Response to Citizen Proposal

I would like my project to be a 3D representation of the black American’s vessel and compare it to the white American’s vessel. I plan to show this with flower vases and they will each be filled uniquely based on verses from Citizen as well as outside information. I would provide an artist’s statement in order to explain the inspiration for each vessel, as well as some excerpts from Citizen that will emphasize the impact my response will have on the audience.

I plan on focusing on vessels in my response; how memories are vessels for our feelings, as suggested in Citizen.  I want to show the audience the stark differences in the everyday experiences of two different types of American citizens, using the various examples in Rankine’s book.

My ideal audience would be ignorant Americans who are unaware of the constant racism African Americans face, in hopes of helping them become more aware and more understanding of citizens who are not mirror images of themselves.

However, a more reasonable audience will be middle schoolers who attend my school because I can be sure that my message will reach them. 



I’m Selfish: An assertion

It’s the automatic, unconscious way that I experience boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.

David Foster Wallace brings to light selfish nature within us all in his 2005 Kenyon College commencement address, “This is Water.” He describes the childlike mindset we all maintain long after the age of five; we are the center of the world, and he is absolutely correct.

It’s difficult to admit at first, I completely understand. After one is told that they are inevitably selfish, by nature, the initial reaction is disbelief. Afterall, I experienced this myself. As I read “This is Water” I recalled being in a busy shopping market with my mom, listening to her narcissistic remarks and contradicting them in my head. However I am not the enlightened, selfless 16 year old I believed I was before Foster Wallace wrote otherwise. I too am a culprit of feeling personally offended every time a car cuts me off on the highway; it can be very difficult to recognize that these people have a whole life separate from mine. And, contrary to my immediate reactions, they were not cutting me off simply because I am myself, but instead because they are themselves, and they have their own reasons for everything they do. So before you deny everything I’m saying, consider this: you are selfish and admitting it is far better than denying it.

As Foster Wallace explains, acknowledging that the only way we experience anything in our life ever, is through our own eyes, in our own shoes, we can then begin to remove the veil from our faces, and step out of our shoes. We can train ourselves to have a more sympathetic mindset, trusting that there is as much good in others as the good in ourselves, perhaps more, even. Something David Foster Wallace and I both agree on is that we are selfish, and whoever reading this is also selfish, but it comes with an easy fix, and we are all capable of being selfless.

Now Hiring: Satirical Lifeguards Wanted

Being a lifeguard is simply magical. Nothing beats sitting in the sun for ten hours a day; however, jumping in the sweaty water to save a seemingly parentless child is a close second. The nosebleeds I get to tend to are fantastic practice for my dream job of being a doctor without borders, and there are so many nosebleeds I just know I’m prepared for anything else in the medical field. Because I get the pleasure of working with other teenagers who are incredibly mature, I’m always so excited to go to work. My co-workers and I especially appreciate the strict no-phone policy; I would hate to be distracted while on the third break of my eight hour shift. One of my favorite memories is when I was on one of these breaks, eating, and another lifeguard jumped into the pool to save some really smart kid who decided he didn’t need to swim in order to jump off the diving board. It is my job as a lifeguard on break to run to the place the hero is; meaning I must drop what I am doing and run. The best part from all of this is that I was eating lunch when this child conveniently began to drown, so with all the grace and bravery of a sixteen year old lifeguard, I threw my thundercloud sandwich to the ground and triumphantly slipped on it while running to help. It is times like these, when I can squash my lunch as if it is the reason parents forget to watch their babies, that I know what I do is worth it. It’s times when I slip while getting on the lifeguard stand, that I am so grateful for the forty hours of training I went to, so that I may apply a bandaid on my self. I urge you all to become a lifeguard as soon as you can, because you will not regret it.

Savage Happiness

Formally stated, Newton’s third law of motion is: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This law can easily be applied to everyday life. If we lived in a world with a sun never hidden from us, by storm clouds or other means, we would be incapable of knowing what a “clear” day is. To us, it would just be “A Day,” indifferent to us and everything else. In Brave New World, there is a civilized society in which no one experiences sadness. They are civilized, and they are happy, therefore they experience civilized happiness. What of the rest of us? I experience both sadness and happiness; in some instances, the emotion is so strong I forget I am capable of feeling the other. Experiencing sadness is the prerequisite to gratitude. We need opposing forces in our lives. Happiness is one thing, but gratitude for that happiness is arguably more important than the emotion itself. This is called savage happiness.

