Friday, July 02, 2010

What Are Some Suggestions from Your Summer Reading List on Diversity?

Editor’s Note from Joyce:

Please reply as often as you'd like over these weeks in the summer, to tell us about books or articles; prose or poetry; visual work, or simple hyperlinks that have informed your thinking about diversity, difference, “polyculturalism,” and writing by simply "replying" to this blog post at any time.

Your replies will be for "mostly" new and current work, this one is (see it below). Oldies but goodies are also welcome. Thanks, so much, to our many readers, especially those who share their comments with us. After the holiday weekend, readers can expect regular bi-weekly posts for the summer schedule.

This interim summer post actually started out as an email to Catherine Prendergast about her current post. But when I realized that my own rhetorical questions and comment about her post might become a short post for the weekend holiday break, her response to me was that, “the epistolary style is both direct and yet indirect,” and to go for it.

Our email conversation made me think about “who my audience is, and isn't” (Catherine's words), and then I remembered how Alice Walker’s book, The Color Purple. It also used the epistolary style as a way to write for a more inclusive rhetorical audience, especially on issues of visibility and invisibility.

What were Walker's own questions and enthymemic thinking at the time? Here, I offer an excerpt from my email to Catherine as a way to continue the train of comments about her guest writing for this blogging series.


My Comments:

Your post, "Scaling the North Face," as I hear it, is about the corporate branding structure in the visual and verbal rhetoric of the American public sphere—see Naomi Klein’s No Logo, a book that really helped me to see the visual rhetorical analysis underlying your writing in ways that I could not before. Also see Sven Birkets' new article on the future of reading in Reading in the Digital Age.

I then, later, found this interview with Tavis Smiley and Tim Wise on color blind rhetoric (Wise's new book) after I read your piece ( (about 28 min).

I love the fact that Wise speaks so well to folks who work in rhetoric (including visual rhetoric) and composition. The interview also shows how well (or not so well) journalism dominates the subject of diversity, race, whiteness, and the discourses of difference (you know about “intersectionality,” right?). Maybe journalism has always dominated the public sphere in the U.S.

So, for example, we’re all "post-racial" now. That’s according to what most of our corporate-owned journalism tells us to believe. That’s certainly what most of our students think--no matter what "color" they are (and it's what too many academics in higher education think these days—did you see the blog on the new hiring new faculty about encouraging administrators to include criminal and, possibly, credit background checks about their new hires?). Wow!

Wise talks about our country’s racial progress—as we all do. But have you also seen any of the reports that he cites on the growing wealth gap between Blacks and Whites in this country (or really, whites and non-whites, as I talked about this in Cheryl Glenn book on the rhetoric of silence and according to the census that decides who is considered to be white). The most recent report about this topic actually appeared from a study done at Brandeis University. A powerful, but somewhat questionable commentary. In fact, I wonder if Noah Feldman knew about this one or any of these kinds of resports when he wrote in his NYTimes Magazine article on 6/27.

It's interesting that Wise appeared on "The Tavis Smiley" show on 6/28, the very next day after Feldman's article. I'd like to know more about how some of these studies on the racial wealth gap are done. But I know that the basis for these studies (since the 1970s) are real. They point to your finessed comments about race, whiteness, your students, and issues of economic class in the post.

In fact, the discourses of difference that our other guest writers contribute to this blogging series on diversity have helped me, CCCC members, and others to think about these symbolic discourses of difference and of visibility versus invisibility. About these differences, I hope that our generation (and who read these blog posts) can do the hard work on practicing Toni Morrison’s concept about “shifting the gaze.” I really try. It's very tough. . . . I mean, whatever happened to integration. Oh, I forgot, that has become virtual and effervescent now.

Robert Redford's last film Lions for Lambs, which I teach and like a lot, reminded me of Morrison's concept in several ways, especially about choosing to be domestic or being global in our thinking about political engagement and "shifting the gaze." He's really good about this in his own film commentary.

I noticed that none of the posted replies, except your own, mentioned your African American male student. Importantly, the subject of diversity is not always a racial one. It's the discourses of difference that we want from diversity studies, right?

But if diversity does not include the racial (not racist) topic, then how do we talk about the subject to avoid the inevitable dominance of “default whiteness” (Kathleen Welch is so good for talking about that concept in her rhetoric). I honestly don’t know, but, with hope, I'm learning.

That lack of racial inclusion in the replies to your post made me wonder about the lack of it in too many of our public high schools today. Thanks so much, by the way, for introducing me to Danielle Allen's work, especially in the way that she thinks about "interracial distrust," classical rhetoric, and the rhetoric of our country's democratic republic.

I discovered the website “stuff white people like,” while I was searching the internet in response to your work. It's a wildly humorous and arguable take on racial and ethnic stereotypes, and I’m glad that you liked it enough to post it on your facebook page, while also discovering the “stuff black people like” website. Ha!

Of course, I deleted all of the really political, more broadly ethnic and diverse stuff from the email for this blog post (at least, I think I did for my epistolary audiences)! Ha!

What academic work helps us to talk about our practices informed rhetorical listening for diversity and for the polycultural logics of our country's rhetoric (see, especially, Kris Ratcliffe, Jackie Royster, Shirley Logan, Jeff Chang, Bonnie Tsui, Junot Diaz, and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. These are a few of the many and varied and great writers who inform my work on rhetoric, composition, writing, and the future of diversity studies.

So, how did I do with the idea of working within a tradition of epistolary rhetoric, Catherine? Like you, I hope that readers will reply to my ideas and post their own helpful sources about human diversity.

Love ya! :)


Catherine Prendergast said...

Well, Joyce, you didn't delete *that* much from your email, the way I remember it. Thank you for bringing Kathleen Welch's concept of "default whiteness" to the table. It reminds me of one of my colleagues who bemoaned, as her (public) university failed to attract more than a 1% African-American student population, that she increasingly felt she was spending her life "making already comfortable people a little more comfortable." And that to me is default whiteness in a nutshell: falling all over ourselves to make relatively comfortable people a little more comfortable, all the while thinking that "other" students just need to catch up. Maybe for a change we could think of those "other" students as our primary audience, and not deprive the already comfortable students of the dignity and gift that is the uncomfortable struggle to learn.

Anonymous said...

In Summer II (just over) I taught a graduate course in "Studies in Latino Film and Drama" during which we viewed a number of films that ranged over the wide diversity not only of Latinos in the U.S. and the hemisphere but also the wide diversity of approaches to film production. A film class can be an exciting and cerebral venue for a discussion on diversity.

Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, Ph.D, (English), Scholar in Residence, Western New Mexico University

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