From Reading Race to Race as a Way of Reading
BLACK VOICE IS A SLIPPERY METAPHOR PARTLY because its two operative terms (race and voice) are elusive and culturally charged. Indeed, all literal and many figurative ways of describing race in America have been flawed because race remained an object to be interpreted or read rather than a way of reading culture. From the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, these flawed views evolved into codified interconnections among race, language, and being that have informed the appropriation of voice as a shibboleth in the history of African American writing.
Notwithstanding the voluminous work that has been done on critical race studies, rhetoric composition scholars must continue to interrogate the historical import of race and writing. If an ever-broadening knowledge of the sociopolitical histories of ancient Greece and Rome are requisite for applying classical rhetoric to contemporary writing instruction, even more relevant are ongoing explorations of American race histories in constructing increasingly more mobile paradigms for black voice in composition studies. Ongoing historical excursions might encourage composition scholars to replace literal and figurative readings of race (such as Henry Louis Gates's metaphors “race as text and trope”) with, among other constructions, the notion of “race as a cultural hermeneutic.” 1 Neither the notion of race as a way of reading nor the phrase “race as hermeneutic” is entirely new. Nevertheless, many