All posts by Shamique A Thompson

World War Z: Human Nature and Survival

World War Z does a great deal to show different aspects of humanity during times of plight. I really appreciated the fact that the story highlighted the experiences of different people of diverse backgrounds from different countries, rather than focusing on one character who resolves the story with a neat and tidy (or not) end. It shows the raw emotions behind human motives, the selfishness as shown by Breckinridge “Breck” Scott, the desperation to be unaffected by the outbreak as shown in Sharon’s story, and how people are able to overcome their shortcomings in times of difficulty as evidenced by Kondo Tatsumi and Tomonaga Ijiro with shut-in lifestyles and blindness, respectively.

During our discussion yesterday, we questioned whether humanity would ever be able to come together during times of crises and what that would look like. Who would lead the new order? Would humanity even survive this kind of onslaught? I’m going to preface my opinion with the fact that I tend to think the worst of people. I think that people are often self-centered and are mostly in it for themselves; not to mention that in any given apocalyptic show, there’s bound to be some selfish character that ruins it for everyone because they’re okay with the status quo, are too weak and unwilling to do anything, or both. This tends to show up in this genre, be it about zombies, monsters, titans, disease, or anything else. I really think these people are based on the fact that there are those kinds of selfish people in the world. We might even be those selfish people.

Yet, despite all of this, I still think that humanity would be able to survive this kind of calamity, mostly because Kondo Tatsumi’s story reminds me of the fact that people do have survival instincts, no matter lazy or how much of a shut in they are. Granted, I was first very frustrated with him when he stated that he hadn’t questioned the fact that his parents disappeared when he stated that  “the only reason that I cared was because of the precious minutes that I was wasting having to feed myself,” on page 204 on the Kindle version. Still, I found his story relatable because of the fact that I can be like this character, an otaku who lives in a world away from the real world. The greatest moment, for me, in this book was when he “awakened.” “My mind was finally clear, maybe for the first time in years, and I suddenly realized that I could smell smoke and hear faint screams. I went over to the window and threw the curtains open” on page 206. These were the greatest lines in the book, at least in my opinion.

I think that line would reflect the manner in which humans regain the sense that they would need to survive, that their lives before would not matter as much as the desire the survive. I’m not sure about how well people would group up and work together or even which nation would lead the world after recovering from such trauma. After all that talk about how the US is used to being leaders in the world, who knows if those people would even survive? I highly doubt the rest of the world would be willing to listen to some person from, let’s say, Wisconsin, or even if that person has the knowledge to begin to communicate with people in other cultures. All in all, humanity has made it this far, survived other calamities, I think we should be able to survive this one somehow.

On the Subjugation of Women: Seasons of Migration to the North

We had a rather enlightening discussion about the issues regarding homecoming and adjusting/readjusting to home culture in class yesterday. There were many themes that were debated such as the issues of sex being seen as a battle or a way to enact violence, tradition and modernity, colonialism, orientalism, modernization of technology, corruption in politics, education, the universality of human experience, subjugation of women, etc. However, the theme that I would like to focus on in this blog, is the subjugation of women, both in the greater society (England and Sudan) and within the narrator’s life.

Firstly, I would like to discuss Mustafa’s relationship with the women in England. We discussed the issues that Mustafa may have had with colonization and how he attempts to enact power over those women, essentially to colonize England through the women (and his penis). We also started to discuss the reasons for the suicides of all of the women, except Jean Morris, that Mustafa slept with. We debated whether or not it was due to having the dreams of being with a man that would be the definition of oriental culture forcibly taken away from them when Mustafa leaves. However, with thinking back about the time period in which this book may haven taken places leaves me to wonder whether it was caused by the losses of their virginities. On page 35, Mustafa says “she entered my room a chaste virgin and when she left, she was carrying the germs of chaste self-destruction,” on page 30, he says “Ann Hammond spent her childhood at a convent school…In my bed, I transformed her into a harlot.” Considering the fact that in today’s world we still have the usage of the words slut and whore for a woman that is considered sexually promiscuous, I couldn’t imagine the pressure that was placed on those women in that time period. Those women might have succumbed to the pressures placed on society and committed suicide due to their subjugation.

Secondly, I wanted to discuss the subjugation of women that takes place in Sudan, or more specifically, in the narrator’s village. Here, the subjugation was more obvious, with Hosna being beaten and forced into marrying Wad Rayyes because her father didn’t want to be embarrassed with a daughter that didn’t listen to him. There is also the matter of Mahjoub stating that “women belong to men, and a man’s a man even if he’s decrepit,” which shows that despite the fact that the village was going through modernization with new technologies, that one fact would never change. Finally, Bint Mazjoub speaks freely about sex and orgasms with the other elder men in the village; however, she claims that she was for female circumcision for all women. Let me explain what female circumcision requires (depending on where it’s performed): removal of the clitoris, inner/outer labia, and sometimes closure of the vulva. So, the fact that she claims that she enjoys sex and that women should be circumcised means that she’s either lying about enjoying sex, not circumcised, or both. There’s also the fact that she took a scream of agony from Hosna and a scream of pleasure for the same things. She’s the example of a woman that has internalized female subjugation and ends up reproducing it.

