Revisiting Racialized Voice: African American Ethos in Language and Literature

Revisiting Racialized Voice: African American Ethos in Language and Literature

Revisiting Racialized Voice: African American Ethos in Language and Literature

Revisiting Racialized Voice: African American Ethos in Language and Literature


"Revisiting Racialized Voice: African American Ethos in Language and Literature argues that past misconceptions about what constitutes black identity and voice, codified from the 1870s through the 1920s, inform contemporary assumptions about African American authorship. Tracing elements of racial consciousness in the works of Frederick Douglass, Charles Chesnutt, W.E.B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, and others, David G. Holmes urges a revisiting of narratives from this period to strengthen and advance notions about racialized writing and to shape contemporary composition pedagogies. Holmes considers how white hegemony demarcated black identity and reveals the ways some African American writers unintentionally reinforced the hegemony's triad of race, language, and identity. Whereas some of these writers were able to help rethink black voice by recognizing dialect as a necessary linguistic discursive medium, others actually inhibited their own efforts to transcend race essentialism. Still others projected race,as a personal and social paradox that complicated racial identity but did not denigrate African American identity. In recalling the transition in the 1960s from voice as metaphor denoting literary authorship to one connoting student authorship, Holmes posits that rereading the 1960s would enable a mediation between literary and rhetorical voice and an empowered look at race as abstraction and as rhetorically indispensable. Pointing to the intersection of African American identity, literature, and rhetoric, "Revisiting Racialized Voice begins to construct rhetorically workable yet ideologically flexible definitions of black voice. Holmes maintains that political pressure to embrace a"color blindness" endangers scholars' ability to uncover links between racialized discourses of the past and the present, and he calls instead for a reassessment of the material realities and theoretical assumptions race rep


There has been much discussion about race and voice in composition studies, from the emergence of “The Students' Right to Their Own Language” in 1974 until the present. the field of rhetoric and composition has also produced a number of significant works that explore the rich history of African American oratory and literacy, Shirley Wilson Logan's “We Are Coming, ” Jacqueline Jones Royster's Traces of a Stream, and Bradford T. Stull's Amid the Fall, to name just a few.

In this book, I begin reexamining both the ideological and interdisciplinary relationships among literature, oratory, and composition epitomized in an explication of the metaphor of black voice. My specific contribution will be twofold. First, I will contribute to the discussion about the racialization of voice from the 1870s through the 1920s (chapters 1 and 2). Second, I will trace through representative authors the evolution of black voice from its literal use to its metaphorical use, first in literature and then, by extension, in composition (chapters 3—6).

My overall purpose is to afford African American students more flexibility in constructing their own racialized ethos in writing. Many African American authors have fought for such flexibility, particularly during the 1870s through the 1920s. Many such writers and, more to the point, student writers continue to fight for this flexibility. Obviously, some of my observations could and perhaps should be applied to other peoples of color or to whites. I will leave that project to another scholar or another time. This current reflection on black voice is a starting point, a significant one, I trust.

Perhaps the ulterior motive of this pursuit is more personal than scholarly. Like many other African Americans, I marvel at the number of whites and blacks who have told me that my voice either is “too black” or “not black enough.” in most cases, when time and distance have allowed me . . .

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