily in Padua” (I.ii.62-73). Conversely, Gennarino holds disdain for the rich and privileged, using it as an excuse to beat Rafaella. Despite this difference, these men can be viewed in two capacities. Either they are both brutes who thrive off domineering in relationships, or they are indeed capable of loving these woman, and believe the way to do this is through dominance. Regardless of their reasoning, these two men are misogynistic and fragile in their masculine identity. Gennarino says this of a woman’s purpose, “Women were meant to serve men, understand?” (Wertmuller 59:34). Petruchio says this: “Women were made to bear, and so are you” (II.i.194). In order to feel successful in their status as men, these two feel the need to put women “in their place.” Without women succumbing to their beck and call, these men have no purpose. These stories provide an example of how possession is linked to manhood; it is not enough for these men to be in equal, reciprocating relationships, they must own. Before Katherine, Petruchio, was a wandering bachelor, and before Rafaella, Gennarino was merely a crew member on a Yacht. Though Katherine and Rafaella may be the most “tamed” at first sight, the men become tamed in a way as well. Petruchio can wander selfishly no more, but must now be a faithful husband to match Kate’s obedience. Gennarino will be haunted by his feelings for Rafaella.

Though both
Swept Away and Taming of the Shrew present very difficult relationships to watch, perhaps it is possible for these characters to change and live in happy, albeit unconventional relationships. The subject matter of Wertmuller’s film seems to suggest that women are most happy when they are under the sway of a powerful man. “This is a notion the feminists have spent the last 10 years trying to erase from our collective fantasies, and it must be unsettling, to say the least, to find the foremost woman director making a whole movie out of it” (Ebert Par.5). Though feminism is based around gender equality, perhaps it should also include a woman being able to choose what kind of life makes her feel happy and satisfied. Though the relationship of Rafaella and Gennarino is not in keeping with the gender roles (or lack thereof) that modern feminism promotes, if the two are happy in their own way, it might justify their behavior. Lisa Dillon, an actress who played Kate in The Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2012 production of The Taming of the Shrew says this, “It’s not just men versus women, there is one specific woman, and the things that happen to her. So, you can’t generalize it being about all men and women. Kate behaves quite badly, and nobody can do that long-term. So then it becomes about someone damaged who needs structure in her life” (Dillon 1:10).  To this, her co-star David Caves adds, “You have these people who are pretty messed up, that find each other, and work out a way of being together” (Caves 1:27). These comments could also apply to Rafaella and Gennarino’s tumultuous relationship. Perhaps Wertmuller was not trying to create the blueprints of a relationship that all men and women should follow, just that these two can. Perhaps Shakespeare was not trying to assert his belief of gender roles, but, “was demonstrating the way in which women are beaten down, criticised and derided for being themselves and in an ironic way was challenging this?” (Jamieson par. 5). Regardless of the creator's' intent, these two relationships are interesting mirrors of one another, and just two examples of this storyline. It is seen in the Greek story of Pygmalion, as well as the classic musical My Fair Lady. Despite the sometimes disturbing sequences in Swept Away, the film presents interesting questions with ambiguous answers, and will challenge audience members for years to come.

Works Cited

           Ebert, Roger. "Swept Away Movie Review (1976)." Romano Cardarelli, 20 Feb. 1976. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

           Jamieson, Lee. "'The Taming of the Shrew': A Feminist Reading." ThoughtCo. N.p., 24 May 2014. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

            Shakespeare, William. "The Taming of the Shrew." Taming of the Shrew: Entire Play., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

            Wertmueller, Lina (Dir.). “Swept Away.” Perf. Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato. Romano Cardarelli, 1974. 28 Aug. 2014. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

            Ulaby, Neda. "'Swept Away' — Twice." NPR. NPR, 03 Sept. 2004. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

               'A Warts and All Kind of Love' | The Taming of the Shrew. Perf. D
avid Caves and Lisa The Royal Shakespeare Company, 7 Feb. 2012. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

"I Am Who Am: A Photographic Eye to Identity" by Jennifer Scully

The mere topic of identity is already an extremely controversial discussion based on religion, philosophies, nationalities and heritages. For many, religion is a major part of their character, while others exist with no such presence in their lives. Religious and nonreligious people have more in common than one would think. Both parties believe in something; secular or not. A nonreligious person may adopt psychological outlooks into their lives just as a religious-oriented person may adopt catechismal dogmas. In both situations, however disparate, those beliefs become an element of their identity as being in this world. Despite the exhausted trend of highlighting differences in each other, we are all one human race. As Walt Whitman says in "Song of Myself," Section 1, “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” (Whitman).

