The samples below are papers by students, unless specifically noted.
They are examples of "A" level undergraduate writing or entry-level
professional work. To get a better idea of how this type of paper is
written, you will want to look at all the samples. Then compare the
samples to each other and to what the "Basics"
part of this chapter says.
The authors of all sample student papers in this
Web site have given their permission in writing to have their work included in
WritingforCollege.org. All samples remain copyrighted by their
original authors. Other than showing it on this website, none should be
used without the explicit permission of the author.
If you do not have time to read every sample
below, word for word, then use a form of skim reading: read the entire
introduction and conclusion paragraph of a sample, and then read just the
first and last sentence of all the other paragraphs in the sample. This
method of skimming often provides an understanding of the basic contents and
of the paper's form or structure. Another method of faster reading is to
choose just one or two of the samples that are most like the paper you will be
required to write; then read, either fully or using skim reading as described
Unless otherwise noted, sample papers do not
necessarily meet all requirements an individual instructor or professional
supervisor may have: ask your instructor or supervisor. In addition, the
samples single spaced to save room; however, a proper manuscript given to an
instructor or supervisor normally should be double spaced with margins set at
or close to 1" unless another format has been requested.
Sample One: Basic Thesis
with Three Examples
SPECIAL NOTES: The assignment for this thesis paper required
descriptions of the author's personal experiences as examples supporting her
basic argument. She uses the first-person "I," preceded by phrases such
as "for example," which is allowed when an author uses her own personal
Inver Hills Community College
Eng 99, Refresher English
Paper #7, Thesis with Examples
© by Maureen Hoye
Emotionally Life Altering
Drinking alcohol before the age of eighteen is not healthy.
I am not speaking of the physical damage that it may cause, but rather
the emotional turmoil that may occur. Consequences
are always inevitable and may change a persons life forever.
To drink underage because it is seen as cool is not reason enough
to risk changing ones life forever.
First, drinking before the age of eighteen brings emotional consequences
involving parents, teachers, and other adults, along with the possibilities of
getting in trouble with the law. Once
the choice to drink while underage is made, it opens life up to more difficult
decisions later on.
For example, one Saturday night in the middle of winter, we planned a party on
Buck Hill. We called such events
kegger parties while I was in high school: a social interaction for those
who wanted to drink and could go where the beer was available.
We partied until the keg was gone, and all the rest of the alcohol that
was around was cashed. I could not
drive home; I could barely climb the hill to the car, much less drive.
I got home safely anyway, and before curfew.
I was freezing, though, and I thought, What better way is there to
warm up but with a hot bath? I
made it past Mom and Dad, stumbled up the stairs, and started my bath.
The next thing I knew, my mom was shaking me awake.
I discovered I had passed out in the bathtubso much for making it past
Mom and Dad. I got in a lot of
trouble. I definitely learned from
to Remain Safe from Others
Second, drinking alcohol may affect peoples
ability to make sound decisions affecting themselves emotionally.
While under the influence of alcohol, most people find their ability to
think rationally leaves them, especially those who are under age and are not
prepared for the feelings alcohol can bring out.
A decision given to us to make while drunk may have a negative emotional
outcome, compared to the outcome from making that decision while we are sober.
For example, I was at a club dancing with my
friends on a Sunday night. We found
some guys willing to buy our drinks, even though we were under age.
So we danced and flirted with the guys and they continued to buy us
drinks. They had other plans on
their mind, ones that we were not ready to satisfy.
With each drink they bought us, our ability to realize what the guys
truly wanted decreased.
Luckily enough, we had a friend, the driver, who was sober, and watched
our backs. If it had not been for
her ability to make a clear decision, I would hate to think about what would
have happened, and the emotional consequences.
Third, other peoples lives can change
emotionally forever by someone of any age who gets drunk.
The type of change depends on how everyone affected makes his or her
decisions. However, whether in a
good or a bad way, the change may influence peoples lives forever.
For example, a drunk driver hit my sister in-law,
nephew, and niece. They were simply
driving home from daycare in the middle of the afternoon.
The drunk driver thought the stop sign did not apply to him.
Before my family knew it, they were spinning around a light post.