Brave New World defines individual happiness by the ability to satisfy needs. Whether the need be physical, mental, or sexual, any and all needs are instantaneously met with easy solutions such. It sounds like the perfect situation but the question still arises, is it genuine? To achieve this, all the civilized humans sacrificed their ability to recognize beauty, to feel love, to know God. Surviving while remaining “happy” is what they do. That is not real living. We live through experience, not by satisfying our needs. We need the struggle in order to recognize peace. It’s all a balance between opposing forces, one constant force is impossible. We can’t be grateful if we don’t have a reason to be.

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World defines communal happiness by the ability to achieve perfection. Perfection is the condition of being as free as possible from all flaws and defects. They accomplish this by sacrificing families, mothers, fathers, instead fertilizing eggs in tubes and pre-determining the life of each individual. This makes life more efficient, because children are raised and conditioned by the state, eliminating all conflict that is derived from opinion, because everyone has the same opinions on everything. However, in our world we think for ourselves, we have original thoughts, and that is unquestionably a better way of living. Conflict can be healthy in terms of debates and constructive criticism, one person’s idea of “perfection” eliminating these things all together. We can’t be grateful if we don’t have conflict to remind us to be grateful.

The balance that we need and rely on so much is not present in Brave New World. We are savage, and this savagery is defined as uncivilized, both in the novel Brave New World and in our world. The novel goes on to define a savage as someone who accepts the right to be unhappy, the right to have cancer, the right to love and be loved, the right to be “one of us,” so to speak. We have the right to be savage, however in Brave New World, it is only a privilege. We are allowed to have science, to have Newton’s laws which in turn apply to every aspect of living. So yes, our world isn’t brave, isn’t new, but it’s real, and it’s savage. We are all savages following Newton’s laws of motion by feeling happiness, sadness, and a plethora of other emotions that don’t even have names. Our individual ability to experience life is much more valuable than ever-lasting happiness, more valuable than perfection. We all experience savage happiness, and we should hope that that doesn’t change.

Uncle Sam Propaganda Opticc Report

This poster is important to the Contemporary time period, 1900 CE-Present, because it represents the political and social structures of this time period, nationalism and militarism. It is important that people recognize that this poster represents the war-related propaganda in the United States near the beginning of this time period. This portrait of “Uncle Sam” is relevant today because it went on to become–according to its creator, James Montgomery Flagg–“the most famous poster in the world.” Most people are able to associate this poster to this time period, making it a great symbol of the Contemporary time period.

Overview- This poster focuses on Uncle Sam, with a few words about joining the U.S. Army. This poster is trying to encourage young men to enlist themselves into the army. It portrays joining the army as fulfilling one’s duty, making it propaganda.

Parts- The most noticeable part of this poster is Uncle Sam, pointing at the viewer. He has a stern look on his face, giving his message a more serious, important tone. Below his portrait are the words “I Want YOU For U.S. Army / Nearest Recruiting Station,” which are directed at the viewer. The poster is bordered with red, white, and blue stripes, and on that note, the entire poster follows the same color scheme, bearing the United States’ colors. His star spangled hat, his red bow tie, his blue jacket, he symbolizes the U.S. with the intention of being eye-catching.

Title- Originally published as the cover for the July 6, 1916, issue of Leslie’s Weekly, this image had the title “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?,” which perfectly represents the message this poster is trying to convey. The title tells the reader that the poster will probably suggest something that they can do in order to be “prepared” as the title states. The title is therefore suggesting that to be fully prepared for war, one must enlist in the army and defend their country.

Interpretation- This poster is meant to depict the political and social ideals of this time. The message of this poster is simple: Join the army, it is the most honorable choice. We can justify that it is honorable because it is none other than Uncle Sam who needs us. Also, because the title asks us what are we doing to be prepared, this poster isn’t necessarily only aimed at people who can join the army right away. For example, it may also be targeting young boys, planting the idea in their heads now that in the future they should join the army. It also plants the idea in other people that can’t join the army, that they should still be doing something to be prepared for war.

