African American Literacies

By Elaine Richardson | Go to book overview

2

The literacies of African American-centered rhetoric and composition: freestylin' or lookin' for a style that's free

Work, culture, and liberty-all these we need, not singly, but together, each growing and aiding each, and all striving toward that vaster ideal that swims before the people [of African descent], the ideal of human brotherhood, gained through the unifying ideal of Race; the ideal of fostering and developing the traits and talents of [Black people], not in opposition to or contempt for other races, but rather in large conformity to the greater ideals of the American Republic, in order that some day on American soil two world-races may give each to each those characteristics both so sadly lack. We the darker ones come even now not altogether empty-handed: there are to-day no truer exponents of the pure human spirit of the Declaration of Independence than the American [Africans]; there is no true American music but the wild sweet melodies of the [Black] slave.

W. E. B. DuBois (1903/1997:43)

I chose to begin this chapter with an excerpt from W. E. B. DuBois' (1903/1997) Souls of Black Folk. I can imagine some people understanding DuBois' words to represent Black separatism and Black supremacy, that Black people have certain characteristics because of their race, and that European Americans have made only evil contributions to world history. I understand DuBois differently. Because race has been used to justify the oppression of Black people, DuBois holds that “the Negroes” must prove themselves a world-class people by exploiting their talents-not racial talents, but cultural talents developed in response to their environment and through the continual interaction with “work” and “liberty” or working for freedom. By so doing, Black people will justify their right to exist in equality and be evaluated without suspicion as valuable members of the human race. Centering on race, racism, and culture as heuristic tools in rhetoric and composition and literacy education, I understand that the ground upon which I

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