Fledgling Blogger: Courtnee Brinker
I’ve been charged with the completely overwhelming task of blogging about Octavia Butler’s Dawn. When I first received the course syllabus, I immediately began trying to find used bookstores that carried her work, though often times I had to call and speak to someone to find out. Without a doubt, everyone I spoke to was white, and between three different bookstores and six different people, each of them knew that Octavia was black and wrote science fiction, which made me proud and evoked the same feeling I get when a person who isn’t of color knows what Spelman is and why it is an important institution. Those in the majority often have the privilege of staying within their own world and of being ignorant of what goes on outside of it, while people of color are expected to and have learned to navigate between many different worlds, just as Lilith Iyapo does in Dawn. Often times while reading the novel, I’d forget that Lilith is a black woman and I asked myself if it mattered. And the answer is of course it does—Octavia wouldn’t have written it this way if it didn’t. Every single detail is accounted for, and that’s what makes this work special. It is Lilith’s ability to tackle so many unfathomable tasks, to cope with her captors, to relinquish her control to them, and to trust them that make her a black woman leader, and a leader in a situation where many would have given up. Lilith’s strength mirrors that of black women as a collective, both historically and presently, while Dawn itself echoes a slavery narrative—tragic and captivating. Butler seamlessly weaves together the remnants of our very real past and the scary uncertainties of our future.
The Oankali, who appear to be the future, cite humanity’s hierarchical tendencies and vast intelligence as the downfall of the human race, and yet, they themselves appear to have a similar hierarchical structure and inclination towards superiority. The Oankali soon prove that they are what Europeans were to the Native Americans, and no different than the slave-holding Christians who beat the backs of my ancestors because they knew better, because they knew “the way.” Only in Dawn, the Oankali don’t use whips to prove their point; they instead rely on a psychological degradation that is arguably worse than physical punishment. The Oankali deny Lilith human contact, instruments to record her history and the answers to her questions. This seems to me no different than what happened to an entire diaspora of people. Butler uses the Oankali to tell the reader that history repeats.
In Dawn Lilith teaches that the black woman continues to be a place of solace and strength even when history repeats itself. Five hundred years from now, she will be a leader—not because she never cracks, but because of her ability to put herself back together.