Monday, March 8, 2010

The Power of Choice

There were a few times I wrote “CHOICE” in the margin of Tyler Perry’s Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea’s Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life; for example in her section entitled, “Fit for What?” Madea asserts, “There’s another way you get fit: running like hell from the police. Who the hell needs a treadmill” (Perry 126)? By taking something that most people probably have no desire to do, “running like hell from the police” and juxtaposing it with running to be “fit,” Perry makes both Madea and treadmills seem ridiculous. People don’t usually directly chose to run from the police, it is normally a negative consequence of another choice, but people do chose to run “like hell,” I might add, everyday. Perry’s comparison first emphasizes that the same activity, running, can engage two completely different experiences based on choice. At first this may seem unidirectional, Madea asks, “Who the hell needs a treadmill?” making running out of choice absurd and separating those who chose to run on a treadmill from those who get into situations in which they must run from the police. Treadmills (for me at least) are much more commonplace than are run-ins with the police, but suddenly, the idea of running is laughable. Perry’s voice comes through though in the first few words, “There’s another way you get fit.” Perry throws both groups of people Madea creates into the mix by making Madea’s assertion just as absurd as treadmills.

By drawing his audience to the power choice (or lack there of) has on both daily life and one’s attitude towards it, Perry allows the reader to look into the mirror and question his or her every move and the intentions behind it. By being separated and compared to the “other” simultaneously, both groups are able to question everything behind their actions and emotions. Madea introduces “Part Seven: Miss Madea’s Rules of Etiquette” by writing,

I wrote this chapter because I was watching Martha Stewart on television. She was doing all this beautiful decorating and giving all this very posh advice about how to behave, and I thought, Who the hell is she talking to? So I wanted to talk to some folks who don’t know nothing about no twenty trillion billion dollars, folks who live on a shoestring budget. (Perry 157)

The fact that Martha Stewart’s “posh advice about how to behave” elicits both Madea’s reaction, “Who the hell is she talking to?” and Miss Madea’s new set of “Rules” divides the population based on “budget.” To describe behavior based on budget draws her audience’s attention to class. Who the hell is Martha Stewart talking to? Who the hell is Madea talking to? They are separate groups because those living on a “shoestring budget don’t know nothing about no twenty trillion billion dollars,” which apparently is necessary knowledge for Martha Stewart’s Etiquette. Money (or lack there of) separates the audience into two groups here, but again Perry turns his audience to face a mirror. Even the idea of “beautiful decorating” seems useless when compared to Madea’s description: “what I mean by shoestring budget is, that’s all you can afford—a shoestring” (Perry 157). People on this budget can’t decorate, they have no choice and so Madea finds it necessary to create a new set of “Rules of Etiquette” in order to distinguish between the classes. Furthermore, the idea of rules and etiquette and “posh advice” seem absurd too, especially if they are merely ways of separating the classes even more.

On my first day of service at Cristo Rey, I worked alongside a ninth grade boy who was working on reading and summarizing William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. He would read a scene at a time and fill out a worksheet for each, quoting a part of the scene that was important in the action of the play. I was really excited that I got to take a look back at Romeo and Juliet because I hadn’t read it since I was his age and I loved every minute of it seven years ago, but I was surprised that the student I was working with loved it too! He had the original and modern texts side by side, read both and said he liked the original version better, reading out parts of it that he found particularly lovely. I wanted to hug him. I couldn’t stop grinning. It was perfect because we could really get into the quotes he was writing about on his work sheets because he was so eager to talk about what he was reading with me since he was enjoying it so much. The quotes he picked were ones I hadn’t even noticed as I read over his shoulder, so in speaking with him about them I was also able to look more deeply into the text.

When he was writing and I had a couple minutes of time to myself, I started to think about how impressed I was and why. My expectations were that the student would not be excited about his work after school probably due to the fact that most fourteen or fifteen year old students wouldn’t; plus, after a long day at school, being forced to attend after school tutoring might provoke anger or annoyance in anyone. I surprised myself by holding such strong expectations, but just brushed it off because I was so happy and enjoying myself so much, but in reflecting in light of the power of choice Perry emphasizes in his work, I realize that, although the students who work on their homework after school might not have a choice in the fact that they must attend tutoring, but they have been given the choice to attend Cristo Rey, which is a rare and exciting opportunity. I assumed they would work grudgingly because the average high school student might do so, but the average high school student does not have the rare educational opportunity that the students at Cristo Rey have. I never thought about high school as an opportunity or choice; it was an obligation I had to drudge through in order to get somewhere else, but it was just that, an opportunity. Thinking about this makes me appreciate every minute of my education, but also makes me more excited to go back to Cristo Rey and explore the ways in which education can be appreciated and energized merely by the realization of one’s opportunities.

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