Friday, February 22, 2013

Reflection: Effects of Silence

By Denise Francis

           Half way through the semester I realize that the setting of this class, discussions and concepts are emotionally draining for me. Here’s why...

            Being one of the few black people-females- in the class, it is difficult for me to have discussions with individuals about the black experience in America without feeling like I need defend the history, correct ignorant views or speak for the entire race. Having conversations about race in America is very touchy but also necessary for the advancement of our nation. 
            During our last discussion of Malcolm X and the various events that occurred in his life, one particular incident resonated with me. One of his favorite teachers told him that he could not be a lawyer because people of color are not lawyers. After expressing interest for the field to someone he admired and trusted, his dream was shattered. The implication of this could have had devastating effects on his life. It’s very possible that he could have decided to drop out of school and live a life that denied his potential as a person. Thankfully that didn’t happen, but for many people that’s not the case. I have heard many stories of people who were told that they weren’t going to be anything, in particular black males. At a tender age it alters how someone views themselves and what they can achieve. 
            I connected this situation to my own circumstance. My senior I decided to apply early decision to GWU after falling in love with the university. It was a small charter public high school and everyone knew how ecstatic I was after I was accepting. After having a meeting with my guidance counselor she tried to encourage me to breach my early decision contract with GW. I saw there confused and lost that she would even suggest that I walked away from a life changing decision that I worked so hard for. Needless to say, I’m currently a senior at GW and thank God I didn’t let her persuasion change my decision. If I wasn’t the person I am I don’t know what would have happened after graduation.
            While discussing Malcolm’s experience in class a student made a comment that she didn’t understand why Malcolm was still harboring feelings after such a long time. His ending remark that he would have made a great lawyer was a moment of reflection and triumph that in that instance he wasn’t broken. Instead, he kept his drive and ambition which will have a lasting affect on our nation. So why hold onto what seemed to you as a “no big deal moment”?...

The constant fear of being robbed of a fair opportunity, that’s why. 


  1. Dear Denise,

    Thank you for posting this because I needed to hear it from you. I feel very upset at myself for having incited those feelings within you, and I am sorry for having done so. It is true that I was perplexed by his harboring of this memory.
    I see Malcolm X as a very bold and confident man. Upon reading Marable and Haley's work, I came with the conclusion that nothing could stop Malcolm from attaining his dream. So when I read that he still wished to get his education, possibly his law degree, I was surprised that he did think about this past experience because I made the assumption that he had gotten over this memory and triumphed by utilizing his skills with rhetoric and knowledge in the Nation of Islam and afterwards, as a prominent public figure, speaker, and advocate.
    I admit that I am ignorant on black identity, culture, and history in America both past and present; this is in part because of my upbringing. No one knows how to talk about race in New Orleans or in the South, so people simply don't discuss it. I agree, wholeheartedly, that you should not have the need to correct ignorant views. Please know, that I will try my best to remain more acute to my surroundings and opinions, as I do not wish to hurt anyone's feelings. I'm happy to hear that you remained firm in your dream to go to GW. Like you, I fell in love with GW when I first visited the university.

    1. I really appreciate this dialogue — 100% appreciate.

      Like Denise, I've often felt drained by our class discussions. Slavery, race, the civil rights movement, and segregation are among the most difficult set of issues both in American history and in the American present. The level of detail in which we are endeavoring to examine the course material has been challenging, because it has pressured me to think about things that, admittedly, I have not spent much time thinking about. Of course this "not-thinking-about-it" is a complex cultural phenomenon, largely stemming from a lack of tools and a lack of knowledge.

      All of which brings me to what I most want to say: we all chose to be in this class for a reason. There have been moments when students have made comments that have perhaps struck me as ignorant or problematic. I deeply regret the fact that I have likely made similarly ignorant or problematic comments at some point over the course of the semester. I see now how important it is that we highlight these moments calmly, respectfully and directly. I think we owe it to ourselves and to one another to extend that sort of generosity to one another, because we have come to this class, not because we already know everything we need to know, but because we have a desire to learn.

  2. Denise, thank you for opening up about your experience with the class material. I find that the texts we discuss are extremely emotional and you are quite right to bring our attention to the racial dynamic in our classroom. I think you do a great job of making us pause in our discussions to think of the ramifications of what we're discussing, and to correct erroneous and offensive statements in class. It's a tough position to be in, but you always handle it gracefully yet forcefully enough to provoke serious consideration. I appreciate your honesty and continue to learn from your comments in class and on this blog.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.