Is flying equal to freedom?

Is flying equal to freedom? Several characters in Song of Solomon seem to think so, but I’m not sure if I necessarily agree. Robert Smith, the man in the very first chapter of the novel, jumps off the roof of a hospital, under the delusion that he will, in fact, fly. It’s unclear whether or not he sees this as true freedom, but in his announcement note he writes, “…I will take off from Mercy and fly away on my own wings. Please forgive me. I loved you all.” I’ve asked myself the question several times, does Robert Smith know he’s going to die? Or is he so delusioned he believes he’s escaping to a better life among the clouds? Contemplating Mr. Smith’s story has made me realize that the first semester of college is very similar to jumping off a building. And in taking the leap I have realized that growth can be positive and negative for a person, and reflection can be good and bad for a person, and that both things resemble care and harm in this way.

Growth can be good for you. In fact, growth is viewed as a positive thing by most. For most, every day is about improvement. Every day you have the chance to grow, and be better than you were the day before. Every day allows for small moments of growth, which can be just as important as the larger growth moments. Both small and large moments of growth, I think, all boil down to choice. All change in the world is the result of choice, which is the result of free-will. The transition between high school and higher education is probably one of the biggest growth moments allowed in a person’s life. Some people are moving out, to a new place, to live with complete strangers, on their own, usually for the first time. You’re also—hopefully for the first time—taking on insane amounts of future debt. You have the chance to become an entirely different person in the span of a few months. Some people long for this change of pace, while some people are afraid of it. Especially lately, with the last few years, young people I know have found it harder and harder to move away from home. I, personally, jumped at the opportunity, and threw myself headfirst into the idea of it. Leaving home for college for the first time is a lot like jumping off a building. Sort of like Robert Smith, some of us jump with the expectation to fly, some of us jump with the expectation to fall.

People don’t always get to make the choice to jump, either. Instead of ‘jumping off a building,’ Guitar from Song of Solomon was arguably pushed, shoved into independence and maturity by the death of his father, and the actions of his mother following. He’s one of the most visibly independent characters in the novel, and he has been since early in his childhood. His parents are hardly ever mentioned in the novel, and when they are, it’s when Guitar opens up to Milkman about the accidental death of his father. We also gain an insight to his childhood when he explains his mother’s actions following his father’s death. Dealing with the horrible loss of his father and his mother’s inability to cope with it properly arguably shaped Guitar into the person he is as an adult. Towards the opposite end of this spectrum are the Dead children. Milkman and his sisters continue to live in their parents house well through adolescence and into adulthood. They certainly aren’t pushed into independence like Guitar, and they don’t seem able to take that step on their own. The Dead children, unlike Guitar, grow up with money, and even though their parents have their issues, they are both living. Milkman is the only Dead child who shows an urge to leave home, and become his own person. He has dislike for both of his parents individually, and the lives they lead. “He just wanted to beat a path away from his parents’ past, which was also their present and which was threatening to become his present as well.” as read in Morrison’s novel. However it takes Milkman a long time to actually do so. Milkman, too, seems to believe that flying is equal to freedom. When he learns of Mr. Robert Smith, the insurance agent who leapt from the roof of the hospital Milkman was born in, and when he learns that he, or any other human can not fly, he “.. he lost all interest in himself.” He, as a child, believes that if he can not fly, he can not be free, and that could be what keeps him from taking the initial leap for so long.

