Power Surge: Writing-Rhetoric Studies, Blogs, and Embedded Whiteness
Kathleen Ethel Welch, University of Oklahoma
Blogging and Technoliberalarts: Embedded Aristotle
Blogging offers one powerful way to embed a reraced, regendered liberal arts. The familiar system of studying/performing/credentialing is, as folks reading this piece know, premised on the magic number seven. Many versions of the seven areas exist. In fact, they frequently recur in educational systems across some times and places and are emblazoned on monumental university buildings as friezes and other architectural constructs and in the names of many of the thousands of colleges and universities in the U.S. and elsewhere. See, for example, the University of Iowa, which recently renamed The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, changed from a long history (until recently, its whole history) of being named The College of Liberal Arts. For a different kind of example of its current use, see Saint Louis University’s “Writing across the Liberal Arts” program. The traditional liberal arts system remains in place ubiquitously in the U.S. as General Education programs and as liberal arts colleges, programs, and other kinds of institutional units. The current wave of change in the liberal arts has been ongoing since the 1950s and the Civil Rights Movement. These educational renewals, whether called general education or liberal arts, came about as part of more general cultural changes in the 1960s, including work in Civil Rights, U.S. and other protests to U.S. intervention in Vietnam, the women’s movement, and many other inclusionary movements. These movements, except for the ending of the American War against Vietnam, are not complete. My aim here is, partly, to contend that writing-rhetoric belongs in each of the seven liberal arts, and that this move is best achieved by using the magic number seven. With this change, we can move forward with the technoliberalarts. James Kinneavy has written on this issue and Janet Atwill has approached the issue from the point of view of technê and its many productive ramifications.
Since blogging has already succeeded as a powerful writing, imaging, and hearing genre, the opportune moment to institutionally reconstruct the seven areas is right now. (This move includes placing the hard sciences in one of the quadrivial categories as well as placing the social sciences there). The pressing issue is the continuing racism that exists in the U.S. To review, here are the seven areas of the liberal arts, a medieval construct based on the site of Isocrates and ideas of culture/education:
Rhetoric, of course, is the first of the seven and has been waxing in its current phase since the mid-twentieth-century; that waxing continues, and rhetoric can do at least two powerful things with blogging behavior: these are the 4 E’s.
- Explain it with an established vocabulary that is transferable in formal educational settings (for students who engage the digital, and that now includes most of them) and in solitary study (for those who are not enrolled in an educational institution, for example);
- Enable it by helping bloggers to perform more effectively;
- Embed it so that the site of Aristotle (or fill in the blank) and its embeddedness is rehearsed so that it can be recognized in a uniform way; and
- Enthymeme it so that one’s conclusions are more carefully understood (it’s in the faulty premises that much racist rhetoric is embedded; unmask the premises and the conclusions can more easily be addressed).
To achieve these perhaps semi-utopian goals, the embeddedness of racism, both conscious and unconscious (and the ideologies of racism tend to be unconscious) in a number of areas of the liberal arts must be addressed by being unveiled and changed. In this fiftieth anniversary year of Brown v. Board of Education (1954-2004) in the U.S., we need to tap rhetoric for ways to explain racism and enable individuals who partake of, for example, white supremacy, to uncover, in particular environments, racist attitudes that are reproduced by embedded ideologues such as Aristotle, who was not, it should go without saying, white but who has been regarded, by default, as white, in a constituent move of white supremacy of the last several hundred years.
The best location I can think of for uncovering racism is a blogging re-enactment of the early 1970s consciousness-raising groups in which many people, particularly some white women, some African American women, some Native American women, and many others, including men, gathered in groups to work to unveil the lived ideologies of gender-coded behaviors that appeared to be normal and were in fact ideological expressions that served, unconsciously, to reproduce various hegemonies. For well-meaning people who truly want to stop thinking/performing racist behaviors, the blog can provide a powerful way to enact change, particularly if the blogger can feel as if she/he is in a protected environment. Blogging may not be that environment; or it may be.
