Critical Rhetorics of Race

Critical Rhetorics of Race

Critical Rhetorics of Race

Critical Rhetorics of Race

Excerpt

Contemporary U.S. media culture represents race in ambivalent, contradictory, and paradoxical ways. Media tell us that the United States is a post-racial society, in which race and racism are passé relics of a bygone era. Yet, those same media bombard us daily with spectacles of racial violence and disturbing racist images that serve as evidence that race and racism are alive and well in the United States. Witness the euphoria and great ballyhoo about a “post-race” era ushered in by the 2008 presidential election and inauguration of America’s first “black” president, Barack Obama. Recurring media storylines described Obama as a mixed-race man who spent his formative years in Hawai’i and his early childhood in Indonesia, whose black father was born in Alego, Kenya, and whose white mother was born in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Yet, soon after the election, a New York Post cartoon featured two white police officers, one of them pointing a gun at a dark ape lying dead on the ground, in a pool of blood with three bullet holes in its back and its tongue hanging out of its mouth. In a dialogue bubble, one of the police officers says to the other: “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill,” implying that President Obama is the dead ape. The cartoon generated controversy, outrage, protest, and denials of and apologies for racism. Such paradoxes disturb our cultural psyche, but they also remind us that race and racism remain stable fixtures in U.S. American life, expressing cultural anxieties, fears, and material inequalities.

Contemporary U.S. culture produces, circulates, and reproduces contradictory images of race, which creates problems for scholars, critics, educators, and those who aim to expose and eliminate oppression and promote social justice. How do we respond to claims that race and racism are simply historical artifacts of yesteryear? How do we respond to the paradoxical jubilation of and celebration (which first began with neoconservative commentators over a decade ago) by media reporters, politicians, pundits, and others globally, all proclaiming the end of racism, while also witnessing media spectacles, such as the cartoon that depicts President Obama as an ape and dramatizes his murder by police officers?

Critical Rhetorics of Race shows that race and racism (and intersections of sexism, heterosexism, classism, and neocolonialism) are very much part of contemporary daily life in the United States. Racism, of course, ranges from everyday . . .

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