They went to the hospital, and my sister-in-law had to spend the night
there. My mom and dad picked up my
niece and nephew from the emergency room and brought them to our house, where my
sister and I slept downstairs with them to help them feel safe.
They all survived the accident in good health, thankfully.
But their lives have been forever changed because of the decision made by
the gentleman who drove drunk.
I also cannot easily imagine my own life without the event of a drunk
driver hitting someone so close to me.
Drinking alcohol at any age impairs a persons
judgment. There is a sound reason
that our government, our parents, and the adults in our life have made the
decision to have a drinking age and to have that age be twenty-one.
Drinking changes peoples lives emotionally, both while they are under
the influence and by the decisions of those around them who are drinking.
People may make some decisions the same whether under the influence
or not. However, some decisions can
be changed in an instant when peopleourselves or othersare intoxicated and
do not have full control.
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Sample Two: Advanced Thesis Using Personal Stories
The assignment for this thesis paper required descriptions of the
author's and/or others' personal experiences to support its basic argument. The
author developed these descriptions using narrative storytelling conventions:
use of the five senses, the five W's of journalism (who, what, where, when, and
why/how), and people speaking about their experiences.
The paper has some of its parts labeled (which should not be done
in a formal academic paper unless an instructor requests it). The thesis
sentence and three main topics are underlined. In addition, the stories'
uses of the 5 W's of journalism--who, what, where, when, and why/how--also are
This thesis essay, like the one above, uses the first-person "I"
pronoun. This is allowed when using examples or stories from the writer's
University of Minnesota
EngC 1021, Intermediate Expository Writing
Personal Experience Thesis
© by Angela Wilda
The Undervalued Second Language
A year ago [when] at work, [where] Victoria Mercado
[who] gave me a first-hand account [what] of migrant farm work. She wanted to educate me [why] about inequalities that continue to be maintained today. She said, "My parents worked in the fields picking crops. We were given a dank,
[smell] one-room house to stay in during the harvest. The tractors would rattle [sound] the shack as they rolled by outside. At sunrise, [sight] we would start picking the vegetables, separating out those that were soft, [touch] or overripe. We would work through the day until the dirt and sweat clung to our lips."
[taste] This story of courage would have been impossible if I did not speak a second language. The ability to speak a second language has a variety of benefits. It can help bridge cultural gaps, be advantageous in the workplace, and also give us a better understanding of not only our native language but language in general.
Bridging the Gap
First, the ability to speak a second language helps bridge cultural gaps, creating a more united society. Often, we think of other cultures in terms of what we have assimilated from them, disregarding how different they have become from the original. For instance, in Ireland, they do not celebrate St. Patricks Day by dyeing everything green and hosting drunken parades with leprechauns and pots of gold. These events do more to destroy cultures than to celebrate them. One way to preserve cultural idiosyncrasies is by speaking a second language. When I learned to speak Spanish, I also learned a great deal about Spanish-speaking cultures.
One way I learned about these cultures was through their literature. Literature is a key to the way a culture thinks, feels, and behaves. By reading works by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I gained insight into the customs and societies of Colombia and Mexico, where Marquez was born and raised. His works are rich in description, practically bringing you to the lush, heady atmosphere of Central America. The dust from dirt roads, the aroma of fresh baked goods, and the bustle of the local market
are all vividly portrayed in his writing. In addition, by reading Como Agua Para
Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate) in Spanish, I learned about magic realism. This is a beautiful writing style that I never would have discovered without the ability to read Spanish.
My second language also taught me about a variety of customary festivals. Two such festivals are El Dia de Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), which honors the annual return of relatives that have passed away, and La Posadas (The Inn-Seekers), a pre-Christmas event that observes the wanderings of Mary and Joseph before the birth of Jesus.
Finally, speaking Spanish allowed me to learn about Mexican folk medicine. I learned from friends and coworkers about home treatments passed on through generations for a variety of ailments, as well as the religious and spiritual bases for such treatments. While at work [where] one day,
a group of us [who] were talking
[what] about home remedies, because Rose Zapata complained [why] that she had a nagging cold. Marialissa Villalobos told her, "When I would get a chest cold
[touch], my grandmother would take me into the kitchen and tell me to sit down in a chair and lean my head back. Then she would roll a piece of paper into a cone and place it in my mouth. After saying a Mexican prayer, she would light the paper on fire, let it burn for a few seconds, and then blow it out, drawing the spirits that were making me sick out of my body."
