Showing 41 - 50 of 121 annotations tagged with the keyword "African-American Experience"

Skin: A Natural History

Jablonski, Nina

Last Updated: Apr-05-2007

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

As an anthropologist with training in comparative biology, Jablonski is particularly interested in the natural history of humans: how did humans evolve to gain the varied appearances we see today? In particular, she investigates how our skin developed into a covering that is unique among animals in three ways: (1) it is naked--effectively hairless--and sweaty, (2) we come in a wide array of colors (not just the traditional four), and (3) we use our skin as a surface for decoration, a "social placard," which we cover or bare at will, and on which we put make-up, tattooes, scarifications, and piercings, all ways of expressing cultural and personal values.

Our ability to sweat allowed us to cast off the usual mammalian fur coat and to be active even in the heat of the day (when many creatures take shelter). Humans, therefore, could do more and be more as thinkers, builders, and social creatures.

As to our color variations, Jablonski argues that the main root of modern humans came out of East Africa; these people were black, because a lot of melanin in their skin was the best way to avoid too much ultraviolet radiation, although some is needed to create Vitamin D. As humans migrated to the north and the south, Darwinian selection favored lighter skin pigmentation in order to use the lower levels of sunlight.

Jablonski writes, "Dark skin or light skin, therefore, tells us about the nature of the past environments in which people lived, but skin color itself is useless as a marker of racial identity" (p. 95). And, noting an irony: "Naturally dark people in many parts of the world are increasingly seeking ways to lighten their skin, while the naturally light-skinned are trying to find new ways to darken theirs" (p. 159).

We often take our skin and all its functions for granted; our consciousness can change quickly, however, if we experience a skin disease, a sunburn, or a thermal burn (see Carter and Petro, Rising from the Flames: The Experience of the Severely Burned). Jablonski discusses a variety of illnesses, including burns, dermatitis, and skin cancers. Other topics include the importance of touch, how skin relates to emotion and sex, and experiments in artificial skin, useful for covering patients with severe burns.

Jablonski presents a dozen color plates, 44 figures, and maps to enliven her text.

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Common Threads

Epstein, Robert; Friedman, Jeffrey

Last Updated: Feb-14-2007
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This documentary film is narrated by Dustin Hoffman; all other characters play themselves. Five stories (pathographies) introduced as panels from the 14-acre AIDS quilt are interwoven with each other, together with personal photos, newsreels and radio reports to recount the history of the first decade of AIDS in the United States.

Tom was a highly educated and athletic, gay man whose story is told by his lesbian friend and co-parent of his adored little daughter. Rob was a married Afro-American, I.V.-drug-user whose loving wife recounts his battle with drugs as well as his disease and who views her own HIV seropositivity as "God’s will." Jeff’s story is told by his grieving male lover over images of his once golden health.

The parents of twelve-year-old hemophiliac, David, tell the story of his entire life as a rush to consume, from his babyhood forward until the sadness of his last Christmas. The shy, handsome architect, David, is mourned by his bisexual lover, a naval officer at the Pentagon, who now lies dying with the lesions of Kaposi’s sarcoma quite visible on his face.

The narrators describe solace they derived from quilting memorial panels for their loved ones. In the final scene, the AIDS quilt lies on the Mall in Washington as names of hundreds of loved ones are read by grieving families and friends.

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The Minneapolis Poem

Wright, James

Last Updated: Jan-10-2007
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A seven-part poem reflecting facets of indigence, homelessness, and helplessness. "How many old men last winter / Hungry and frightened by namelessness prowled / The Mississippi shore . . . ? " This poem enters into the lives of the nameless persons who live in the same place, but not the same world as the "Walker Art Center crowd." The speaker cries out that he "could not bear / To allow my poor brother my body to die . . . . " Even here, in the midst of his desperation, the speaker finds a glimmer of possibility: "I want to be lifted up / By some great white bird . . . . "

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This strong, powerful poem of grief for the death of an infant son in an intensive care unit is written by a poet who lost two of his five children. The rhythm of the poem is jazz, pulsing and pulsating, with well-controlled rests. Some words are run together: " . . . mamaborn, sweetsonchild / gonedowntown into researchtestingwarehousebatteryacid" which evokes (among other things) the frenzied atmosphere of a neonatal intensive care unit and the seemingly inevitable rush towards death.

