Responses

A Response to Alec’s  “Response to the Sorrow Songs” 

Your observation that the sadness expressed by W.E.B. Du Bois’ “Sorrow Songs” is overpowered by feelings of faith and hope, reminded me of the movie clip from Twelve Years a Slave that we watched in Professor Briley’s Challenges of Modernity class. Although I have never seen the movie in its entirety, that single clip evoked a very strong emotional response from me. The scene, as explained by Professor Briley, was the moment in the movie when Northrup first felt a sense of acceptance among the slaves. However, it was being sung at a memorial service for a fallen slave. The acceptance Northrup feels offers him a sense of hope and faith because he is no longer an outsider; he has a support system. However, they are singing the song to respect the dead; a very sad occasion.
By labeling songs such as “Roll, Jordon, Roll” from the movie as “Sorrow Songs”, W.E.B. Du Bois is addressing the complexity of the songs and those who sing them. The slaves have no voice in the wider society, but they have a voice in the fields through their singing. Faith and hope are inherent in the songs because the slaves had no other manner to express these emotions that kept them going. It is sorrowful that this was the only inkling of freedom awarded to them at this point in history.

 

A Response to Nikhil’s “Coates and Realism”

An interesting distinction can be made between Coates’ and Du Bois’ opinions on the lives of black men in America because both are classified as realist writers but “The Souls of Black Folk” and “Between the World and Me” offer very different thoughts on the conditions of being black in America. Most noticeably, Coates’ realism is much more depressing than Du Bois’. I understand that history could account for their differing ideas since Du Bois was writing just years after the slaves were emancipated and thus it was easier to be hopeful for the future because black people were starting from nothing. However, Coates’ realist mindset still seems rather pessimistic even though he has a century of history to support his beliefs upon. He almost seems to believe that America has not progressed, and will not progress, in terms of racial equality. As Richard noted, Coates tells his son to “struggle” even though Coates sees the “struggle” as futile because black men are still oppressed today. I wonder what Du Bois would think about American society’ treatment of blacks in the 21st century. Would he be realistic but still somewhat hopeful? Or would he align himself with Coates’ rather pessimistic realist mindset? While we will never know, I think it is valuable to juxtapose Du Bois’ and Coates’ realist mindsets to understand how racial equality may be thought of differently today then a century prior.

 

A Response to Veronica’s “Happiness in Society”

I agree with your assertion that happiness is not dependent on wealth. The CNN article from your post included countries such as Switzerland, Iceland, and New Zealand as some of the happiest countries in the world and these countries are not the wealthiest. The old saying “money can’t buy happiness” has been proven many times over. What makes a person happy then? Happiness is much more complex than it first appears and I think this complexity stems from the subjectivity of it. Different things make different people happy. You spoke to this in your post, saying that happiness is a choice a person can only make for themselves. However, what if a person does not have the freedom to decide on happiness? Even though the countries named on the list of the happiest ones aren’t necessarily the wealthiest, they do all offer a certain degree of freedom to their citizens. As a result, people can decide to do what makes them happy. However, there are places in the world where people can’t do what makes them happy because of laws in place or the people in power. Are these people capable of being happy? While I want to agree that happiness is a choice, I don’t know if the option of happiness is available to everyone.

 

A Response to Abigail’s “Were the Twenties Roarin’?”

After reading Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, I also thought to compare it to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. However, I saw more similarities than differences between their depictions of the “Roaring Twenties”. Both of the novels featured a theme of disillusionment with society, particularly high society. This goes against the positive connotation usually associated with the “Roaring Twenties”. In The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway becomes disillusioned with American society as he watched it defeat Jay Gatsby. Although no character in Mrs. Dalloway is as clearly disillusioned with the bourgeoisie as Nick Carraway is in The Great Gatsby, Virginia Woolf clearly wrote her novel to address her discontent with the English bourgeoisie.
The two novels were written in different countries but they both prove that the 1920s were really only seen as a great decade in America and that the decade was not as “roaring” as it has been made out to be. The economic devastation, which affected countries all over the globe, was a direct result of the “roaring twenties” in America. Therefore, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf were ahead of their time when they published their novels because they recognized the façade of the “Roaring Twenties” before the public did.