Context- In all of the Great powers, military spending increased greatly in the years prior to the war. The rivalry between the powers to have the best military led to a building up of weapons and an increase in distrust. Allied to this growing militarism was an intense nationalism in most of the Great powers. The desire for world power status was very popular in Germany. The French desire for revenge over Alsace and Lorraine was very strong. In Britain, Imperialism and support for the Empire was very evident. This nationalism meant that there was little resistance to war in these countries. Russia was very nationalistic, their slavic culture brought the citizens together. On the same note, Russia was willing to defend other Slavic peoples from different nations, so when Austria-Hungary declared war on the Slavic state of Serbia, the Soviet Union stepped in, hoping to defend and gain control over the Balkan States. Thus, World War I began in 1914, and the United States stood idly by until 1917. Over four million copies of this Uncle Sam propaganda were printed between 1917 and 1918, starting when the United States entered World War I, allied with the Triple Entente (Britain, France, Russia, along with Italy who also joined late like the U.S.) and began sending troops and materials into war zones.

Conclusion- This poster depicts the ideals shared by the Great powers at the beginning of this time period, and consequently, the ideals of most nations today. It shows that the government was trying to encourage its citizens to join the Army, and that propaganda was popular and widely used. This is important to what we are studying because this Uncle Sam poster is directly caused by a major event, World War I, and is also direct evidence of the militarism and nationalism that presented themselves in the early 1900s and have continued since then to present day.

Fur Traders Descending the Missouri Opticc Report

This painting by George Caleb Bingham is important to the Modern Period, 1750-1900 CE, because it refers to trade, settlement, the (new) nation’s north-south axis—the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers—and the issue of race in America. It is important that people recognize that this painting represents the Modern Period in America because the issues this painting deals with were all large factors in the life of an American at this time. This painting is relevant today because it shows how native and foreign American inhabitants along the upper reaches of the Missouri drifted toward the embrace of the modern, urbanized world, making it a great reference to the start of the Modern Period.

Overview- This painting is a beautiful scene of fur traders traveling down the Missouri River, and it can be read from left to right—against the flow of the Missouri—from the native bear cub chained to the boat’s prow, to the man at the stern, a straight line from the beast to civilized humanity. This image symbolizes the path to the Modern Period.

Parts- The most noticeable part in this piece is the boat with the fur traders on it, and I’ve separated it into three parts, the bear, the boy, and the man. The native bear cub will probably be sold for it’s fur, and we later see that the boy rests on the fur pelts; fur trade being a large part of the economy. The man at the stern of the boat stares at the viewer with a somewhat sad expression, whereas the young man appears content. We can also see the young man holds a rifle and there is a dead duck laying beside him, suggesting he has recently shot the duck with said rifle, and is smiling perhaps because he is content with his shot. The river they float in is the Missouri. There is a rock jutting out from the water as well as some branches, adding a more naturesque feel to the river. There appears to be an island or land with trees behind the subjects, all of which is blanketed by a cloudy, yet not gloomy, sky.

Title- The title of this piece is Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, which explains that this piece focuses on a large part of America’s economy. George Bingham himself called the picture “French-Trader—Half Breed Son,” emphasizing the painting’s racial exoticism. However, the managers of the American Art-Union in New York, where he sent it for exhibition, chose to show it under its present title, which transformed the trader and his son into generalized western types. Both titles, previous and current, prepare the viewer to expect fur traders on the surface, but a great history lying hidden  in the depths of the Missouri river they travel on.

Interpretation- This entire image shows much more than a trader and his son, it shows a history of revolutions and the mixing of races, etc. The bear cub is a symbol for humanity’s wilder past, and as explained in the overview, the maturity progresses on the boat as we look from left to right. The native cub also symbolizes the movement of natives into new unknown places; this black bear cub will probably be sold for its fur, which could also symbolize the slavery still occurring in the beginning of Modern America.  The boy is a symbol of the newly independent United States of America, as he is called “mixed-race” by Bingham, the adolescent exemplifies the mixing of races, although what really happened is most natives were moved to reservations. The man is a symbol of the older generations during this time period, his solemn expression perhaps represents the revolutions and wars he has witnessed occur. The message of this piece of art is that The United States have entered a period of modernization where the best is yet to come.