Much of the poem deals with the distrust of the medical community, which is emphasized by the divide of race: the white doctors and nurses in white uniforms versus the African-American patient and family. The frustration of dependence on others is painful for the father during the nightmare of his baby’s dying. However, the poet reaches a higher level of understanding about his pain and grief; he acknowledges that the baby did receive all that medicine had to offer and he recognizes the complicated responsibilities one acquires by experiencing a loss.

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Sister Outsider

Lorde, Audre

Last Updated: Jan-08-2007
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

Sister Outsider is a collection of essays focusing on race/racism, gender/sexism, sexual identity, and social class as these are enacted in a white-supremist, heterosexist, capitalist patriarchy (i.e. the United States). As a Black woman, lesbian, feminist, mother, poet, essayist, and political activist, Lorde's essays in this collection include her often quoted "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House," an essay that radically challenges how white people "learn about" racism, or how men "learn about" women: "Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master's concerns . . . ."

Her essay "Poetry is Not a Luxury" suggests that poetry is "illumination," and is a way to wed ideas and feeling, a way "we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives." Other titles include "Sexism: An American Disease in Blackface," "Man Child: A Black Lesbian Feminist's Response" (on being the lesbian mother of a son), and "The Uses of Anger: Women Respond to Racism."

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Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

Subtitled Women Novelists of Color and the Politics of Medicine, this book draws on novels by eleven women to illustrate how physical and emotional states of health and illness are linked directly to social justice. The book is divided into two parts. The first five chapters deal with individual characters, their illnesses, and sometimes their healing: Toni Cade Bambara's The Salt Eaters, Paule Marshall's Praisesong for the Widow, Gloria Naylor's The Women of Brewster Place: A Novel in Seven Stories, Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony, Toni Morrison's Beloved and The Bluest Eye, Louise Erdrich's Tracks, and Sapphire's Push are among the works Stanford uses to examine women who have become ill because of broken ties to their histories and communities, because of racial hatred, or because of domestic and sexual violence (see this database for annotations).

The second part of the book finds novels examining medicine itself. Stanford uses Ana Castillo's So Far from God, Gloria Naylor's Mama Day (annotated in this database), Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead: A Novel (annotated in this database), and Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents again to raise connections between patients and social conditions but also to ask questions about bioethics and uncertainty, medicine and epistemology, and how medicine might resist dehumanizing trends through the "myriad possibilities of communitas" (218).

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

For months, Junior Brown, an obese adolescent, has been meeting secretly with his friend Buddy, a street-wise homeless boy who lives in an abandoned building, and a former teacher, now janitor, Mr. Pool. In the basement of the school building, Mr. Pool has rigged up a model of the solar system that rotates, illuminated in the dark. He and the boys discuss astronomy, math, and a vision of worlds to come while the boys skip classes and take refuge in their basement hideaway.

Junior is mentally disturbed; both Buddy and Mr. Pool know this and take care of him as they can. Junior's fiercely controlling mother exacerbates his obesity by serving him excessive helpings of food and feeding his fantasy that his father will return. She herself has asthma, which ties Junior to her as intermittent caretaker.

Junior has a musical gift, but his mother has removed the strings from the piano, so he practices on keys that produce no sound. Fridays he finds his way to the home of a demented old piano teacher who won't allow him to play her piano because of her delusion that a dangerous relative is hiding in her apartment. Ultimately the boys and Mr. Pool are caught in their marginal existence below the school.

They retreat to Buddy's urban hideaway where he cares for two other boys, teaching them how to survive. Buddy is convinced he can help Junior survive as well, with Mr. Pool's help. He knows that if he allows Junior to be retrieved by his mother or school officials, he'll be locked up in an institution where no one will recognize his gifts or his worth.