Araceli Gomez told a similar story and then added, "Whenever I had a stomachache, my mother would have me lie down on the kitchen table. Then she would press down on my stomach and move my tripas (guts) around a bit. She told me that one of my organs had moved from where it should be, and that I had a stomach ache because it needed to be moved back where it belonged."
Interactions with people from Spanish-speaking countries and reading the literature from them taught me a great deal about the traditions of these cultures. It also gave me a clear picture of how our cultures interact and co-exist.
Becoming a Better Employee
Second, the ability to speak another language can be a clear advantage in the workplace. Staff members can be more useful to their employers when they are able to speak a second language. From the employers standpoint, it gives their product or services a larger customer base. This makes the employee more valuable and a greater asset. From the employees standpoint, it makes them more useful to their employers. It may increase their chance for a raise or other promotion. I have been able to train Spanish-speaking employees to perform jobs in environments that would have been unattainable without my help. Without an employee capable of training them, they would be relegated to jobs with low pay, requiring little skill.
However, the advantage is not strictly professional. As an employee able to speak a second language, I am able to assist customers that are otherwise disadvantaged as consumers. They may be unaware of sales or promotions, due to the inability to read the return policy at a store, or understand the fine print of a contract. The ability to overcome this language barrier is invaluable in a work situation.
[where] one day, [when] a customer [who] was bent over a sleek,
[touch] new [sight] stereo. [what] I heard a small pop, [sound]
and a curl [sight] of acrid [smell]
smoke escaped the stereo. I approached the customer and asked, "Is there some way I can help you?"
He replied, "I want to buy this stereo, but I cant seem to make it work." [why] I knew that a staff member had tested it earlier that day, so I went to the production area to find him.
"Are you busy, Ken?" I asked.
"I need some help explaining to a customer how to make a stereo work."
He followed me back to the customer and I began translating for them while Ken showed the customer how to connect the stereo.
Without my help, the customer might have thought that the stereo did not work, and my company might have lost a sale. Also, he never could have received any personal service without my ability to communicate with him. The ability to speak Spanish makes me a more useful employee, not only to my employer, but also to customers who deserve the same level of service despite the presence of a language barrier. [Best Point]
Putting Language in Perspective
Finally, a second language can give us a better understanding of our native tongue, and of language in general. English has its roots in several languages. When someone learns a second language, he or she is usually able to find similarities between English and their second language, allowing them a better understanding of both. Personally, knowledge of Spanish has made me more aware of the roots of English words. Spanish is a romance language, and English takes a large portion of its roots from Latin as well. Understanding these similarities helps me decipher the meanings of unfamiliar words in both English and Spanish through their root words.
Last Thanksgiving, [when]
my family [who] was gathered [what] in the living [300 w.] room
[where] after a rich meal. We were letting our stomachs
[touch] settle [why] before succumbing to my mothers mouth-watering
[taste] array of pies, whose aromas were slowly wafting [smell] into the room. Their golden crusts and fillings [sight] were practically calling [sound] to us through the room, but we were just too full to tackle them.
My mother had recently received a letter from my grandmother, who always included interesting newspaper clippings. In this letter, she had included an expert-spelling test. A test of sixty words had been given to eight hundred editors and professors, and not a single person got all of them right. The newspaper printed the twenty words that had been most frequently misspelled by the experts. My mother thought it would be fun to take the quiz while we all waited for dessert. Because I had two language references to count on, I got the most right in our family. Words like inoculate, rarefy, pavilion, and consensus all have Spanish correlatives because of their Latin roots. Because of these language relations I was able to deduce their spelling more readily than the other members of my family.
In addition, learning Spanish increased my understanding of grammatical structures. Finding similarities and differences between the construction of English and Spanish makes me more aware of the structure of language in general. I am able to analyze writing in English based on the grammar of Spanish, and vice-versa. This gives my language skills a greater scope and frame of reference. Without a basis of comparison, I would not be able to think as critically about my native tongue. [Best Point] Many people undervalue these useful skills.