As a person who was raised in the Catholic Church, I knew little about other religions and ways of thinking. My entire career as a Catholic  school  student had consisted of being forced fed parochial  ideologies. As expected, I regurgitated all this information onto meaningless tests and quizzes. Though I had learned and retain these things, I never digested any of it. The whole objective of schooling children in “their” religion is not only to be knowledgeable, but develop a deep faith as well. Teachers, parents and clergy just assume that, with the religious education, comes the faith. Despite this, I never had faith. I never truly believed in anything I was being taught. Perhaps I did not ponder enough or I just did not care. Either way, I have gone through life sitting in church every Sunday. And for what reason? I did not gain anything from it nor did I lose anything. No harm no foul, right? Not until quite recently did I begin to open my eyes and wake up to the disturbing reality of the Catholic Church. ‘We don’t hate homosexuals, but we can’t allow them to marry because it's contrary to natural law.’ Barring someone from being themselves and depriving them of the happiness they deserve just based on their sexual orientation seems like enough to label the Church as homophobic. This is just one of many examples of  my realizations about the truth of the Church. The word “catholic” alone means something that is “of interest to all” and has “sympathies with all.” I find that rather ironic. 

Homophobia, prevalent in the Church, stems from  fear of unknowing. Within a book called The Four Agreements, the author Don Miguel Ruiz explains an ancient Toltec (Mexican) wisdom. He discusses a conscious relationship between ourselves and the world. These entities are referred to as “dreams.” There exists our “personal dream” and the “outside/society dream.”  Though very separate, these dreams feed into each other.  The outside dream “includes all of society’s rules, its beliefs, its laws, its religions, its different cultures and ways to be, its government, schools, social events and holidays” (Ruiz 2). On the other hand, the personal dream is “what you believe, all the concepts you have about who you are, all the agreements you have made with others, with yourself, and even with God” (Ruiz 16). Everyone’s personal dreams are different yet we all live bound by the society dream. According to the Toltecs, we make agreements throughout our lives without even being aware. When we are born, we are given a name. We did not have a chance to choose that name, but we agree to it anyway. It is the same with religion. As children, our parents may bring us up in a certain religion and without choice, we agreed to it. As we grow older, we are able to choose for ourselves. Despite this, “the agreement is so strong that even if we understand that concept of it not being true, we feel the  blame, the guilt, and the shame occur that if we go against these rules” (Ruiz 11).

In regards to my Catholic upbringing, I feel that exact way. I have personally rejected all of the teachings, but the people who raised me have not. In refusing to attend mass on Sundays, my dad was extremely disappointed. When I told him that I no longer identify as Catholic, he was perplexed, asking “what about your faith?” He could not understand that I never had faith. I started to feel guilty. I did not only want to dissatisfy him but, most especially, my grandfather. Due to the fear of shame, my grandfather still is unaware of my parting with the Church. Being the case, I cannot be honest about myself and must censor my (lack of) beliefs. Fear is everywhere. Fear controls the outside dream (violence, addictions, injustices), thus controlling the personal dream. Concerning the Church, “the whole dream is based on false law. Ninety five percent of the beliefs we have stored in our minds are nothing but lies, and we suffer because we believe all these lies” (Ruiz 13). Lies such as a gay person is a bad human being or that women should be suppressed (for patriarchal benefit) are perpetuated by the Catholic Church. This incites fear in both the oppressor and in the oppressed, furthering a division of  the human race.

In The Book: On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, author Alan Watts refers to one of the biggest taboos known to humankind: sex. Many parents avoid or hesitate telling their children about the source of all life. It is so taboo that Watts mentions a Japanese tradition in which the parents give their children what is called a “pillow book” instead of informing them correctly. The book simply depicts sexual manners, leaving the reader uneducated about the biological and spiritual aspects. Some may compare this book to the likes of pornography or other “dirty” material. This not only produces ignorant humans, but also maintains sex as a taboo. A similar situation is present in the Catholic Church. Growing up, I always had to dress nicely for Sunday mass. And when I say “dress nicely,” I mean covering up. Showing “too much skin” was inappropriate for that atmosphere, for I was in the presence of God. Physical modesty is valued, to say the least. Thinking back now as an educated (and religiously detached) eighteen-year-old woman, it is almost disturbing. If little girls are  told to “cover up” by  (usually) older men, wouldn’t that suggest that these girls are being sexualized? Most young girls are unaware of sex yet they are already victims of the taboo. This unwritten rule of modesty preserves the objectification of females. Throughout my schooling, I was always taught that sex was essentially bad and sinful. If it is so shameful, then why does the Church perpetuate it?