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Babylon Boyz

Mowry, Jess

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Pook, Dante, and Wyatt inhabit the social margins of an inner-city school in Oakland. Pook's family has disintegrated from drug trade, Dante needs a heart operation he can't afford as a result of his now-dead mother's addiction to crack cocaine, Wyatt, slowed and ostracized by obesity, provides a frequent refuge for the other two at his mother's rundown dockside café. The three of them are no strangers to the violence of drug-infested neighborhoods, Wyatt manages to smuggle a gun into the schoolyard despite metal detectors, but none of the boys is eager to use weapons. They are "homies," committed to each other's survival, and intensely loyal.

Radgi, a younger, smaller homeless kid, follows them for occasional handouts and eventually is taken into Dante's apartment where his father, a dock worker, is frequently absent. All are threatened repeatedly by "Air Touch," a leader in the local drug trade who deals with smugglers and rich white patrons. Another occasional friend is Kelly, a Korean boy whose father runs a convenience store in the "hood."

The plot follows the fortunes of the boys after they witness the police beating Air Torch, see him toss his gun and briefcase away before being apprehended, and pick up both as they run for home. In the briefcase is a load of cocaine ready for sale. They have to decide whether to sell it to get the money for Dante's operation or pour it down the toilet. They sell the gun with the help of Kelly who, discovered by Air Torch, is killed, along with his father.

Eventually, after some hair-raising close calls, the boys get rid of the drugs, assemble in Dante's apartment, and discover that the petite Radgi, who they thought was bloated from starvation, is a girl, about to have a baby as a result of rape. Pook, who longs to be a doctor and has read a medical book sequestered among his few possessions, helps deliver the child, a "little brutha."

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Love in the Driest Season

Tucker, Neely

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Neely Tucker, a white journalist from Mississippi on assignment to Zimbabwe, and his wife, Vita, an African American from Detroit, volunteer to spend time with orphaned and abandoned children, many victims of the desperation caused by AIDS. In the orphanage, where a distressing number of children die due to lack of medicines or basic materials, or lack of adequate staff training, they come upon and find themselves deeply drawn to a particularly tiny, sick, vulnerable baby, abandoned in the desert. The director of the orphanage picks a name for her as she does for the other orphans: Chipo.

The Tuckers arrange to take her home, first for weekend care visits, hoping thereafter to do a more permanent foster care arrangement and then adopt her. A long story of struggle with Zimbabwean bureaucracy ensues, through which one learns much about suspicion of white Americans who want children, the ways in which child care becomes one more issue in partisan politics, and how abandoned children are caught in adults’ power struggles. Interspersed with this moving story are brief accounts of sometimes harrowing trips to other parts of Africa, including sites of major warfare in Rwanda and Uganda.

Tucker also intersperses memories of encounters with families in Bosnia during his work there. Ultimately, and only after much persistence, empathetic individuals in the system, and some newly learned under-the-table skills, the adoption papers come through and the family makes its way back to American where Tucker begins his ongoing assignment at the Washington Post.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Summary:

The editor solicited this collection of thirteen stories on the theme of entrapment from experienced young adult fiction writers. They represent a variety of kinds of entrapment: in a relationship too serious too early; in an abusive relationship; in a body distorted through the psychological lens of anorexia; in a dream world; in a canyon fire; in a web of secrets woven in an abused childhood; in a maze with a minotaur; in a habit of perfectionism; in the sites of urban violence; in dementia induced by post-traumatic stress (long remembered by a Viet Nam vet); in an unsought relationship with a lost and disturbed brother; in poverty. In each of the stories an adolescent protagonist encounters some challenge either to find his or her way out of a trap, or to understand others’ entrapments. The stories vary widely in setting and style, but held together by this theme, they serve to enlarge understanding of the ways in which any of us may find ourselves entrapped, and how “liberation” may require both imagination and compassion.

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