Finally, the narrator. He has a passive manner of narrating his story, which was the the original reason that I thought he just passively left his wife and daughter, his family, out of the narrative, only mentioning them in the beginning of chapter 7. However, he does mention his grandfather quite often. This makes me wonder why he would speak so much about Hosna and about loving Hosna, when he does indeed have a wife and daughter at home. Despite the fact that he thinks that he’s rather progressive in saying that Hosna should choose for herself, he subjugates his wife and daughter through their exclusion from the novel. Essentially they end up not having much of a voice within the story.

Reclaiming and Creating Identity with Hair

Reading Americanah was a refreshing experience, at least for me, since I’ve grown used to reading books that are based on the point of someone that is often unlike me. For me, that is simply just the experience of reading a book. However, Americanah appealed to me as it resounded with my lack of identity as a black Jamaican immigrant within the United States. For these past ten years, I’ve become a strange amalgamation of cultures in which I’ve managed to blend my Jamaican heritage, with my newly acquired American citizenship. For me, the biggest problem was not me having a new American identity, but having a new black-American identity and all of the issues that come with the fact that the part of the book that struck me was how Aisha asked Ifemelu “Why you don’t have relaxer?” and the fact that she, a hairdresser, had no idea how to properly comb natural black hair.

I was taught, almost immediately upon my arrival, that in order to be successful in America, I needed to reject everything that is considered culturally that of a black American. However, I, in attempting that, rejected my own Jamaican culture in general. My hair was relaxed almost a year after I arrived, and maybe two years after that, people couldn’t trace my accent, I really did end up learning how to transform my Ts into ds and slur my Rs. I spoke perfect American English to any and everyone, rejecting the patois that I grew up with my whole life. The only thing that I couldn’t do was lighten my dark skin, something that I was ridiculed for for a part of my life in Jamaica and pretty much for a larger time within my stay in the US.

It really wasn’t until the beginning of my time at Brown, when I was 17, that I began to see black as something remotely positive. But it really took me a while to unshackle my mind from all that I’ve known. I saw successful students around me using their slang, I saw beautiful Jamaican (along with other Caribbean people) dancing with rhythm, and the first time that I became more engaged within this community was when I spoke patois with a fellow student. It was something so small, but at the same time, it created a transformation within me. I felt hope, but I also felt a sense of loss from the time wasted in rejecting myself. I wanted to be Jamaican again.

While my transformation started with me speaking patois with my mother over the phone, the greatest change for me was my hair. I can safely say that I’ve rejected my hair ever since I was sentient enough to realize that society believed that long, straight, flowing hair was more acceptable. I’d always envied my friends that were more phenotypically Asian, white(ish), or those that were “a dash of coolie” because they would be treated better. They were considered prettier, were chosen more by certain teachers, and because of that, they generally had better confidence. Something like what happened with Ginika. My only saving grace at the time was that my hair was long, even more so when it was pressed. But I digress. Telling my mother that I would no longer be relaxing my hair was one of those experiences that took great inner strength for me because I knew that when I went back home, she could ridicule me into relaxing it again. Because of this, going home was something that I didn’t look forward to.  And she did ridicule me. She almost got to me.

“Your hair will fall out,” “you look stupid,” “what are you going to do with your hair?” “you’ll never get a job like that,” “you look uncivilized,” “where are you going like that?” Those are all things that I’ve heard, from my mother, when I started growing out my relaxer. It was odd because she’s supported me in everything that I’ve done throughout my life and she’s been the one that sets me on the right track, but strangely enough, this was the one thing that almost caused a schism within our relationship. Isn’t that strange? People tend to cut their hair, dye it, do whatever, but we’ve gotten into screaming matches over something as stupid as hair. Thing is, that it’s not something stupid. It’s something that has dominated the politics over black bodies for a while now. It’s just that my journey to reclaim my identity is what made me realize that. If you were to simply google “the history of black hair,” you’d come to find things such as “the comb test” where, if your hair was too kinky and the comb snagged within your hair, you weren’t allowed to join certain organizations (that and the paper bag test, among others). You’d also learn that African slaves within the Americas were not allowed the use of their pomades and such from their homelands, and therefore had to use grease from cooking. So essentially, the internalization of a forced standard of beauty compelled people to put chemicals in their hair, that if left on for too long, cause hair to fall out and leave scars and scabs on the scalp. No one would bat an eye at a black child with bone straight hair, but would definitely do a double take when they see another child with bright green hair. It’s something that people do to children because their hair is “too difficult,” yet it’s unthinkable when someone dyes their child’s hair.

I ended up cutting off my hair last October (which was quite a liberating experience) and immediately threw braids in it, because the thought of having short hair scared me. However, at this moment, I consciously choose to wear my hair short because I can, wearing it long would require me to straighten it, something that is too much effort for me. The past two years have been a time of growth that has allowed me to confront the prejudices that I have towards myself and other people within society, I have learned to love myself for who I am, but I have also realized, that in doing this, not altering the hair that has grown from my scalp for the satisfaction of others, I have managed to somewhat carve an identity for myself, yet I’ve placed myself in the way of institutionalized racism, because despite what you think and what people may say, natural hair is not necessarily a part of society that is completely accepted. Strange to say how all of this came from the inability of a black hairdresser not knowing how to comb hair.