Language takes on new iterations with time, history, means of communication, and culture. Words can rely on context with every last breath, or they can simply mean what they mean whether the weather. Either way, exploring how we understand language is integral to how we, in turn, understand one another. In Matt Usner’s course Literature of American Minorities, the class was tasked to define each word of the course’s title, separately. American. Literature. Minority. Here are a few students’ standout definitions.
To me, being an American means coming together to celebrate our differences and the sacrifices we make for the ones we love.
I remember a song I heard in elementary school that my teacher played for the class about being proud to be an American and how we know we’re free. At the time I had no idea what that meant andI still don’t to this day. Sometimes I find it difficult for me to claim the title of being an American because this past year, and even now, our country has never been more divided. From our political views to fighting for basic human rights, 2020 really became the year I started to feel ashamed to be an American. As I got older, I had so many people in my life that made me feel like I wasn’t American enough because of how I looked, so it was hard for me to understand what being a “true” American meant. To some people, a “real” American can be based on one’s appearance, culture, religion, and even political views. In my eyes it does not solely rely on your citizenship or a piece of paper because as I got older I realized that it’s so much deeper than that.
My definition has changed drastically since I was a freshman in high school. It became very hard for me to believe that America was built upon equal rights and freedom when every other day another hashtag would appear. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that America will not become a utopian society overnight and no matter what there will always be that balance of good and bad. My family is the one thing that helped me realize what it meant to be an American. They’ve instilled these beliefs in me because it’s important to have somebody in your life that makes you feel like you are enough. I’ve heard many people talk about how proud they are to be a “true” American and I still don’t know what that means. My senior year of high school, we were asked a similar question and I have seen how my answer was received. It is challenging to hear someone say they disagree with you about something that is so personal to you. At that moment I just kept quiet and focused on the people that were able to have a civil conversation with me. When someone is so fixated on what they think is right, they can forget about how others feel. In situations like these I have to remind myself that there is no right or wrong answer to define American because all of us may be different, but in actuality we are all the same.
– Kayla Epps
…Through all the differences now and in the past in our country, I also believe that being an American is about coming together. Our differences are what make us unique, and our sacrifices are our stories. When we are willing to accept each other’s differences, and willing to accept that we don’t have to all agree on everything, then, we are being a true American. Over the years people of all cultures, ethnicities, genders and ages have come together to fight for equality through demonstrations and rallies. These gatherings are a great example of how we as Americans, putting our differences aside, can come together to show support for each other to make a change.
– Lauren Hodgson
This response really opened my mind up to the many possibilities that literature could represent. For my definition, I tethered myself to the idea that literature has to be a written media like a book. I could see how a graphic novel could be just as intellectually challenging as a novel, even though graphic novels might be discounted since most people don’t view them as literature. Maybe recorded works could count as literature since many of them involve writing a script or lyrics beforehand. There are many great movies and songs that involve dealing with complex aspects of humanity. This discussion just shows how abstract the meanings of words can be. I definitely agree that literature is usually thought of as pompous books read in college. This idea might be due to the fact that education is a privilege. Literacy is a skill that some might not have the chance to obtain, especially in a country that doesn’t have an educational infrastructure. Even in America, there is a vast inequality of education between areas that are impoverished compared to affluent neighborhoods. Technology can provide a remedy to this inequality since PDFs of classic literature can be found readily available online. I would definitely agree with the fact that college is heavily associated with literature.
- Max MacKenzie
Literature is the composition of written language that produces opportunities for growth in knowledge and understanding, morals, spirituality, self-awareness, etc. Literature produces these opportunities because it is diverse in subjects due to being something that anyone can create. Literature also presents itself in different mediums, whether it be in the form of a novel, a mythical story painted on Ancient Greek pottery, or hieroglyphics on a wall of an Ancient Egyptian tomb. No matter what medium literature presents itself in, it clearly shows what ideas, thoughts, opinions, beliefs, or feelings the author has. These aspects of literature give us the ability to experience different forms of literature in a wide variety of ways.
