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elchiang's picture

Throughout this first week of classes and the 360, one book keeps coming to mind as I have read the readings. In Teaching the Postcolony, we read a speech by Ivan Illich called “To Hell with Good Intentions,” which was a commentary about white middle class Americans going to “help” other countries. While I was reading it, I wondered how to reconcile this power relationship between middle class Americans and the Mexican population that the Americans were trying to help. Illich suggested that Americans go to study and enjoy new cultures instead of trying to help. An example came to mind from the book The Help by Kathryn Stockett on how to somehow equalize these relationships. The book is about a white woman in Mississippi in the 1960s writing stories about African American maids by interviewing them. When the white woman, Skeeter, asks Minny, one of the African American maids, to tell her stories for this book, Minny has the same reaction as Illich. She does not understand why a white woman of power and standing would want to write about African American maids. Minny completely disregards her good intentions to change attitudes and does not believe she can help at all. However, throughout the book, Minny and Aibileen both become close with Skeeter as they work on the stories of the maids in Jackson, Mississippi. These women who seem so different by society’s standards become friends who love and respect each other. The power relationship is still there because of society, but through building relationships and working together for social change, they are able to see past their relationship while still empathizing with each other’s situations.

            Furthermore, in Eve Tuck’s letter “Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities,” she talks about complex personhood as a way to understand the difference between damage-centered research and desire-centered research. I understood complex personhood best through the stories that all the maids told about their lives and the people they worked for in The Help. The book that they all wrote could have been damage-centered, only focusing on the injustices they faced working for white women. However, all of the stories had moments of joy as well as pain. Some of the maids actually had good relationships with their bosses. Their stories illustrate for me how when a person tells their own story, it becomes person focused instead of damage focused, and their story shows their complex personhood.

            Thinking about life stories, I also wonder about the social media discussion from class. How can a person share about themselves in 140 characters? Perhaps twitter tells the current happenings and thoughts while a blog expands on these muses. On the other hand, it is still so impersonal to read a person’s blog instead of having a conversation over dinner. I understand that many people have long distance relationships with many different people; I do as well. From an early age, I saw the damage that social media could do through two friends going into a relationship with each other on the basis of online conversations to my own insecurities manifested through constant comparisons. Though I have reservations about using social media as a form of learning, education, and literacy, I am open to seeing how it can be informative. I already have been learning a lot from following the BBC and New York Times. 


alesnick's picture

complex personhood via telling our own stories?

I thought of using The Help in this course.  It's such a complex mix of representations, and has been both celebrated and criticized for how multiple its stories are.  A question this rich post raises for me is how limited even our own storytelling of ourselves can be by the discourses, and discourse communities, we have with which to speak.  To me, this links to Tuck's discussion of desire and Rich's line, one of the epigraphs of our syllabus, about how "we must use what we have to invent what we desire."  "What we have" positions us in certain ways, as in your potent examples of the damage social media can cause.  Thank you for highlighting that.  To explore further.