Context- This painting takes place along the Missouri River in North America, shortly after The United State’s fight for and declaration of independence from the British. The States have a history with the fur trade, dating back to their colonial times when they were still ruled by the British royalty. The French also participated in the fur trade, as many beavers were in Canada where they hunted for fur, which explains why Bingham described the traders to have French origins. It is quite possible after the Seven Years War that occurred during this time period these fur traders’ family became citizens of the American Colonies, and later during the American Revolution, citizens of the United States. This time period involves revolutions all around the world, the most successful being the French Revolution. The Haitians also experienced a revolution in which the slaves expelled all the Blancs— both grand and petite— as they called them, from the island, but it eventually caused their economic and political systems to weaken. All of these revolutions were leading to a more modernized world, and they were caused by the Enlightenment, which was when everyone started thinking differently yet again.

Conclusion- This painting depicts two humble fur traders expanding their ancient world into a modern one. It shows that the artists of this time were recognizing the great changes the revolutions had led to, and that Bingham in particular believed these changes were leading to a more sophisticated, mature world. This is important to what we are studying because it highlights a major part of the economy at this time period and hints at the revolutions occurring during this time period.


Surviving Death

Dying once is enough for most, Malinalli on the other hand, had to die over and over again. At the very start of her life she proved she could survive anything. Her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck and mouth, serpent-like, representing the god Quetzalcoatl. She died at the age of five when her mother sold her heart’s freedom for much less than one pays for quetzal feathers. She was reborn as Marina, and then Marina died when she met Cortes, and La Malinche was born in the hands of Cortes. Malinalli stayed alive within Marina, La Malinche, The Tongue. Malinalli remained herself in every new life she was thrown in.

firstMother knows best, that’s what everyone always says, but when your mother thinks she should sell you as a slave because your dad died, maybe Grandmother knows best. Malinalli’s abuela remained her sanity, her happiness. She saw at the start of Malinalli’s life that she would be a survivor for the rest of her time, as she “sensed that the girl was destined to lose everything so that she might gain everything.,” on page 5. Her grandmother saw even more without the use of her eyes, and she was right when she saw that Malinalli would experience great losses in order to experience true happiness. Malinalli’s first loss was her freedom, but she survived with the help of her gods, and the morning star. “From the time they had first given her away as a very young girl, Malinalli had learned to conquer the fear of the unknown by relying on the familiar, on the brilliant star that would appear at her window…” It is evident page 19 that after experiencing loss, Malinalli can gain the skills to survive it, and she often times already has the skills thanks to her all-knowing abuela.

secondAs La Malinche travels to Tenochtitlan, silent and uncomplaining, she uses her survival skills, and draws out Malinalli from her soul. “Migration is an act of survival,” that is what Malinalli’s grandmother said to her when admiring butterflies on page 92. Malinalli remembers this when she needs it most, when she is suffering from hypothermia and is about to witnesses horrible death. Malinalli is always migrating, be it from slave owner to slave owner, or with Cortes, conquering alongside him. She becomes one of the butterflies her abuela took her to see, changing names, creating cocoons for herself, born into a new life each time, surviving. Migrating involves leaving everything behind, or as her abuela predicted, losing everything, leaving behind a life, in turn for eventually, a better one.

CaptureThe better life, the one The Tongue was always translating for, the one La Malinche helped Cortes for, the one Malinalli finally got, with Jaramillo, her husband, and Maria and Martin. It is this life that Malinalli finally, once again herself as she was as a child, allowed herself to die in. This life, finally full of all the happiness she lost, is the one that allowed Malinalli to be one with the gods, the elements, the stars. “Her spirit became one with the water. It scattered in the air. Her skin expanded to the limit, allowing her to change shape and become one with everything that surrounded her…She abandoned this world.” Only a survivor can avoid death for so long, then to choose when they do leave world, as Malinalli did on page 185.

Sold into slavery by her own mother, given no other options but to help Cortes, translated for the ruler who demands sacrifice and blood-shed, and thought of with shame in one’s heart, through La Malinche, Malinalli survived. Malinalli was born in such a way that it was clear that she would have to lose everything to gain everything, and she did, many times, over and over. Such feats only a survivor could live through, and one day die through, and throughout it all, “Malinalli saw clearly that she had lost nothing, that there was no reason to fear…” (p. 27)