Krista Ratcliffe (2000) has written a great deal on whiteness. Here is a quote:
As scholars, we must reflect on the influence of whiteness in our discipline, our professional journals, our conventions, our books and articles, our professional networks, and, dare I say, even our friendships. As teachers, we must introduce students to rhetorical tactics that will enable them to reflect on the influence of whiteness in their own lives and cultures. (p. 112)
These new consciousness-raising groups — in blogging, in organized nonelectric groups, in student organizations — could read the following blogs, books essays, films, and TV shows that have so much to teach white people some of the ways we benefit, mostly unconsciously, from white supremacy and why it is up to white people to stop it:
- Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination;
- Craig S. Womack, Red on Red: Native American Literary Separatism;
- Jasper Neel, Aristotle’s Voice: Rhetoric, Theory, and Writing in America;
- Shirley Wilson Logan, “Changing Missions, Shifting Positions, and Breaking Silences” in College Composition and Communication 55.2, 2003;
- Lee Shenandoah Vasquez, “On Native American Rhetoric and Technology,” University of Oklahoma submission, English 5403, Issues in Composition/Rhetoric/Literacy, spring 2004;
- Jacqueline Jones Royster, Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change among African American Women;
- Otto Kerner, et al., “Report of the Civil Rights Commission”;
- Imitation of Life, film, directed by Douglas Sirk;
- Geary Hobson, The Last of the Ofos;
- Kathleen Blake Yancey, CCCC Chair’s Blog;
- Samantha Blackmon’s blog;
- Benjamin R. Harris, “Unconscious Moves: The Mediated Visual and the Composition Classroom,” M.A. Thesis, Dept. of English, University of Oklahoma; and
- Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Culture and Politics.
Blogging and the Military-Media Complex
Blogging and other electronic forms of rhetorical delivery and performance will not retain their power and ability to help white people in particular overcome our institutional and other kinds of racism, as I have strongly claimed here, if the Military-Media Complex, the five communication conglomerates in the U.S. as well as others in, for example, Italy and Germany, continue to replicate ideologies unknown to them by consolidating media and therefore rhetorical power via their monetary influence over the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Presidency (both major parties), and other governmental units. See Laura Gurak, Persuasion and Privacy in Cyberspace, Andrea Lunsford’s 1999 College English essay, “Rhetoric, Feminism, and the Politics of Textual Ownership,” on intellectual property and the speed of communication industry consolidation of power, and Ken Auletta’s many New Yorker essays on these issues.
Blogging Our Way Into New Historicizing of Writing-Rhetoric
It is difficult to know how to operate on the two levels I have recommended here: unveiling racist behaviors that are usually unconscious but nonetheless lethal; or by working against further consolidation of the media industries. If we can blog ourselves into accomplishing both of these goals, then blogging as a technê, as a central perfomative rhetorical act, can retain its current power to bring about social change and to promote justice and even, if we’re lucky, peace.
Blogging, as a number of folks have noted here and elsewhere, offers the solitariness of an embodied human being sitting in front of a screen, and it offers a new space of community. But since racism is so deeply rooted in the languages, the images, the sounds, and the structures of the electricity, hardware, software, and, most of all, interior articulations (thoughts) that appear to be natural, normal, and okay, blogging can also advance racism if we don’t explicitly resist it in our own blogging, in all the courses we teach and take, in our publishing, and in the day-to-day institutional decisions we all make.
With the 4 E’s (explain, enable, embed, and enthymeme the verb) and the 7 reraced and regendered liberal arts (frequently presented as general education programs), as well as with the many suggestions, theories, insights, and inquiries of volumes such as Into the Blogosphere, we might have hope.
Ratcliffe, K. (2000). Eavesdropping as rhetorical tactic: History, whiteness, and rhetoric. JAC, 20, 87-119.
“continue to replicate ideologies unknown to them by…”
I’ve read the sentence extracted above six or eight times and I still can’t get my head around it.
To whom does “them” refer?
And is the list of items following “by” restrictive or illustrative (that is, “unknown to them by X Y and Z, but possibly known to them by other avenues”, or “replicate ideologies by methods X Y and Z”)?
I’m not sure that the thesis “X can advance racism if we don’t resist it in our own X” gains much additional rhetorical power if you insert “blogging” or “academic publishing” or “posting quibbles in the comments fields of blog entries”. The general statement “Racism is bad, we should resist it,” to which I heartily assent, pretty much covers blogging. Blogging may be an excellent platform for re-enacting the consciousness-raising exercises of a previous generation, though it may be that the average college student today already has much greater access to alternative sources of information than the college student of a generation ago.
If racism is deeply rooted in human culture, then it is no surprise that it might be found in hardware and software (along with everything else that humans do). But from what I know of lawsuits concerning racial preferences at Microsoft, or stories about offensive graphics in clip art, I’m not sure that cyberculture is any more racist than any other human endeavor. Opening the Internet up to everyone entails opening it up to racists and bigots, but we can always hope that a rational person, when faced with a ranting diatribe on one side and a reasoned rebuttal on the other, will choose to be persuaded by reason. Idological “fisking” can certainly help in that area.
The meme that “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,” supports the belief that cyberspace can at least possibly be a space where communities can break through the old biases and prejudices, so of I see the value of reminding bloggers of the possibilities.