I, personally, am not a huge fan of change, usually. I have a difficult time with shifts in the small, and large routine aspects of my life. More often than not, it just makes me nervous and I try to avoid it. For this reason, it surprised many people, and myself, that I threw myself into the change of leaving home for my first semester. People would ask me if I was nervous to leave, and I would tell them, “Not at all! I can’t wait to go!” Sure, specific details about college made me nervous, but overall, I was excited. I forced myself to jump off a building. My friend and roommate, Abby, also forced herself to take this leap and we dealt with it very differently. Growth and change can be damaging to a person. I jumped off the building and did my best to fly. There were high and low points, because I, similarly to the Greek myth of Icarus, never tend to realize when I’ve flown too close to the sun. But I’ve mostly kept myself afloat this semester. Abby had a really hard time immediately, and she cried for about three days straight. She kept struggling for a few weeks, before things started to get better. In our metaphor, she fell, hit the ground then picked herself up and walked away. Guitar’s growth, and involuntary leap into independence is considerably very detrimental to him as a person. The moment in his life that changes him the most can be accredited to his father’s death. He blames that event and the compensation received —“It was the fact that instead of life insurance, the sawmill owner gave his mother forty dollars ‘to tide you and them kids over,’ and she took it happily and bought each of them a big peppermint stick on the very day of the funeral.”— afterwards with the beginning of his hatred of white people, and his hatred is what urges him to join the Seven Days. Guitar changed, and grew after this event in his life, but the growth that he endured affected himself and others negatively. He became a member of the Seven Days, a group of men who would kill a white person for every black person who lost their lives at the hands, direct or indirect, of white people. Whether Guitar was right or wrong isn’t the question here, what he chose to do was, by definition, murder. Whether this murder was justified, or if Guitar believed it was doesn’t matter. His metaphorical push off the ledge as a child was undeniably the event that shaped him into the person he was. Change is inevitable, but so is choice. Even though I’m not a fan of change myself, I’ve learned over time and through experience, that you can’t push against it. Change is inevitable, and always will be. However when we change, or when change happens to us, we make the choice of how we let it affect us. The choice to change positively is a real one. Guitar wasn’t able to make this choice, and his growth affected himself and his surroundings negatively.

Reflection on your past and where you’ve come from physically and otherwise is important to people. The past shapes a lot of people and can be extremely hard to let go of, and this isn’t always a bad thing. Reflection is a good thing. I’ve done a lot of reflecting personally this semester. About halfway through, there was a death in my family, and I missed about a week and a half of classes. I spent that time at home with my family, and our long distance family that had traveled to be with us. During that week alone I saw more of my family than I had in the past two years. While seeing all of these people that I loved and spending time with them was amazing the whole week really, really sucked. My mother was having a really hard time, so I asked her if there was anything I could do for her, and she said yes. She asked me to put together some pictures for the services. Old photos and memories, that sort of thing. This task was something tangible, something I could do to make me feel a little in control during an awful time. So I spent a few days doing nothing but reflecting on the past. I flipped through countless photos of myself as a child, as an infant, and photos from before I was even born. I dug up over a hundred suitable photos, and everyone thanked me. Told me what a great job I did, how wonderful it was to see all these old memories again. This reflection during a hard time helped me feel grounded, and was one of the only things that got me through the week. My personal reflection kept me steady.

Reflection on a larger scale is important societally, just as much as personal reflection is. We’ve all heard some variation of the saying, “If we don’t look back on history we’ll never learn from our mistakes.” From Here to Equality demonstrates this ideal perfectly as they discuss racism during the Civil War era, and how it continued on afterwards. The authors, Darity and Mullen, also have entire subsections dedicated to ‘Myths of Racial Equality,’ as well as ‘Criticisms and Responses’ about reparations for Black Americans. The America of today is still dealing with immense racial issues. As I learned from this book, not too much has changed at all in terms of racial equality since the Civil war. Books like _From Here to Equality _reflect on America, and the world’s past in a healthy way. They aren’t harping on something that happened ages ago, slavery is very recent in our history as Americans, and blatant racism is still prominent in 2021. In this case, reflection is necessary. Reflecting, and harping on the horrors of the past and present is the only thing that might bring reparations to the future.