At one point, [when] my
conducted surveys [what] to gauge customer satisfaction [why]. However, there were Spanish-speaking customers unable to participate. I approached a woman with a shock [sight] of smoky-smelling [smell] hair, and asked if she would like to participate. She replied with a shrill, [sound]
toothless [sight] giggle and nodded her head. She continued grinning while answering my questions, tickled
[touch] with the attention. When I finished, she held my forearm and told me she had never taken a survey before. Then she patted my hand and planted a salty kiss on it.
[taste] Communicating with people from different cultures gives us the opportunity to touch the lives of others, and share their knowledge and experience. Many people appreciate that learning a second language has a variety of benefits. They understand that it can bridge cultural gaps, be advantageous in the workplace, and give us a better understanding of our native
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Sample Three: Beginning College Thesis Paper with Two
SPECIAL NOTES: This is a standard
beginning-level college thesis paper requiring some
research. Note that the bibliography at the end would, in a normal manuscript, start
on a separate page. As in most formal research papers--both academic and
professional--it avoids the personal pronoun "I," instead using the
third-person forms "he/she" and "they."
North Hennepin Community College
Comp. 1111, English I
Final Thesis Paper
© Julie Bushnell
Equal Pay for Women
According to Frances C. Hutner in
Equal Pay for Comparable Worth,
"As more and more women support themselves and their families and look forward with concern to what they are going to live on in their old age, they see sex-based wage discrimination as a serious
Women deserve equal pay for work. This is true for the following reasons:
first, it is sex discrimination to pay women less, just because they are women.
Second, their careers and pay scales are just as important to them as such
things are to men. And third, many women are single parents and the sole breadwinners in their
First, it is sex discrimination to pay women less,
just because they are women.
Two federal laws and an executive order deal with sex discrimination in compensation.
The first law is the Equal Pay Act of 1963, an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.
The Equal Pay Act requires that employers pay the same wage to men and women workers doing equal work.
According to Hutner, the act defines "equal work" as "jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions"
(13). Women who perform work similar to that of men must be paid the same
Hutner explains, "'The courts have interpreted this to mean that jobs should be substantially
identical, though they may have different titles, such as janitor and maid, or nurse's aid and orderly (House Hearings 17).
The act provides employers with four affirmative defenses for payments that are not equal-seniority, merit, differences in quantity or quality of production, and 'a differential based on any other factor other than sex'" (13).
The law is fairly clear in banning similar-job discrimination against women.
The second law is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Bennett Amendment.
Title VII is a much broader law than the Equal Pay Act. It prohibits not only discrimination in compensation, but also all types of discrimination in the terms of employment.
It includes discrimination based on race, color, religion, and national origin, as well as sex discrimination.
In addition, the President
has outlawed another kind of wage discrimination. Executive Order 11246 makes discrimination by federal contractors with more than fifty employees, or with contracts of more than $50,000, illegal.
Careers and Pay Scale
Second, women's careers and pay scales are just as important to them as
such things are to men.
With the majority of women now in the work force, they have established careers for themselves.
Robert E. Kennedy Jr., author of Life Choices says, "In 1950, for example, three-quarters of wives living with their husbands were not in the labor force.
Social expectation in the 1950s assumed a division of labor between husband and wife.
The husband was responsible for being the breadwinner and for financially supporting the family, while the wife was responsible for home and family life" (60).
However, we now are in a time of change.
Kennedy points out, "The greatest change in women's employment over the last thirty years involves working wives.
In most families in the United States today, working wives are the rule and not the exception" (61).
Women are moving up in the work force and value their careers. They oftentimes have worked hard to gain the position they hold.
Hutner explains, "Women have traditionally acted in nurturing, supporting roles; as mothers, wives, nurses, comforters, doers of 'menial' housekeeping tasks.
Therefore these are the roles they are assigned in the workplace. In as much as women's work has always been considered less important than men's work and has often been underpaid, the market simply reflects historical attitudes" (10).
Women are paid less because they have often has "menial" tasks in
families and are given them in the workforce, too.
Hutner also believes that
the "problem, then, is not that women are less committed workers than men, but that they may be too committed and undemanding, and therefore less able to increase their compensation" (6).
If women were more competitive, they might be able to increase their
Third, many women are single parents and the sole breadwinners in their
Large numbers of women are supporting a family on their incomes. Hutner states,
"Some 53 percent of the adult women in the country are now in the labor force.