Religion is hardly a basic belief system. Watts describes it as being “divisive and quarrelsome.” Under the guise of a faithful international congregation, he calls religion as simply a “form of one-up-manship.” This is especially prevalent in the Roman Catholic Church. It is almost as if the entire religion is based on exclusivity, not Jesus. Even from a very young age, I could sense the strong emphasis of good versus evil. In most situations, “evil” was essentially anything that contradicted the Church’s teachings. Of course, everything about the Church was good and holy. If you prayed, attended weekly mass, went to confession regularly and received communion, you would be “saved.” If you neglected those duties as a Catholic, you were on a path to damnation. It is taught that only through Christ can one gain salvation from the fires of Hell. Though the message of salvation is not delivered as harshly as it was in the early Church, that idea is still in the foundation of  belief. Due to this attitude, the Church has been attempting to “save” people for hundreds of years through missionary conversions. Missionaries travel the world to different civilizations in hopes of converting peoples, disregarding their pre-existing belief systems.

Religions, such as Catholicism, truly place people in a box in which there is no way to get out.  Devoted Catholics declare themselves as followers of Christ. It is as if every Catholic is looking through binoculars, cutting off their peripheral views. Not only are they ignoring other beliefs, but rejecting them as well. This is an extremely close-minded and hostile mentality despite the fact that faith should be the epitome of open-mindedness. Despite that aspect, the teachings of the Catholic Church are haunted by the recurring theme of love. Nearly every homily that I have ever sat through was based on the significance of love. However, the entire scene implies a major contradiction. If God is love, why would “He” make existence so difficult? This was especially curious to me, as I was witness to hate and inequality towards women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community within the Church. As a young child, every Catholic is told that “Jesus loves them.” That phrase is repeated so often that one must wonder if the Church is overcompensating for something. The bulk of the “Catholic contract” expresses love, but most fail to read the fine print.

In accordance with Catholicism, Watts examines the human mentality of identity as me against them. He explains, “Most of us have the sensation that 'I myself' is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body—a center which 'confronts' an 'external' world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange” (Watts). In reading that, I can relate greatly. This is the mindset that incites fear (just as the outside dream does in The Four Agreements) and thus is cause for my personal anxieties and feelings of aloneness. Common phrases, such as “I came into this world,” bolsters human division. As products of the universe, we should be saying that we “came out of the world.” Watts channels poet Walt Whitman in saying that “every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe” (Watts).  Though I know these things to be true, I do not have a conscious sense of  it in my daily life so I go on as viewing myself as an outlying entity. In recognizing the world as an external existence, humans feel obligated to conquer. So far, we have quelled everything known to our life such as nature, space, people and more. We must realize that the world is not foreign, but is merely an extension of our own bodies.

In reading Whitman, I immediately noticed a stark contrast to the Catholic creeds previously preached to me. With Whitman, you yourself is god, not a bearded man in the sky. In "Song of Myself," Section 24, he truly challenges the church with, “Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch'd from, The scent of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer, This head more than churches, bibles, and all the creeds” (Whitman). With Whitman, everything existing around you, including yourself, is god as seen in Song of Myself 1, “My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air” (Whitman). With Whitman, the human race is one with not only each other but with nature. He declares in "Song of Myself," Section 24, “No sentimentalist, no stander above men and women or apart from them…. Whoever degrades another degrades me, And whatever is done or said returns at last to me.” The same theme is present in "Song of Myself," Section 52:  "I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles…….You will hardly know who I am or what I mean, But I shall be good health to you nevertheless, And filter and fibre your blood” (Whitman).  For every  close-minded belief I was taught, Whitman has an open- minded counter thought.

In terms of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the “cave” in my life was not only the Catholic Church, but my hometown as well. Poughkeepsie is a  cave in the sense that it is a one-track minded, isolated city where many of the people in the community stick to the status quo. Just as Catholicism does not allow room for other beliefs, Poughkeepsie is very exclusive in its way of thinking and the general lifestyle. My fellow high school peers were very insensitive and hateful towards people not of their ilk. I saw that same behavior in the Catholic Church. Arriving here at Hofstra was a culture shock of sorts for me. It is a completely different world where there is inclusivity and students can be whoever they are without receiving constant ridicule. Every time I go home, it is as if I have stepped back into that cave of ignorance and  animosity.

Works Cited

Watts, Alan. “Chapter One: Inside Information .” The Book: On the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are,

Whitman, Walt. “Song of Myself .” Leaves of Grass .

Ruiz, Don Miguel. The Four Agreements . Amber-Allen, 2012.

Plato . “The Allegory of The Cave .” The Allegory of The Cave .