GLOBE stresses that we as students at Geneseo should “gain practice in the ability to ‘reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time.’” I agree strongly with this idea, especially with the impotence put upon gaining practice in the act. I think that being well versed in reflection is important, so one can be able to look back on time that’s passed in a healthy way, and not so you are in a constant state of looking back instead of forward at the world ahead of you. Too much reflection could be extremely harmful to a person. I wasn’t exactly sure where to look to find examples of this concept in Morrison’s novel, but one of my classmates, Kate, steered me in the right direction. Macon Dead, Milkman’s father, reflects often on his life in Song of Solomon. At the very beginning of the novel when he, for lack of a better word, spies on his younger sister, Pilate. He didn’t see his sister for most of his adult life, as they parted ways when he was sixteen years old, and he didn’t see Pilate again until after Milkman was born. But in the first chapter, after one of his tenants dies by suicide, he makes the choice to visit her home and observe from the outside. By watching how his sister lives, he is viewing a lifestyle he could’ve had, had he and Pilate not parted ways. Instead of living like Pilate, he is driven by a want for money, instead of happiness, and seems to be truly miserable in his life with his family. Also in this section of the chapter, Macon reflects on his relationship with his wife Ruth, and what he witnessed of Ruth’s relationship with her own father. This reflection is sparked by his learning of his son’s nickname, Milkman, and Macon’s hatred for it and what it implies. Macon’s reflection on things he’s witnessed and his own past seems to be detrimental to him, as all it does is remind him of bad things he’s witnessed or been partial too, or remind him that he is miserable, and made himself that way. It’s often stressed, when people are moving on from the high school stage of their lives, to the higher education stage, that while reflecting on and remembering the past is okay, you can’t live in the past. You have to be able to let go, and let yourself grow. I’ve watched people I know personally make themselves miserable in their first year of college, because all they can think about is their friends back home, or their parents, or their old school. I read a book last year, called We Are the Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson, and in it is a quote I think about often when considering reflection. “That’s the problem with memories: you can visit them, but you can’t live in them.” Your past is what makes you who you are, and it’s important to be able to look back on it and enjoy the life you’ve led so far. But you can’t live in the past. So you have to let yourself reflect in a healthy way, or you’ll only upset yourself. Both reflection on the past and outlook into the future are integral to the process of growing as a person.

So is flying equal to freedom? Robert Smith and Milkman Dead would answer yes, I think. I’m still not sure about my own answer. In my own metaphorical leap off a building, in leaving home and coming to Geneseo, I’m not exactly flying, but I’m not exactly falling either. I’m happy with where I am, and where I’ve been. I’ve grown as a person all my life, both positively and negatively, and I like where I am right now. Hopefully I’ll continue to grow, but also reflect in positive ways in my future. For now, I’m focusing on the present, and my outlook into the future ahead of me.

Suffering from the calamities of the past

by Kate O’Neil, Lauryn Bennet, Eddie Eforo, Faith Zatlukal

The discussion surrounding injustice of African Americans is one that has been historically debated in works of nonfiction and fiction books, like Song of Solomon, and From Here to Equality. Guitar’s experience with racial discrimination leads him to take action into his own hands by strategically killing white people in an attempt to keep the proportion of white and Black deaths balanced. Guitar’s bold statement, “I told you. Numbers. Balance. Ratio. And the earth, the land.” (Morrison 158) explains his understanding of the events that took place in history by foreshadowing what will happen in the future, while simultaneously creating a conversation with the authors of From Here to Equality, Darity and Mullen. These authors and Guitar don’t disagree that there hasn’t been a solution to the problem of racism— they do, however, disagree about the means of obtaining the answers to the question: are reparations enough to heal this generational mistreatment?

Guitar and Darity and Mullen’s thoughts are connected, like their ideas are a part of the same string, pulling against each other throughout their conversation. Darity and Mullen assume that economic reparations towards African Americans is the best solution to discrimination, whereas Guitar believes acts of revenge are the only way to secure a future for his race. The existence of these differing solutions proves that Guitar and Darity and Mullen both believe that has not been a solution to the problem of racism. When it comes to the past, current, and future crimes being committed against Guitar and other African Americans, Guitar jumps straight to revenge in lieu of repairing these issues. He wants to ‘get even’, because it’s what he thinks will make things right. Darity and Mullen take a softer approach, preparing a logistical plan for reparations, and defending the plan against any stance that could undercut it. Guitar bases his knowledge of what happened in the past as, “Southerners think they own Him [Jesus], but that’s just because the first time they laid eyes on Him, He was strung up on a tree. They can relate to that, see. Both the stringer and the strung. But Northerners know better” (Morrison 115). He recognizes that the Southerners and the Northerners are among the same people, but he uses the analogy “… the stringer and the strung” for a reason. He is comparing the lives of African Americans to the lives of puppets, lives that are controlled by another. Darity and Mullen, although they agree that African Americans have been belittled and discriminated against, don’t conform to the idea that the history cannot be unwritten. There is a balanced aspect between the definitions of reparations and revenge, as they both have a final goal of reclaiming something that was lost in history. These similarities are mirrored in the varying aspects of harm and care, and how Darity and Mullen view these topics in comparison to Guitar.