In 1979, 45 percent of these working women were single heads of households separated, divorced, widowed, or never married- the sole support of themselves and their families.
An additional 29 percent were married to husbands who make less than $15,000 a year.
In 1982, women alone maintained one out of every six of America's 61 million families.
Clearly, the majority of women work because they must. How much they earn matters" (7).
Thus one can see that unequal wages are especially unfair to single women with families.
Hutner also shows one
negative result of "women's low earnings": "poverty for women and for their families.
The Monthly Labor Review reports that in 1979, 'persons in families maintained by women with no husband present, had a poverty rate of 30 percent, compared with persons in families maintained by men, which had a poverty rate of only 6
percent" (7). Women need equal wages to support their families
In addition, lack of
provision for old age is a serious problem for single women. Hutner says, "In 1981, 72 percent of the poor people over 65 were women.
Half of the women over 65, living alone, have poverty or near poverty incomes of $5,000 or less.
Even though more women are in the labor force now, poor working women cannot provide for a decent old age.
A New York Times article predicted the consequences of women's low earning: by the year 2000, all of the poor would be female" (7).
Without equality of pay, women in general will be even worse off in the
In conclusion, Hutner sums
up the issue nicely:
"As more and more women enter the labor force, pay equity becomes an increasingly important question, not only to them and their families, but also to their employers, to the consumers of their services, and to their male fellow workers as well" (18).
Women should receive equal pay for equal work. It is sex discrimination to pay women less, their careers and pay scale are just as important to them as they are to men, and many women are single parents and the sole breadwinner in the family.
Hutner, Frances C. Equal Pay For Comparable Worth. New
York: Praeger, 1986.
Kennedy, Robert E. Jr. Life Choices: Applying Sociology, New
York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1989.
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Sample Four: Advanced College Thesis Paper with Eight
SPECIAL NOTES: This is a well written MLA
undergraduate thesis paper. The author is responding to a specific element
in a book by author Daniel Bergner. She responds to Bergner's thoughts by taking
a thesis position and supporting the position using research.
Her three supporting topics and her thesis occur in
the final sentence of the "Introduction." She also provides a brief "Summary" of
the book in a separate section between the "Introduction" and the first main
Inver Hills College
Thesis Paper - Draft 4
by Holly Peterson
Surviving war and the
massacres that come with it requires that people act selfishly: survival is a
very independent activity. A personís ability to live in a civilized way will
be almost, if not completely, eradicated by the exterior influence of a
war-torn country. Today this unfortunate reality is most often present in
third world countries. One of the greatest, and most tragic, examples of this
is the every day individuals affected by the conflict in Sierra Leone.
Smillie says that "Sierra Leone's rebel war became a tragedy of major
humanitarian, political and historic proportions . . . "(1). Daniel Bergner's
book In the Land of Magic Soldiers chronicles the terrible effects war
has on people even after the conflict is over. Once vital to survival in a
war-torn country, self-serving behaviors like a lack of respect for authority,
a tendency to use people, and an unhealthy reliance on arbitrary excuses are
exactly what are making it so difficult to rebuild the country.
Summary of In the Land of Magic Soldiers
Bergner wrote his book
just a few years after the end of the Sierra Leone, West Africa civil war. The
war spanned just over a decade; in Bergner's book, its repercussions are still
obvious to Bergner, who is an outside observer, and enormously relevant in its
citizens' lives. The political infrastructure continues to struggle, and
the physical appearance of the Sierra Leonean people speaks volumes about the
pain and suffering they endured. Bernger shows that the conflict in Sierra
Leone was barbarous. Family members were forced to war against one another,
and mutilation, killing and rape were commonplace. The psychological and
physical traumas resulting from these events are still present in the daily
lives of many citizens in Sierra Leone.
