Octavia E. Butler Celebration of Arts & Activism Panel Review/ End of the Year Thoughts

Going into this panel, I had nothing but high expectations, and coming out of the panel, I felt pleased. It’s a known fact: people who read and enjoy Octavia Butler’s works are inherently cool. And now I’m one of them. The panel contained a mix of artists and activists, many of who relate their work back to Octavia Butler and are finding ways to use her texts to inspire movements. With a panel chocked full of insightful people, I jotted notes to keep up, but one comment really stuck out to me–no notes required. Junot Díaz (whose credentials are available on wikipedia. Also, Junot, a few girls in my class are hardcore fangirls) said that our subconscious has a way of showing up in the work that we do, and specifically our writing. It was an interesting idea considering many people set out to write about specific issues like racism, feminism, sexism, agism, etc in their writing, but what about the ideas we aren’t even thinking about? As frustrating as it can be, writing is so cathartic. As a Spelman student I actively think a lot about feminism and women’s roles within texts and in real-world situations, and a lot of that shows up in my writing, but I think after Junot’s comment, I am more inclined to regularly journal to see what I’m thinking about when I’m not even aware that I’m thinking. Is my mind ever really off the clock? As we move into the spring/summer/school-less months, I plan to journal for ten minutes a day; I want to know more about my subconscious, and I encourage readers of this blog to try it with me!

On another note, today was the last day of our Butler’s Daughter’s: Imagining Leadership class. I am particularly thankful for this class and glad to be one of the pioneers of this course because it opened my eyes to an entire field of study (afrofuturism), incredibly talented authors, and my own capabilities to write and produce science fiction with black protagonists. I’ve always been interested in science-fiction books and movies like Gattaca and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, for example, but it never occurred to me that I could be the one telling those stories, and that the people in the stories could look like me. Octavia is correct when she writes, “all you touch, you change,” because this course has enlightened me in so many unexpected ways, and moved me into long-term action as a reader, writer and thinker.

To our scarily-patient instructors Dr. Stanley and Professor Due, many thanks.

The God Talk: Butler’s Earthseed Tenet

All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

God
Is Change.

This Earthseed tenet from Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower remains relevant and rings true today. I interpreted this tenet as follows:

If and because we change everything that we touch and are ourselves changed, I believe we must touch with intent. We must touch gently, with the hopes of doing good, and enacting change that is positive. We must make sure our hands are clean, and we must appreciate the change. This tenet requires the reader to be diligent, and thoughtful and to move through everyday life with a certain level of consciousness.

We are only left with the impact of our actions. We don’t all see the “touch,” but we do see the change that results from that. The only thing that will ever remain true and indisputable is that the impact of our actions will be what is visible–those impacts will continue to change and evolve as the people who are responsible for their catalyst do.

If God is change, he is then the only lasting truth. He is what’s left when everything else has come and gone. But what about change that is bad? Does this cancel out because bad is only relative and what I consider bad, someone else considers good? Or does the opportunity for God to be “bad” give him or her human qualities that we often times don’t have access to or see in traditional proselytizing religions? If God is change and we are change, does this give us the opportunity to be God?

I ask these questions because I truly do not have the answers. What does Butler want us to take away from this tenet and particularly the idea that God is change? If we are our own Gods, does this allow and lead to chaos and dysfunction?

Let me know what you think.

 

Reason Doesn’t Live Here: Octavia Butler’s Fledgling

So much of our world and society is divided into systems and categories. Beneficial? Sure, sometimes, but more often than not, these categories are used to divide us and highlight our differences. Today, it’s easy to think about how many categories we have, and surrounding my immediate world and existence there are a myriad of them; within the natural hair world, there is hair-typing, colleges have ranks and divisions, and within communities of color, there is often tension between those who are lighter and those who are darker. With so many systems and people so quick to categorize, I try to keep myself out of anyone’s box. Hair type? Mine. College? Expensive. Light or dark? Neither. The same applies in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling. Shori is a fifty-three-year-old vampire who appears to be eleven or twelve to humans. She is different, because she is the product of an experiment that made her darker than the traditional pale-skinned vampires through the use of melanin. Because of this melanin, she is able to go out into the sun, whereas those without melanin are restricted to going out only at night and sleeping during the day. Although this genetic change enhances Shori’s quality of life and can do the same for other vampires, other Ina have begun to attack her community and her family because of her dark(er) skin. Butler, through Shori and her symbionts and enemies, tells a story that we all know too well. This isn’t the first narrative of someone being attacked for the color of his/her skin. During the Civil Rights Era, the Ku Klux Klan were prominent in their attacks on African-Americans. Segregation was found in schools all over the country until the Brown v. Board of Education deemed that separate but equal was inherently unequal–and even then, not all schools were integrated. What Butler best highlights in Fledgling is that bigotry is not rooted in reason. The logical step for the Silks (lighter Inas) who cannot go into the sun would be to undergo the same treatment that Shori did; instead, they act maliciously. The Silks efforts backfire, as they have now lost all of their sons, meaning their family name will die. Their is no reward in categorization and bigotry. Though the punishment may not be immediate, it is imminent.

Why Black Women Matter

 

Dawn

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.