Harm and Care, when defined by a dictionary, can mean very different things. They can be seen as almost opposites in terms of meaning and intent when using them. However, when looking at the origins of each word, it can be found that the word ‘care’s’ origin is related to the Old High German words for grief and grieving. The origin of harm, care’s presumed opposite, is related to the Old Norse and German words for grief and sorrow. Two very dissimilar words, with very similar origins and meanings are seen at the core of Darity and Mullen and Guitar’s varying approaches to ‘caring’, and repairing the crimes against African Americans. From Here to Equality proposes a thought out and developed proposal for reparations for Black Americans in the 21st century. The plan consists of calling upon congress, a program for identifying the people who would qualify for reparations, and proposes assigning a monetary value to the generational trauma inflicted upon Black Americans. Darity and Mullen mention, “How much should be paid for black reparations? What is the size of the bill? It is customary, in the American court system, to assign monetary values for damages to human lives. Monetary damages for the collective injuries inflicted on black lives are long overdue” (Darity and Mullen 259). They believe that reparations will provide care for the African American lives lost throughout history. Guitar proposes ‘making things even’ in an entirely different direction, as he and the group he joins, The Seven Days, intend to make things even, by taking the life of a white man for every Black person that is killed. Darity and Mullen approach the process of reparations with care, and Guitar approaches them with harm and violence.“…You’re going to kill people?” “Not people. White people…. It’s necessary; it’s got to be done. To keep the ratio the same”…“Why kill innocent people? Why not just those who did it?” “It doesn’t matter who did it. Each and every one of them could do it. So you just get any one of them. There are no innocent white people, because every one of them is a potential n—r-killer, if not an actual one…” (Morrison 155). In Guitars’ eyes, there is no other option for equality, other than taking the lives of innocent people, as he sees the killings as a way to repair the harm done by white people to African Americans in years past and present. Guitar believes that all white people, even those who have not personally committed crimes, have the capacity to cause harm to him and other Black Americans in the future; therefore, the harm he inflicts is not a crime in his eyes. The most important thing to him is balance, and evening out the score. Peaceful repair is out of the question, and Guitar feels that the only course of action is through violence, should the people he is harming be innocent or guilty.

Can one even assign a monetary value to this generational trauma, or life itself? Darity and Mullen propose this thought as part of their detailed plan for reparations from the American government. As seen throughout Guitar’s life, there doesn’t seem to be a payment for the lives lost up until this point. Guitar struggles with understanding this as he describes the days leading up to his fathers death, “It was the fact that instead of life insurance, the sawmill owner gave his mother forty dollars ‘to tide them kids over,’ and she took it happily and bought each of them a big peppermint stick on the very day of the funeral” (Morrison 225). Guitar develops a mindset that money doesn’t solve everything, on the basis that the forty dollars his mother was paid and used to buy peppermint sticks, didn’t show care for him, but rather harmed his rationale. Guitar isn’t of the belief that this debt can be paid in money, he is in the mindset that it should be paid in blood, and as soon as possible. In Song of Solomon, Guitar offers his opinion about the importance of evening the scale: “The ratio can’t widen in their favor,”(Morrison 158). He feels that the ratio between whites and African Americans needs to be rationalized, and that the way to heal what has been hurt is not through any type of funding, but through blood alone, and that it has not yet been justified. Darity and Mullen take the time to address the many questions that are usually used to undermine the concept of Black reparations. “Didn’t white America (or America in general) already pay its debt for slavery in blood by waging the Civil War, which resulted in emancipation” (Darity and Mullen 245). Considering racism itself and lack of reparations are still an issue during Guitar’s life (long after the Civil War) and long afterwards, the answer to this question is clearly no. They answer their own question with “Recompense for a grievous injustice is not achieved merely by ending the practice. It requires some form of payment or compensation for the damage or injury…”(Darity and Mullen 246). The authors of From Here to Equality and Guitar don’t disagree that there is a problem that needs to be fixed, they disagree with the solution to that problem.

