Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Composing Post-Multiculturalism

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Composing Post-Multiculturalism

Article excerpt

In most scholarly fields, scare quotes have come to surround race, signifying its status as a socially constructed, historically uneven, semantically weak, ideationally inconsistent concept that, despite its shakiness, continues to hold great power in the public sphere, particularly through racialism's structural and material manifestations as racism. Race emerges in rhetoric and composition studies quite frequently as a discursive problem, which is to say, as a problem to be dealt with in our own professional discourse. It is an "absent presence" to be addressed in our scholarship (Prendergast 36), a neglected "focal point" in our frames of analysis (Royster and Williams 571), or even an ideological dependence that masks our "new rhetorics of racism" (Clary-Lemon W7). The last claim, an assertion from Jennifer Clary-Lemon's meta-analytical take on race-focused articles in College Composition and Communication and College English, stands out as the most controversial of these discursive problems. After outlining race's associations with other disciplinary concerns across nearly twenty years of scholarship, Clary-Lemon argues that our ongoing reliance upon metaphor and metonymy has led to increasingly vague, problematically metaphorical usages of race. Spurring her readers to action, Clary-Lemon points out that it has been "scholars themselves published in CCC's and CE's pages who have articulated these specific metaphors" (W7). We have relied dangerously upon substitution, resulting in imprecision; making matters worse, we have arrived late to the scholarly endeavor of "revealing the work of racialized ideology" (W3), borrowing from other disciplines that have been closer to the forefront of critical race studies. In light of these developments, Clary-Lemon insists that we rhetoricians and compositionists must "rearticulate our own racial ideologies in order to become more aware of how we use 'race' persuasively for our own purposes" (W1).

The article's relatively capacious, quantitatively oriented, field-specific mode of analysis reveals the incongruity of rhetoric and composition's handling of race, which Clary-Lemon reads as problematic; however, in the article's selflimitation as a disciplinary endeavor, it generates a new set of problems. One problem is that such a tightly contained approach leaves us with too narrow a view of race-focused inquiry in rhetoric and composition studies, particularly given the interdisciplinary nature of a field whose disciplinary parameters cannot be neatly contained. However, it is usefully problematic that Clary-Lemon faults scholars for using race "persuasively for our own purposes." This is a surprising and, quite productively, troubling characterization. It is surprising because it so broadly characterizes compositionists' discourse on race as the self-interested "use" of race after the article performs what is primarily an analysis of differentiation in scholarly usage of race (usage, no less, of a concept that is semantically impossible and historically unreliable to begin with). It is troubling because it takes a set of disjunctive usages as constitutive of the widespread, intentional, and "persuasive" practice of "using" race for "our own purposes." Despite the inevitability of emerging "patterns of ideology" in our discourse-"we've relied on differing tropes to conceptualize race, thinking all the while that we're 'speaking the same rhetorics'" (W7)-the associations of race with political and ethical issues are far more complex than lexical patterns might suggest, particularly when they involve sociopolitical marginalization, struggles for diversity in the academy, firsthand accounts of racial injustice, and the sociocultural denigration of racially marked communities that compositionists have endeavored to understand. Do we assume that we are "speaking the same rhetorics" when we speak of race? Or are we are articulating a range of rhetorics in various contexts in which the contradictory rhetorics of race so often function? …

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