Does individual identity hinder or support our efforts to become connected as a society?
A strong society functions when individuals are not excluded or grouped based on demographic characteristics. Instead, we must interact with other individuals to see the beauty in their experiences, however different they may be from our own. Professor Quillen’s Being Human lecture expressed this sentiment as she emphasized storytelling as a way of becoming familiar with those who we may view as “other.” Even though history has painted a profuse picture of this “other,” we are all truly human. Grouping by individual identity can be harmful as not everyone can fit into a singular identity. Additionally, building one’s world on the notion of a specific identity is the fastest route to the exclusion of others. Harmony arises when one on one encounters allow individuals to bond on their familiar motivations, not on the divisions. The common ground we all share will challenge the divisive group attitudes that separate us.
Although, as I move through the course, I am left with some reservations on this idea. Common ground and universal belonging are uniting factors. However, by coming under one umbrella of human, distinct culture and the familiarity of tradition may be wiped away. There must be some middle ground between universal acceptance and the cherishing of unique traditions.
The importance of speaking one’s perceived truth lies in the fact that the thoughts we share shape others’ experiences. When Frankfurt defines bullshit, he describes the act of talking without regard for the truth. In doing so, the speaker puts their own version of the truth into existence, one that may conflict with reality. On the opposite end of the bullshitter, lies a listener who has been fed deception under the guise of truth. The listener’s reality has been unwittingly impaired. We must accept that we play a role in shaping others’ reality, after all what is reality if not the cumulation of human existence within the natural world. Just as translators have a responsibility to portray the intended message of the author, we too have a responsibility to portray raw experiences without care for how we may be perceived. The source of bullshit is the desire to appear in such a way that will yield respect or attention from others. We must collectively stop allowing the perceptions of others to guide our lives. Live for yourself, embrace the authenticity of your human experience, and subsequently we may begin a revolution.
In Stories from Rwanda, Gourevitch seeks to understand why the international community held an indifferent, approaching on anti-Tutsi, stance. He mentions that the United States’ refusal to enter the word genocide into conversation, and the French’s intervention on behalf of the Hutus, is contradictory to the opposing actions taken during the Holocaust. Gourevitch sees the “Never Again” slogan adpoted at the Holocaust museum as an affront to the lives lost in Rwanda (152). As the world sat back while a genocide occurred, there seems to be a pervasive idea that horrors committed on European soil are inhuman, requiring immediate action; yet suffering anywhere in Africa is inevitable. This is a sentiment that Sontag mimics as well. The Rwandan Genocide seemed to affirm the rest of the world’s belief that poor countries will act with a violence that Europe and America are somehow removed from, without the responsibility to act. Sontag makes this most clear through the use of face in photography: “The more remote or exotic the place, the more likely we are to have full frontal views of the dead” (70). The less respect we hold for a nation and its people, the more comfortable we are to make the ravages of violence and human casualty visible. Yet, this perpetuates a continual loop as we can then cast Rwandans aside as savages, no longer holding the burden to aid. Sontag and Gourevitch both seem to agree that the Rwandan Genocide was ignored due to the Euro-centric world’s predjudiced attitudes towards African nations. Sontag brings a new perspective to the table through the lense of photography. The person behind the camera holds the fate of the subject.
Pages 120 and 121 within John Lewis’ March 2 depict a SNCC protest at a segregated swimming pool in Cairo, Illinois in 1962, and a subsequent hit and run involving a young African American girl. The left side is broken into three horizontal panels. Although, this format is interrupted as a small square panel of Danny Lyon, a white photographer, appears in front. Lyon’s presence in the foreground suggests that the action of the white photographer takes precedent over the protestors in the first panel. The four African American protesters in the middle panel cannot rise to the public eye with legitimacy until they are photographed through the lense of Lyon. This middle panel is also drawn in a different style than the rest of the comic, using a lighter grey tone compared to the stark black and white shown throughout. Thus, the photograph, as powerful and shareable as it may be, is dulled of the raw nature of the event and made more palatable for the white moderate. Consequently, the right page does not use text narration, instead the only audible sensation is the screech of the car with a widespread use of black and white color contrast. In the first panel on the right, the driver is in shadow while the young girl is standing with her face in the light. The smoke shrowds out the crowd behind them, so the dismal race relations of the entire city become embodied in the staredown between the cowardly man whose face is never shown and the brave young girl. Her arms move outwards into a crucifix like position, signalling her sacrifice to to brace the impact of pure hatred. As the following page shifts to a different time and location, the occurrence at Cairo disappears from national memory as there was not a photographer to capture it and legitimize her suffering. The girl’s lifeless body flings across the page and the vroom sound effect dissipates down the corner. The use of imagery to contrast light and dark, and innocence versus evil heightens the event, more so than written word could manage. The “click click” of the camera does not capture the young girl’s body, so her story is pushed aside in favor of the protesters’ famous image.
These posts from the first 4 units of Humanities touch on familiar themes within the course such as human identity, perception, and the power of photography. Unit 1 and Unit 2 share common threads on the way in which we think about reality and humanity. In my first post, I questioned how to live in a society filled with difference. In Unit 2, I continue to ask questions on the nature of reality, and how to be proud of our own experiences in such a way that allows for the acceptance of each other’s truths. Both Unit 3 and Unit 4 shared the presence of photography. First, lies the conflict between violent images and their ability to draw attention and action to international horror opposed to their sensational nature which provides arousal to the viewer and indignity to the subject. This translates to Unit 4’s discussion of the Civil Rights Movement as photographers captured such violence. Here a relevant conversation exists on the nature of violence as either justified and necessary or immoral. But either way, white photographers captured such violence in the era, drawing attention suffering, and possibly furthering the momentum of the movement.