Race(ing) around in rhetoric and composition circles: racial literacy as the way out

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Michelle T. Johnson (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Nancy Myers

Abstract: Rhetoric and composition studies has no recognizable, critical theory or body of knowledge about race that attends to the field's foundation: language, rhetoric, persuasion, literacy, or writing. The field is in a crisis, a theoretical wasteland, when it comes to critical race praxis. Presently, it is stuck in racially liberal paradigms, such as multiculturalism, diversity, and color-blindness that are anti-progressive and linguistically and rhetorically lacking. These paradigms sustain what Charles W. Mills terms an "epistemology of ignorance" that regards knowledge of race and racism as hazardous to white dominance (17). To respond, I propose a theory of racial literacy that answers Keith Gilyard's call for a "narrative about racial formation that would be useful in composition classrooms, one accessible yet sufficient in scope" (49). I argue that racial literacy is a topic of investigation for the field of rhetoric and composition studies because it examines race as a discursive system with implications for knowledge construction, interpretation, and literacy performance. To move from racial liberalism to racial literacy, the field needs to make three shifts: 1) shift the rhetorical subject from the individual to language; 2) shift the theoretical paradigm from racial liberalism to racial literacy, and 3) shift from a pedagogy stuck between racial liberalism and critical pedagogy to one grounded in racial literacy strategies. The three shifts I propose should spark a new discussion in the field about students' right to study language, similar to the 1974 College Composition and Communication Resolution Students' Right to Their Own Language. In chapter 2, I survey the field of rhetoric and composition to reveal its lack of critical engagement with race. In chapter 3, I outline the theoretical foundation of racial literacy, analyzing race as a discursive system. Chapter 4 describes my experiences implementing racial literacy in a rhetoric and composition classroom, while being attentive to university parameters and students' rights to study language. I also provide a preliminary examination of the implications of teaching in the age of Barack Obama since his election as President of the United States. Looking to the future, chapter 5 lays out strategies for grounding racial literacy in the field.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2009
Critical Literacy, Critical Race Theory, Language, Literacy, Race, Rhetoric
Rhetoric $x Study and teaching.
Critical discourse analysis.
Racism in language.
Racism in literature.
Racism in education.
Critical pedagogy.
Language and languages $x Study and teaching.

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