Lack of Respect
In his book, In the
Land of Magic Soldiers, Bergner notes that Sierra Leonean people seem
terribly lazy: on closer examination this laziness seems better classified as
a lack of respect for authority figures. Instructors and military leaders
alike complain to Bergner about poor retention, laziness and generalized
immaturity in the civilians they encounter, all of which culminated in an
overwhelming sense of disrespect (155). They would ask a native to perform a
simple task and time after time the tasks were left incomplete. Bergner tells
the story of a man who was assigned to pick up riot kits for the prison and
instead, without telling anyone, he "go[es] off on a mission of his own
devising . . . what appealed to him at the moment" (Bergner 157). During the
war, this lack of respect was understandable and probably life saving. Most
authority figures could not be trusted then, but the modern world requires
order to function, which makes consistently selfish behavior destructive. A
machine cannot operate properly if its parts do not do perform as expected.
Similarly, an organization or country cannot function if built on unreliable
Venter, in his book about
mercenaries, further describes the lack of respect with the story of a mission
to take down the rebel control of diamond mines and the difficulty faced in
its completion. The lack of respect between natives and mercenaries made it
almost impossible for the mission to move smoothly. Venter says, "Several
times the column ground to a halt, paralyzed" (431). Some of these hitches
were legitimate, due to weak bridges or obsolete machinery, but other times
the local help the mercenaries had employed proved so incapable of following
orders or taking productive initiative that the mission quite literally could
not move forward.
Diamond mining is a prime
example of the lack of respect that characterizes citizens of Sierra Leone.
Diamonds are a significant resource in Sierra Leone, but the absence of
enforceable laws surrounding the diamond trade makes it almost impossible to
derive any significant profit from them. After walking the diamond mines,
which are nothing more than huge pits in the middle of ghost towns, Bergner
observes that "there seem[s] to be no law whatsoever" (157). Nothing and no
one regulates the diamond trade in the legal sense: people are ready to defend
what is theirs through any means necessary. When Bergner walked the mines
half of the crowd surrounded him, brandishing their digging tools, while the
other half crowded around, trying to sell him stones they had found (157).
There is no respect for either the outsider or the peer in Sierra Leone.
Even children suffer from
the lack of respect so inherent to Sierra Leone. As Fofana points out, many
"children, some of them former combatants, some orphans and street children,
are hired by adults to do their dirty work for them." Children, already
robbed of their childhoods by the civil war, do the jobs no one else want as a
means of survival. With few laws, no organization, and a lack of respect for
the laws and authorities that do exist it is unspeakably difficult to create a
problem Bergner ran into is that very often friendships that seemed legitimate
oftentimes turned out being underhanded attempts at making a little money, or
"exploitionships." Bergner experienced exploitionships himself, and he was
not alone, as he discovered while commiserating with photojournalist Corinne
Dufka, who found that "'I would like to be your friend,' had come to mean . .
. 'I would like some of your money'" (Bergner 165). Although this is a more
significant problem for white people, whom people expect to be wealthier than
their dark-skinned counterparts, the reality is that the mindset of
exploitation permeates much of Sierra Leone.
Exploitionships should not
be entirely surprising, as one of the most common symptoms of post-traumatic
stress disorder is feeling "detached or numb" ("Post Traumatic"). This
startlingly common mental illness is caused by "exposure
to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was
and is finally accepted as a legitimate diagnosis. People from war-torn
countries live constantly with the illness, making it difficult for them to
conform to "new" social expectations and maintain healthy relationships.
Weine points out how important it is to address family dynamics, focusing on
any strengths found in the unit, when attempting to rehabilitate refugees
(1215). In Sierra Leone, where children killed or maimed their own family
members, the sense of trust necessary for a healthy relationship is often
lacking. The psychological wounds sustained are nearly insurmountable hurdles
that require overcoming, nonetheless.
Adding to the sense of
exploitionships, many Sierra Leonean people expect gifts from foreigners.
This may be, in part, because of British and UN interference and aid. Bergner
mentions children playing on the side of the road, emulating their parents and
older siblings, by creating check-points and demanding gifts at their tolls
Bergner tells the story of
the children who put a string across the road and would not let anyone pass
without giving them something first, even if that something was a mere "four
dusty tissues" (151). Getting something for nothing more than the rather
pathetic courtesy of asking for it is taken for granted. Again this makes it
difficult to build a self-sufficient nation. A country made of dependent
people will have trouble being independent.
