Like any commonly used term, the meaning of the word human has been questioned with different people recounting their various experiences across generations on their first encounters with a different meaning of the term. This text aims to explore significant experiences by different authors, their contribution to the sense of the word and their perceived interpretations from these encounters. More significantly, the text will concentrate on the various definitions of the word in categories such as race, gender, ethnic minority and the general view from people in different places over a wide timespan.
The City of Omelas is a city that represents both extremities of what it is to be human with the perfect society celebrating the Festival of Summer on the ground while a deprived child sits unattended in the basement of a windowless room (Guin). The city’s citizens enjoy the luxury of prosperity with minimal technology and law at the expense of a 10year old child locked away in the basement. All the residents know and accept the fate of the child with no qualms with those who choose to do a thing opting to leave Omelas and never come back. To be human in Omelas is to ignore the one child deprived of human necessities for the betterment of a whole society.
According to Coates, the problem of being human is only partial and affects black people. The author describes a detailed account of what it means to be black in Baltimore describing it as full of fear and anger and loss of hope. Blacks in Baltimore were less human that the whites. The write-up questions the American dream and the definition of the term people that continuously appears in many official American dreams. The race here is described as the child to racism. To be human is to be black, and to be black is to live in fear, never to achieve the dream preached by America, to be subjected to brutality based on the experiments of nature (Coates). Black is defined as a common term to refer to bottom meaning that they are less deserving than Whites in Baltimore. Being human to blacks in Baltimore means to learn to live in that black body, to thrive, and to survive.
Ethnic minorities too, appear to suffer by which the term human is described. The Chicanos and Chicanas suffer from the economics of it all. As a resultant culture of Spanish and English along the American-Mexican border, the Chicano are rarely accepted by either the Spanish or the Americans. Attending the Pan American University, Chicanos are required to take two speech classes to eliminate the Spanish accent (Anzaldua). Throughout the text, the author talks of being punished for speaking Spanish at recess and the continuous struggle the Chicana Spanish face in attempting to be regarded as Mexicans. As a result, they learn many languages and dialects to be as dictated in different occasions. Being Chicano is associated with the loss of cultural identity from years of linguistic identity oppression.
The women’s perspective on being human is to be silent and deprived of proper positions in the modern society. Solnit (2008) experienced this when she and a friend attended a party in which the male host asked them to remain behind and then continued to berate them with stories about a specific book review regardless of the four attempts to say that the book was by Solnit. This experience shows the value of a woman, even an established author in society. Women have to continuously live under the shadow of male figures regardless of their talents and accomplishments. To be human as a woman is to resign to an inferior position, violence and supposedly loss of sanity if she speaks out against such barbarity.
Over time, human nature has become so unconcerned by the different definitions of this word that they prefer to turn a deaf ear to the plight of those affected. The poem “We are not Responsible” by Mullen illustrates that. The primary takeaway lesson from the verse is that they are not concerned about the atrocities some humans are subjected to by their superiors when they violate rules. It divides society into two with the oppressors enslaving the oppressed with norms and threats of bad things if they break these rules.
In conclusion, to be human is to be constrained by the characteristics that define you. Blacks suffer oppression from the Whites and have to learn to live in fear, Chicanos are consistently losing their cultural identities from linguistic oppression while women have to condone injustices from males and accept inferior positions. In these three instances the authors have tried to reconcile themselves with the fate bestowed on them by being human. Blacks have sought solace in Mecca, Chicans and Chicanos have accepted their culture as one of its own while women such as Rebecca Solnit have spoken about these atrocities.
Another view on what it means to be human is to assume all the unfairness committed to others if it is for the benefit of many people. It means making some sacrifices which are interpreted as minor ones if it leads to the advantage of a larger population. Being human is learning to live along the coded lines defined by history and nature. To be human is to redefine the very meaning of the word people according to race, gender and ethnic popularity.
- Anzaldua, Gloria. “How to tame a wild tongue.” Borderlands La Frontera. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books, 1999.
- Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the world and me. Spiegel and Grau, 1957.
- Le, Guin U. K. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas: A Story. 2017.
- Krawitz, Cole. “We Are Not Responsible By Harryette Mullen • Jewschool”. Jewschool, 2006, https://jewschool.com/2006/11/11455/we-are-not-responsible-by-harryette-mullen/. Accessed 6 June 2017.
- Solnit, Rebecca. “Men Who Explain Things”. Latimes, 2008, http://articles.latimes.com/2008/apr/13/opinion/op-solnit13. Accessed 6 June 2017.