Tanya Dodson: What my Mama taught me

March 16th my mother passed away after suffering a hemorrhaging stroke. Amidst the COVID scare and a natural pandemic, my family has been dealing with it’s own personal tragedy while the country is shutting down. She was a lover of music, dancing, good food, good drink, and good times. She left with damn near a football team of kids, two brothers, and thousands of hearts she touched as ‘Tan Tan’ or ‘ Mom-Dukes’.

My entire life has been shaped by this angel and the adversity she showed us how to handle. From homelessness, to separation through the system, all the way through her own personal battles her presence has always say with me in everything I do. Senior year of high school I emancipated myself from my adopted family to lead a journey to reconnect with my family, which became an accomplishment that I am most proud of. After reconnecting with my family my new goal in life was to capture the American dream by tackling systemic forces that pressed my family into the struggle that seperated is from one another. A system that was built on separating Black family’s would not keep me from my mother’s love and deconstructing those structural forces has become my new mission.

Before I found the cohort of community organizations that shared my mission I studied at a Great Books College. Shimer College tested my writing skills put me into contact with the great thinkers of Western History who built the system I am fighting against. One of my assignments involved a paper using Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species”, which made me think of one of my mother’s favorite sayings. “Only the strong survive” , was what we heard when we was crying about the type food we ate or why we had to move so much. Below is my paper on how I felt her saying aligned with Darwin’s theory of natural selection. I wanted to publish this in an archived journal of my academic writing, but now seems the best time to share.

                Finding Roles In Man’s Production

    “Only the strong survive!”, an old adage that has roots deeper than what academia is capable of digging into; Charles Darwin has definitely benefited off the simplistic statement’s catchiness, but the likelihood that he knew that even those who didn’t understand his theories on an intellectual level would be familiar with an abstract reductionist manifestation of his theory on a mass scale is low. Well before Darwin  was introduced during primary education my mother would scream the adage during fits of joviality, usually induced by alcohol and good times against all odds, which transformed into her rallying call for dealing with the struggles of life. My mother dropped out in the 5th grade, was born with a physical disability as well as a mental disability, was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and lived from house to couch to bench perpetually; the strong surviving became a paradox for me due to the plight we lived in during those difficult times where we competed with rat colonies for food and shelter and cooperated with roaches (asiatic) when we were in better situation.In lieu of the adage, the strong only surviving, how were we able to find our niche in the economy of our habitat?

    “In looking at Nature, it is most necessary to keep the foregoing considerations always in mind-never to forget that every single organic being around us may be said to be striving to the utmost to increase in numbers; that each lives by a struggle at some period of its life; that heavy destruction inevitably falls either on the young or old, during each generation or at recurrent intervals.” 

                (Darwin, Charles. Origin of Species. Chapter 3. Page 68-69)

    Being poor in America, as a child, and being continually made to deal with it by the insults focused specifically on  that issue, during roasting sessions, really made my mother’s saying seem redundant; “strong” and “surviving” did not mean we were the “strongest” in our community nor did the roasting from my peers eliminate the possibility that we were weak. My mother seemed to have an understanding that life had gifted us with survival (non-extinction) and my young nihilistic mind didn’t want to accept the role we played in our community, as a whole, and even larger dissatisfaction due to the role we were placed in American society. Why did, “Only the strong survive!”, become her rallying call? My assumption leads me to think that her large family (8 kids) was enough evidence that Nature(God) gave her this role, as mother,  and blessings of family so that despite our socioeconomic status we were the strong, for we were of her and her genetic survival. The role we must assume is my next dilemma

“Can we wander, then, that nature’s productions should be far “truer” in character than man’s productions; that they should be infinitely better adapted to the most complex conditions of life, and should plainly bear the stamp of far higher workmanship?”

                        (Chapter 4, page 83)

Darwin’s repeated mention of the economy of nature is all about the role/niche in nature/society, not necessarily directly competing,  in modern environs that nature has manifested with different faces/equilibriums. With that said, we are all members of humanity and man’s production and though we are animals the illusion of the mind pulls us out of the rules of Nature and we disrupt the economy of nature. Our understanding of Darwin as a class led me to believe that he wasn’t asserting that all of nature competes for the role of apex predator ( a funnel shaped natural selection) but instead that we were cooperating for jobs/role in nature (a system of energies displaced where needed). As a child my mother’s rallying call was oxymoronic for an American, since man’s production is the basis of “success” in our society and our “role” as part of the impoverished meant that we weren’t successful. Still, my mother insisted we were strong and our survival was what proved that to her; this contradicting statement truly inconsistent when the economy of nature and natural selection outweigh man’s production (industry), or even my mother’s industrious natural reproduction (11 kids). Who was actually successful in Nature?

“- that all animals and all plants throughout all time and space should be related to each other in group subordinate to group, in the manner which we everywhere behold-namely  varieties of the same species most closely related together, species of the same genus less closely and unequally related together, forming sections and sub-genera, species of distinct genera much less closely related, and genera related in different degrees, forming sub-families, families, orders, sub-classes, and classes.The several subordinate groups in any class cannot be ranked in a single file, but seemed rather to be clustered around points, and these round other points, and so on in almost endless cycles-”

                            (Ch 4, 123)

    Academia, and more specifically Shimer, has given all of us a role, as students, that is upwardly mobile. Being a child, having to sleep in parks, or competing with the homeless for meals at churches which operate on a first come first served policy are all part of my past and are “roles” that we were thrusted in as a family by the economy of the nature human lives in, as well Nature’s selective ways, I was unable to understand my mother’s adage. She wanted us to cope with the role Nature had thrusted on us, but most importantly to accept our role in the economy of nature with pride so that  we could compete as well as cooperate with others of the same class so that continuing progeny. Darwin seems to insist that Nature favors those who make the best of the economy of their natural habitat and find the role that it’s their class. I am still frustrated with his theories applied to humanity, since there are social constructs that keep me in a certain caste/class, yet nature is on the side of humanity; as progress like civil rights and the desegregation, lines for certain “roles” in my nature’s economy that were not accessible to my mother were now available to me. Yet man’s curtailing of Nature is futile, for only the strong survive.

Cited Page

Darwin, Charles. New York. Penguin Classics. Origin of Species.

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