 

A Response to Abigail’s “Family Ties”

I hadn’t thought about the quote from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, “but race is the child of racism, not the father” (7), in the way which you did, but your reading of race as innocent resonated with me. When I read that line, I thought of race as the offspring of racism. Prior to the Age of Exploration and the Enlightenment, before the Western world imposed their systems of belief on other peoples and colonized foreign lands, people were not defined by their skin color. We only consider race as a defining feature of a human being today because the Europeans had to distinguish themselves from the “savages” somehow. Their racism, or belief that skin color signaled an inherent difference between peoples, led to the conceptualization of the races. When you interpreted the same quote, you read it as race being innocent. Therefore, racism must be the more experienced or corrupted than race. I hadn’t thought of it in this matter but it makes sense. Race is innocent since it relates to the genetic makeup of a person and does not inherently make one person lesser than another. Racism is corrupt because it took a physical characteristic and used it to divide people and deem one race superior to another. This interpretation of the quote relates to mine but also allows me to comprehend it from a different angle, so now I have multiple understandings of what Coates meant by this quote.

 

A Response to Veronica’s Response to my post:“Mrs. Dalloway and The Great Gatsby: Different Countries but Similar Discontents”

I found your insight on how the value placed on strength and dominance by society is echoed in how the English bourgeoisie treated Septimus thought-provoking. Although Virginia Woolf is considered one of the first feminist writers, her literature such as Mrs.Dalloway also offer a critique on the concept of colonialism. The parallels between colonialism and the subjugation of women are not as different as I first though them to be though. In class, we discussed how colonists justified colonialism in the context of Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and it essentially came down to the emphasis placed on strength and dominance. The colonists believe that they have a duty to colonize other lands due to their superior ideologies and technologies. As “civilized” peoples, the colonists see themselves as above the “savages” they assert dominance over. The English were some of the first people to colonize foreign lands and impose their belief systems onto other peoples, disregarding the complex societal structures they tore down. Septimus was the victim of a similar fate. He was disregarded as weak and powerless like the native peoples of colonized lands were by the colonists; and it led to his demise. Many women, especially prior to the 20th century, were also challenged by people (men) who believed themselves to be superior. Maybe it is time to question the extent to which society values strength, seeing as how it has caused many problems in the past.

 

A Response to Jackson’s “Spring Break”

Privilege is a powerful thing. Although your blog post comments on a relatively innocent manifestation of privilege, people who have an inherent advantage above others have caused countless problems throughout history. The college kids who go on Spring Break trips to impoverished places in the world, such as Punta Cana, are more privileged than the people who live on the island year-round as a result of the disparity in wealth. The problem with college kids and other privileged people who vacation in exotic yet impoverished places is that they don’t understand the impact they have on the society. In many cases, tourism is the bulk of the economy and thus the way the indigenous people make their money. If the tourism was to falter or stop, many indigenous people would suffer. The dependence of less-privileged nations on more privileged nations is apparent in many cases and can be traced back through history. Our ancestors were the early Europeans who considered themselves to be superior to most of the societies they encountered during the Age of Exploration. Starting in the early sixteenth century, the European colonists imposed their cultural and political systems onto foreign peoples in the Americas and Africa, believing it was their right as “civilized” people to conquer “savages”. However, as we saw in Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, colonists actually had a dehumanizing effect on the colonized individuals and society as a whole. Recognizing privilege is important but as we have seen, privilege can cause problems if it is exploited.

 

A Response to Gi’s “Waiting for Change”

One sentence jumped out at me in your post, but it probably was not meant to provoke thought. It was your observation that it is not common for your course work to overlap. In the short time I have been at Colgate, my classes have overlapped more frequently than I ever thought possible. I take a variety of classes in multiple disciplines, because I have no idea where I want to go in life, and yet I have discussed the mass extinctions in 3 out of my 4 classes this semester.  While it can be a little frustrating because I want to learn something I didn’t know before class, I have found that each class expands my understanding of the topic. In both Geology and Biology, we covered the science behind the mass extinctions. In Challenges, however, Professor Briley and Elizabeth Kolbert asked about them in a different way. When did the idea of extinction arise? How? I had never thought to ask this question in either of my science classes. The realization made me pause and reconsider my frustration. I do not just want to learn a little bit about everything, I want to develop my understanding of many things. As a consequence of reading Waiting for Godot in Challenges and acting it out in Basic Acting, I think you have a better understanding of the play’s fantastic ability to beg the question, “What am I waiting for?”, than many of us who merely read it.

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