Thursday, February 25, 2010

Jazz Series - Part One "Gumbo"

Sheet music cover: The 'Jelly Roll' Blues, by ...Image via Wikipedia

In a similar fashion to his other documentaries, The Civil War and Baseball, Ken Burns uses historical fact and personal accounts to illuminate the story of jazz and how it coincided with the maturation of America. Jazz roots itself in New Orleans for its first installment, Gumbo. One of the 19th century's most progressive cities, the "wide open" town was filled with gambling, prostitution, crime -- and music. Burns shows how African-American musicians combined Caribbean rhythms, opera, minstrel shows, and (most importantly) marching bands with ragtime and the blues to produce a music that would soon be called "jass," and later "jazz." The viewer is introduced to such legendary innovators of the music as Buddy Bolden -- the trumpet player who, although never recorded, is mythically touted as the first true jazz musician -- and pianist Jelly Roll Morton, who flamboyantly claimed to have invented jazz (he was the first to notate the music on paper). It is also made apparent how race played a large factor in the development of the music. In 1917, a group of white musicians calling themselves the Original Dixieland Jazz Band recorded the first jazz record and quickly became a huge success -- at once polarizing black musicians and ringing in the "Jazz Age."

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Beyond Speech - Museums, Body, Rap and Jazz

Negro boy near Cincinnati, Ohio (LOC)Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

Here is my lecture for this week. The items may be in a different order than I presented them.


MUSEUMS – Deborah Atwater & Sandra Herndon

National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN

MuseumAfrica, Johannesburg, South Africa

Public memory: A potential for a shared sense of the past, fashioned from symbolic resources of community, and subjected to its particular history, hierarchies and aspirations.

Share the past, as different groups have different conceptions of the past.

Remembering African American history has led to:

1. Loss of moral hegemony by whites

2. Loss of the myth of racial homogeneity by Blacks.

We may engage in recovery through a sharing of various narratives and being open to the liberating power of that experience.

Museums can serve these purposes, especially for African Americans. Museums are political, but they often present a variety of different messages based on their intent and design. Museums have been a powerful element for documenting and remembering the experience of African Americans and confronting visitors with various narratives.


Located at the site of MLK’s assassination.

Focused mostly on the civil rights movement.

Brutal depiction of segregation tries to shock visitors.


It tries to depict South Africa from the Stone Age to the space age. It attempts to make sure that native Africans are given credit and mentioned, as is their due.

A depiction of Johannesburg as a changing city focused on issues such as gold mining, workers rights, music and culture of the city, homelessness, shantytowns, the anti-apartheid struggle, the role of African women, the changes since independence.


Space and place communicates.

There is a language in display and arrangement, stories told, focus on issues, etc.

Both museums attempt to portray the role of disenfranchised and marginalized people and their struggle for equality.

Space is created and visitors put into it: in the back of a bus or in a shantytown home. Yet these are communal spaces and all are put in them, black or white.

But, the struggle is not over and at times the message is ion how far we have come not on how far we need to go. One can imagine Malcolm X’s reaction to the canonization of King at the Memphis museum.


1. Both had formal laws of discrimination.

2. Both countries claim they discriminate no more.

3. Discrimination is now more subtle and difficult to alleviate

4. Very different outcomes, yet the slogan is, “no more racism here”


1. Winner take all vs. parliamentary representation

2. “One drop” rule vs. black, brown, colored, white

3. Africans in South Africa will have major control, African Americans not.


Milan Kundera: forgetting is a form of death ever present in life.

Museums try to combat that, no matter which story they tell. Jim Crow and apartheid still attempt to dominate the story.

Nietzsche says only that which continues to hurt remains in the memory.

But it also serves the need for catharsis and healing.


Can be a very potent experience, as the authors indicate in their narratives about their visits to the two museums.



Focus on melodies and melodic decoration

Elaborate harmony, but cannot harmonize without instructions

Highly developed poetic forms and good ballad tradition

White songs are largely solitary acts

White singers mostly interested in text

Borrowed African percussion

Mathematically and structurally conceived


Improvising on a theme

Talented choral singers but a rudimentary system of harmony

Leader-chorus tradition allowing songs to be made up and involving everyone

Intended for and performed by joyful crowds

African American singers focus on movement and beat

Borrowed Anglo American instruments

Psychologically and symbolically conceived


Polyphonic character, gapped heptatonic scale, dominance of percussion, parallel thirds, off beat phrasing of melodic accents, overlapping call and response, vocal and instrumental slurs and vibratos, bending improvised notes, syncopation.

Music infuses all parts of African life.

African languages tend to be more “musical,” so people are more sensitive to changes in tone and pitch.

Children make instruments at 3 or 4.

Patterns of complaint and social commentary that precedes blues.

Explore male-female relationships, ward off evil, and appease the gods.

Human bodies are an important source of music, hand clapping and foot stomping.

Music is kept below the level of consciousness, and so was immune to change during slavery.

All of this was preserved early on in slave songs and spirituals.

Blues emerged as a musical form out of these roots. It features lyrics of ridicule, social commentary, and the criticisms of black society and social practices. Blues originated as a form of work song, but soon took into itself elements of spirituals, work songs and field cries. Elements included call and response, slides, slurs, bends and dips. Voices can be moans, groans, and shouts to song-speech utterances.

Jazz emerged from New Orleans “hot music” and used a wide variety of African music forms. It contains improvisation, playing with notes ands textures, syncopation, surging percussion, call and response allowing for collective interaction. Polyrhythm’s change and allow an increase in musical tension as they develop.

Call and response are featured as one instrument may follow the other and try to do or outdo it. Themes get thrown back and forth and changed in entertaining ways.