When terrible atrocities
occur, people need explanations, and if none are readily available, it is
easiest to fall back on excuses. If one can discover why something awful
happened, perhaps he or she will be able to stave off the horrors the next
time. It is hard to see children, once "good students [now] having bad dreams
at night and difficulty in school by day" (Gordon 19). It is important,
however, to find the root of the problems, rather than to assign petty blame.
Sometimes, though, the
root cause is so painful or well disguised that people merely invent excuses.
Blame is assigned to something simple, straightforward, and all too often
completely illegitimate. In the case of Sierra Leone, this excuse has become
a racial one, blame falling on skin color. A bartender Bergner met "rubbed
his dark forearm and said, 'It's in the skin,' blaming his race for the
failures of his nation" (142). Skin color cannot be "fixed." It is something
over which no one has any control and, therefore, is an easy scapegoat. As
Frazier points out, overcoming racial discrimination is something that
requires a "joint effort" (1). Unfortunately, no one seems to know how to go
about that and, as such, race stops being a surmountable issue and instead
becomes a fallback excuse that seems more credible than it should.
The excuse of a racial
mindset makes it harder for the country to take control of itself, because
varying skin colors, and therefore racism, will always exist. In a country
where people see themselves as "black adult children lost without the
direction of a paternal white hand" (Bergner 154), it is very difficult to
inspire qualities of leadership. An inflammatory political incident, a
history of discrimination, a charismatic individual with a propensity for
terrible violence; something that lasted for a moment, wreaked immeasurable
havoc, but is afterwards explained away as a terrible misfortune is
exponentially better than blaming skin color. Bergner noticed this, along
with the people he interviewed about their upcoming election. The consensus
was that a black man with a white man's attitude was what the country needed
(195). The racial excuse makes it too easy to be lazy, to use people who are
more fortunate, or to resort to violence when other methodologies have failed
or seem likely to fail. In fact, this underlying racism allows these issues
to prevail for so long.
Clearly this excuse is the
crux of all the other problems, and until it is viewed as the atrocious lie it
is, very little to no headway can be made in solving the hurt in the souls of
the Sierra Leonean people. Bergner himself, initially very opposed to
believing that race had anything to do with the problems the Sierra Leonean
people faced, found himself, much to his own chagrin, believing that maybe
there was something to it after all (147). Herein lies the danger of
excuses. The more they are perpetuated, the easier it is to fall victim to
them, even if they initially seem wrong.
Living through a war does not necessarily mean that one has "survived" it.
Weine says, "Refugees
. . . continue to grow . . . and their complex needs are far from over once
they have been resettled" (Weine 1215).
Friendships emerge broken,
families are torn apart, and the individuals themselves emerge both
discombobulated and, for good reason, distrustful. Until people are able to
forget that family members and turned against each other in panic and fear,
until authority figures can again be trusted, until new faces cease to be
potential swindlers; it is absurd to imagine that Sierra Leone can become
another resounding echo of the social, political and economic structure the
Western world has imagined for it. One day it may happen, but there is a
serious amount of individual healing to achieve first.
Daniel. In the Land of Magic Soldiers. New York: Picador, 2004. Print.
"Children Working in Sierra Leone Mines." BBC News. BBC News, 28 Aug.
2003. Web. 10 Mar. 2010.
Wesley. "A Dialogue on the Question of Racism." LILIPOH 8.30 (2002): 1/
2. EBSCO Academic Search Premiere. Web. 20 Mar. 2010.
S. "Healing the Wounds of War: Gaza Diary." Alternative Therapies in Health
and Medicine 12.1 (2006): 18-21. EBSCO Academic Search Premiere.
Web. 20 Mar. 2010.
Stress Disorder (PTSD)." National Institute of Mental Health. US
Department of Health and Services, 18 Mar. 2010. Web. 20 Mar. 2010.
Smillie, Ian, Lansana Gberie, and Ralph Hazleton. The Heart of the Matter:
Sierra Leone, diamonds & Human Security ; complete report. Darby: Diane
Publishing Co, 2000. Google Books. Web. 7 Apr. 2010.
Venter, Al J.
War Dog: Fighter Other People's Wars. Havertown: Casemate, 2006.
Weine, Stevan. "From War Zone to Contact Zone: Culture and Refugee Mental
Health Services." JAMA.com. American Medical Association, 7 Mar. 2001.
Web. 7 Apr. 2010.
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