Rhetoric and Race

R342 — Spring 2020

Robert E. Terrill
Days and Times
4:00-5:15 TR
Course Description

People in America talk about race. Sometimes, we talk about race as if it doesn’t exist, sometimes we talk as if it shouldn’t exist, and sometimes we talk as if race is the single most significant aspect of our daily lives. Rarely, though, do we recognize that it is through our talk about race that race becomes meaningful. Whenever we talk about race, and whatever we say about it, race is invented in and through our words. We talk race into being, and it is race in the form of a discursive concept, as a rhetorical invention, that so profoundly impacts our culture.

This course will examine the relationship between rhetoric and race, exploring the possibilities and implications entailed by an understanding of race as a rhetorical phenomenon. We’ll begin with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., exploring similarities and differences in their rhetoric to develop a tentative interpretive framework that we will then utilize and modify as we read subsequent course materials both from before and after the 1960s. Together with the primary materials we will read selections from a range of theoretical works on race and rhetoric to help us develop a vocabulary through which we can begin to understand and assess these works.

Some of the materials, movements, organizations, and concepts that we may study, in addition to key works by Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., would include: The Signifying Monkey by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Here I Stand by Paul Robeson, Jim Crow, the Black Panthers, Black Feminism, The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon, “White Privilege and Male Privilege” by Peggy McIntosh, Intersectionality, Affirmative Action, the Great Society, the War on Drugs, The Afro-American Jeremiad by David Howard-Pitney, Race Matters by Cornel West, Barack Obama, and Black Lives Matter.