As we read literature and unlock new information and understandings of the world we live in, we begin to start asking ourselves questions that lead us to question ourselves and motivate us to seek answers. With morality, self-awareness, and spirituality in question, we challenge ourselves while reading literature, asking ourselves questions such as, “how would I react to this situation?” or “how does my character reflect the characteristics found in this story?” As I stated in my intro post, reading literature gives us a safe space to truly be ourselves and be honest with our thoughts and feelings. Given the safe space, we are able to evaluate ourselves and decide morally how we want to live. The more literature we read, the more we are exposed to, and the more we can grow and challenge ourselves within the safety net it provides. We also see ourselves reflected in characters or events that pop up in literature, forcing us to evaluate the good and the bad– and making us aware of flaws or good aspects of ourselves.
- Arianna Stahlbaum
The word minorities is a word used to describe an amount; typically it is used to categorize a population size composed of people with different nationalities, race, and ethnicities. It’s been used by oppressors to demean other people of different race, ethnic and nationalities, and used to describe “us” and “them.”
What factors into my definition is my own personal experiences. I grew up under the category of Minority. At first I didn’t see it. I saw it as all of us kids in the same class. Soon though, I noticed how all of my other classmates would make fun at students who had their parents’ accents, or would make funny faces at lunch when someone brought lunch from home; which only happened to be the white student who would complain. There were times where I didn’t know the English word for something and stuttered, to which my white classmates would giggle at when they heard me struggle; whereas my group of friends who were of the same background I am were understanding, patient, and helpful. There was a major presence of white students compared to the handful of students that belong to a completely different cultural background. Soon we, who came from different places around the world, became the minority. This has carried on throughout my entire life, not only because of my nationality but because of my sex. When I became interested in anything male dominated, there would always be someone who would point out that because I am a woman, I am not ‘strong’ enough to participate, or too ‘emotional.’ These labels did not let it affect me. The word minority comes based on numbers but there is more to it.
This definition may make a few uncomfortable, it is based on how I have learned to view the country I reside in and how this country views me and anyone like me. Luckily there are people who may never experience the weight of the label “minority.” It’s definitely a conversation that needs to be openly talked about, to help others understand this perspective. A challenge that this definition may face could be biased, especially since it is based on my experience, and witnessing the discrimination others around me have faced because they come from a diverse background. I am open to others’ perspectives on the word “minorities” and their explanation and to adjust my definition for it to be more inclusive.
- Erika Arista
A group of people that are looked at as ‘lesser than’ because of their differences from the majority.
When I think of the word “Minority”, I think about people who have been oppressed over the years in the United States. Oftentimes when a person or certain group falls in the category of minority, it’s generally because they are seen as lesser of a human being than the average white male American. Specifically, some groups that I believe fall into the Minority category are Women of all races, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, etc… When I analyze these specific groups of minorities, I then think about how each of these groups have fought and are still fighting to be seen as equal to the white majority. Maybe a big part of why they are seen in such a negative light (from people) is because there’s fewer members of people in these communities, so they are right away going to be labeled different than ‘normal’.
When reading my definition, some people may think that minority groups are treated equally with whites/males in this country. They may think that minorities were oppressed in history but believe they are no longer being treated unfairly but treated ‘equally’. But by ignoring their struggles and acting like they aren’t struggling in society is in my opinion, still oppression.
Some Challenges that my definition may open up is like everyone is ‘different’ essentially, so how would you then categorize people based on their differences. How big of a difference does it need to be? Or How many people need to be in that different group? Another point to be made about the challenges my definition could spark is women could definitely be categorized as minority, but when you talk about the number ratio, there is about the same number of men and women (or at least similarly close). I would say it more than falls down as women are seen as less important or not as good or maybe even weaker and therefore were not given equal rights in many aspects in society.
- Hannah Trommlitz