A Humble Reflection on Race

"The very act of writing or speaking about race is fraught with difficulty even when one attempts to go about it in a critical and self-critical manner [especially for] those who are not ‘people of color.’" (from Dominick LaCapra’s introduction to The Bounds of Race.

the following passage is my original response to gloria anzaldua after reading "la conciencia de la mestiza: towards a new consciousness" for a course in literary theory close to three years ago. i include it here to engage in a further dialogue with gloria as well as myself...

I fail to associate myself with the terms white, Anglo, Caucasian. I feel that such terminology fails to define the color of my skin, much less my attitude towards those visibly, politically, personally different from myself. I also feel that words like those do nothing more than propagate the current society, the patriarchy. If there is to be real change, shouldn’t the language change as well? I applaud your words with the exclusion of your terms to describe those of European descent. Nearly all oppression relates back to the inhabitants of the continent of Europe in some form or another, but I feel no association with those people. I feel no association with this culture, this society, even if those in power somewhat resemble me. I have the blue eyes, yes, but I shave my head, a purposeful distancing of myself from those in power. I feel such an act makes me all the more vulnerable to scrutiny by all. I acknowledge my confusion, my fears, my desires, and I engage them in struggle every day. I am envious of your self-identity, the sense of where you are, for I have none. I feel no connection to those around me unless I converse with them and find a common ground to stand upon. I want nothing more than to be understood, to be acknowledged as a human being, to not be called white, Anglo, Caucasian. You write of the “gross injustice” (770) in lumping males who deviate from the norm with man. I consider it a gross injustice to lump all those of European descent as any of the three adjectives I wrote above. Please, Gloria, work with me in the creation of something mutually beneficial by which I might be known to you and to myself, too.

when reading gloria anzaldua's words, i'm reminded of reading malcolm x's autobiography and his fiery deliveries on the blue-eyed, white-skinned devil. i felt guilt and shame then, yet i actively worked against feeling that when i first read gloria anzaldua. perhaps i was simply tired of feeling such a way. in retrospect, though, i see my initial response to anzaldua as ignorant (big surprise), for it is too similar to a request to be educated and taken by the hand. in other words, i endangered anzaldua to become "reduced to [a purveyor] of resource lists" ("speaking in tongues" 79). much better for me concerns endeavoring on my own, seeking to educate myself rather than requesting it of third world individuals and thereby tokenizing them.

and yet, the pedagogue in me questions, "how could this work in a composition classroom? am i merely tokenizing myself, endangering myself to become reduced to a purveyor of resource lists? how might i actively work against this? am i doing this already?"

RE Booth's Discussion of Audience & Rhetoric

"The media," Booth writes in Chapter 6, "have by now produced an inescapable expansion and multiplicity of audiences" (111), naming this as one of two major revolutions having complicated every moment of political rhetrickery, or P-Rhet. Booth goes on to write of a major result of this: "accomodation to specific audiences now becomes much more dangerous than it used to be" (111). Dangerous how? Well, Booth says it is easier for enemies to fact-check on last week's statements and declare the speaker's dishonest. Democrats do this, Republicans do this, the president does this, and Booth cites specific examples of George W.'s rephrasings concerning WMD's: "weapons of mass destruction" to "programs of mass destruction" to "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities."

However, I'm finding it difficult to believe in Booth's revolution and the supposed danger of it. Given the support George W. garnered for the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, it doesn't seem to me that there was any real danger involved. The rhetoric was broad and general enough to invoke not only patriotism but a sense of "this is the right thing to do." Furthermore, I'd say that speaking to an "anti-Republican" audience is much more dangerous than speaking to a "patriotic American" audience, if only because the former's more of a minority. Not once has the current president tried in any way to speak to any minority, and all of his speeches are evidence, including the one discussed weeks ago in class. Even while speaking to the U.N., George W.'s primary audience was the American people!

In this way, the Bush administration is primarily (if only) concerned with appealing to and reinforcing the current hegemonic system of thought, with remaining unmarked, remaining natural (bringing in Trinh T. Minh-ha here). There is a distinct lack of violation of expectations (although there's often struggle to rephrase the results of certain actions, like the invasion/occupation of Iraq) and a very near refusal of deliberate openness to multiple meanings.

(slightly unrelated) closing question: If we take Trinh T. Minh-ha's suggestion to "let difference replace conflict" (216), how might this impact not only current conflicts, but also rhetoric? Of course, Minh-ha's talking about this suggestion in relation to her films, but couldn't it apply to other situations as well?

Kairos & Feminist Rhetorical Theory

If Kinneavy is correct in defining kairos as "the right or opportune time to do something, or right measure in doing something" (80), I'm curious how this concept might apply to feminist rhetorical theories. For the purpose of this week, let's focus on Paula Gunn Allen, who appears rather self-centered, though not necessarily in a negative way, just primarily concerned with herself, her identity, how she helps the story progress.

Still, Gunn Allen's definition of feminism has to do with appropriateness, the need for it in any situation, rhetorical or not (although, to some degree, aren't all situations rhetorical? perhaps any place concerning communication/language is rhetorical). So, might we relate Gunn Allen's appropriateness with the kairotic principles of "right timing" and "proper measure" (Kinneavy 85)? Furthermore, if kairos has close relations to not only justice but also to epistemology, is it possible to connect it to Gunn Allen's notions of not only mutual respect but also story? Lastly, if, for Gunn Allen, "rhetoric is appropriateness" (220), what might else might this mean? Rhetoric is kairos?

Quick Reader Response to Villanueva

Similar to those who came before him, namely Aristotle, Villanueva embodies the rhetorical style described in this chapter from Bootstraps. Similar to how Aristotle emphasized the enthymeme and structured his On Rhetoric as an enthymeme, Villanueva explains how rhetoric has as much to do with history as identity and the construction of both, using his own history and identity as examples, showing how rhetoric is indeed "the conscious use" (76) and "the complete study" (77) of language.

With such an understanding of rhetoric, it is no surprise that Villanueva's very concerned about property, specifically "property that doesn't know of living rooms" (90). Such concern enters the classroom in the form of encouraging/helping students to see such property and perhaps change it, to realize more fully their own histories and identities, how they own it, how it owns them, discovering linguistic backgrounds and seeing those influences and acting on or in contrast to them. The shifting of perspectives is important in such endeavors and, again, Villanueva provides an example of this in his own work, moving from third- to first-person in his narrative, revealing the importance of self-reflection in such a process.

Needless to say, I found this selection by Villanueva to be not only more intriguing but also more illustrative of a new rhetoric. I understand what Perelman and Toulmin attempted in their respective works, but it just seems so theorectical, almost scientific, to instill little in me beyond boredom. This leads me to wonder then, which would be more effective in the composition classroom: having students read Villanueva or Toulmin?