Guitar, and Darity and Mullen are pulling on opposite ends of the same string, and by acknowledging their differing arguments they are able to strengthen their conclusions, which creates tension in their string. Despite the fact that Darity and Mullen title one of their chapters “Criticisms and Responses”, Guitar is adamant about his stance, and stands by what he believes, without noting the possibility of there being another side of the argument. Guitar’s stance aligns with Darity and Mullen as both parties agree that the harm to African Americans is unsustainable without some form of reparations, though their definition of reparations varies. Whether their solution is deemed to be inherently “right” or “wrong” is not for the reader to judge. However, it is important to note that Darity and Mullen, and Guitar see their stances as the way to formulate a solution to the problem that is racism. Dr. Joe Cope, Associate Provost for Academic Success and Professor of History, touched on the importance of conveying all perspectives of a problem when he came to Beth McCoy’s INTD-105 class. He works to reduce the amount of harm students experience, and in order to do that, he has to be able to see the various perspectives of a situation, so he can produce good from a harmful circumstance. While Guitar’s and Darity and Mullen’s definitions of reparations may vary due to their varying perspectives, their similar stance shows that they can combine their perspectives to formulate a more developed solution. Through Guitar’s experiences, he is only given the opportunity to see through one perspective. Therefore, his analysis of the happenings of the past are justified because he can only base his thinking off of his experiences. “…Don’t you want to be better than they are?” “I am better.” “But now you’re doing what the worst of them do.” “Yes, but I am reasonable.” “Reasonable? How?” “I am not, one, having fun; two, trying to gain power or public attention or money or land; three, angry at anybody.” (Morrison 157). In Guitar’s eyes, his solution to the harm that has been inflicted in the past is justified; thus, he sees no issue with the way he carries out this form of repair, claiming it does not come from a place of pleasure, greed, or anger. This implies that Guitar has a different motive behind his actions, which appears to solely be confusion over why racism is happening around him. This also explains why Guitar feels the need to balance the ratio: as a way of evening the scale, and fixing what has been broken. When settling disputes, Joe Cope emphasized the importance of “being comfortable with ambiguity” when problem solving. People should not be concerned with the unknown when formulating a solution to a specific problem because it can distract them from all the information presented to them. Guitar wouldn’t have taken Joe Cope’s advice, which is not to say that Guitar is wrong for this, but rather, he is only focused on his lived experiences, whereas Darity and Mullen are creating an analysis based on the history of discrimination and racism. Guitar doesn’t allow for the natural aspects of time to unfold, and he tries to take matters into his own hands. In the case of Guitar, ambiguity is what drives him, the uncertainty of the future of his race is what pushes him to focus his solution on maintaining “balance” through violent actions. Joe Cope adds an important perspective to the conversation Darity and Mullen have with Guitar, one about the need for a solution for the complications history has provided.

Darity and Mullen respond to Guitar’s thoughts and actions, which creates a paradigm of conversation that is related to Guitar’s main argument for revenge over reparations: “I told you. Numbers. Balance. Ratio. And the earth, the land.” (Morrison 158). By analyzing two opposing perspectives to an established problem, it is apparent that there can be various solutions to the same question. For example, when given the same prompt in Beth’s INTD-105 course, each group has created vastly different collections of ideas, but they have all been centered around the same topic. Much like Guitar and the authors of From Here to Equality, without understanding where the other has come from, they are unable to see that they are pulling on opposite ends of a string, which could be tied together to form a continuous, and supporting conclusion.