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PWR 1RW: Writing for Liberation: The Rhetoric of Antiracism

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In 1979, James Baldwin stated in an interview, “You write in order to change the world…The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” In this class, we will explore the power of writing to change the world, paying particular attention to the role of language and narrative in movements for racial justice throughout U.S. history. We will consider how national discussions about racism are rhetorically constructed, exploring how language can be leveraged to support or challenge oppressive racial frameworks (e.g. white supremacy, settler colonialism, orientalism, and the myth of American exceptionalism). Our central goal will be to assess how rhetoric can advance antiracism, foster interracial dialogue, and advocate for a more just society.

Throughout this course, we will read, analyze, and produce texts that seek to disrupt damaging racial logics and envision new social structures built on racial inclusion. As we progress, we will consider the following questions: What role does language and narrative play in efforts to achieve racial equity? What kinds of rhetorical strategies do activists, scholars, and artists use to advance antiracism? How might antiracist discourse support movements for liberation? In exploring rhetorical approaches to topics like the movement for Black lives, police reform, reparations, ethnic studies education, indigenous land rights, immigration policies, Islamophobia, and yellow peril mythology, students will develop critical thinking skills, analyze a range of genres, conduct ethical research, and learn how to develop research-based arguments.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) For this assignment, you will analyze how one of our course texts uses rhetorical strategies to advance antiracism. You will be able to choose from a wide range of genres, such as essays, manifestos, interviews, comic books, documentaries, letters, short stories, podcasts, late-night talk show skits, and spoken word poetry. Possible rhetors to analyze might include Sui Sin Far, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldúa, Leslie Marmon Silko, Trevor Noah, Kimberly Jones, and Suheir Hammad.

Texts in Conversation

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) This assignment will serve as a foundation for the Research-Based Argument paper. You will select an issue related to antiracism and examine 4-6 sources that focus on this issue, analyzing how the authors frame this issue, what the authors hope to achieve in writing about this issue, and how the authors converge and diverge in their differing ideas and argumentation. You might choose, for example, to explore debates about affirmative action, to examine arguments for and against defunding the police, to consider whether ethnic studies should be adopted in the K-12 curriculum, to assess various proposals for reparations, to evaluate competing claims about the consequences of racial bias in artificial intelligence, or to analyze conversations surrounding immigration reform.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) In this culminating research paper, you will conduct further research on the issue you explored for the Texts in Conversation assignment. Drawing upon a variety of reputable sources, you will advance and defend an argument about this issue, making a case for why and how your stance advances racial equity.