LAURYN HILL By Celnisha Dangerfield

Slave songs often talked about troubles or were sung when the slaves were upset. They also told of coming breakouts and escapes. They also contained thoughts of inspiration during a difficult workday. They contained messages that the masters could not understand.

The lyrics are much more than catchy phrases of rhyming words. They represent sentiments, thoughts and emotions of a group of people who have known and continue to know struggle. Hip Hop music is a further example of this.

Hip-hop uses new technology and covers new themes, but is also quite traditional. Potter says:

The knowledge that rappers draw on is not only their own day-to-day experience, but also the entire recorded tradition of African American music .. which it re-reads and signifies though a complex blend of strategies, including samplin, cutting, pastiche, freestylin and improvisation.”

Just as slave songs were defiant, so now is hip-hop. It challenges the forces that would keep African Americans muted. But it appeals to a wider audience. It is as Dubois spoke of the minority who knows the majority better than it knows itself.

Lauryn Hill made a huge splash on the international musical stage in 1999, with 10 Grammy nominations. She wrote and produced her own songs.

Dangerfield takes five Hill songs and analyzes them using common themes of Afrocentric rhetorical study.


Education, not necessarily formal but knowledge, not miseducation within an Anglo American context. Many African Americans have been educated with Eurocentric values erasing their more traditional beliefs. Hill has these sets of values dueling in her songs.

She also attacks values at work she disapproves of. The conflation of sex with money and the willingness of women to sell themselves for little gain. The value of money over all else, and the willingness to do what is immoral to gain money.


These can be thought of as master stories describing exceptional people doing exceptional things and serving as moral guides to proper action.

Many of Hill’s myths have a Biblical referent. Jesus, Judas, Cain and Abel. Many more.


Fantasy themes are much like myths. They can be thought of as abbreviated myths providing concrete manifestations of current values and hinting at some idealized vision of the future. They take up less space in the song but can carry a huge impact.

Hill’s two fantasy themes are the idea that Africans are God’s chosen people and the value of motherhood. The Israelites are the chosen people even while in slavery. Motherhood is used as a fantasy theme with the notion that it is a wonderful gift to be cherished and appreciated. Hill decided to bring her child to term even at the cost of her performing career. Giving the dominance of the discussion in African American affairs about responsibility for motherhood and fatherhood this is a powerful message, listen to your heart and do what is right, not the selfishness of your head.


Called on African Americans and others not to believe what they are programmed, but to listen to their hearts and find their own destiny.

The duality called upon by Dubois in his concept of double consciousness is here as well. The work of Lauryn Hill involves the inherent dueling of these two consciousness forces.

The culture of African Americans cannot be separated from the work of Lauryn Hill. She and other hip hop artists pick up where MLK, Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey left off. It is still a message of uplift, strength and survival with ties to a past that cannot be eliminated.

“The genre of hip-hop is an innovative form of black rhetoric that has exposed the world to the powerful force that is African American rhetoric.”


Gangsta rappers discuss life in the hood and full-time thugging.

Young African Americans co-construct this via music, language, dress, and graffiti, and so on to create a resistance to oppression, racism and poverty while living on the margins of society. Rap music is related to Black Nationalism, storytelling, spirituals and blues.

Criticisms have included the focus on violence, the rejection of mainstream economics and the female body as an object of subjugation and sexuality.



They help us understand what an experience is about.

Establish a connection between the central action, various elements and our lives.

We judge narratives based on their completeness and consistency and find them adequate or lacking.

The focus is on the story and the telling of the story.

Major events are kernels

Minor elements are satellites

Theme – general idea illustrated by the narrative

The narrator – a central part or only the teller.

Audience the narrative is addressed to.

Dramatism: Kenneth Burke

Language is symbolic action. It is not motion as animals have. Humans are motivated to action by language and symbols.

Humans develop and present messages in the same way that a play is presented:

1. Act

2. Agent

3. Scene

4. Agency

5. Purpose

You identify the five elements in a rhetorical act, and then you choose the one or two that seem most important to understanding the rhetoric.


Born in Brooklyn, mother was a Black Panther leader, moved to Oakland. Dancer in Digital Underground, released an album, 2pocalypse Now. Starred in movie Juice in 1992. He played himself, a “G Nigga” who was grounded in nihilism and thus was willing to embrace killing and death. They care about true homies only.

Tupac represented the status of many African American youth. He was seen as hustler, actor, thug, realist, lover, hater, opportunist and more. He was all of these. He becomes a universal symbol of young African American manhood trapped in a rigged system. A contradiction that looks ugly and beautiful at the same time.

Tupac also had a strong black revolutionary background and teachings from his mother Afeni and father Mutulu. He was also influenced by criminal Legs who got his mother booked on crack, shaping Tupac’s “ride or die” mentality.

Tupac enjoyed life but seemed preoccupied with death.

The killing fields of America. Inner city turf with little or no opportunity, police repression and an absence of hope. Lack of hope breeds nihilism. Young men join gangs for protection and identification.

Gang warfare in LA (p. 196).

These streets are also a place of revenge and retaliation in case of the death of a friend, or homie.

There is a war and these young men are warriors. Tupac said in a 1996 interview:

p. 197

The showdown with death is the main event in the narratives of Tupac.

In terms of dramatistic elements:


Blaze weed and drink.

Ball (make money, court women)

Confronting the enemy.

No fear of death. It might actually be a release.

Their actions may be heinous, but they fit the setting of the killing fields. Slow motion genocide.


Retaliation against the enemy. This maintains juice respect with friends and enemies.

They use the agency of nihilism to act against reason and self-protection.


The dominant factor. It is the environment of the killing fields that triggers it all. Absent that, none of the other elements would make sense. The scene prescribes their actions – killing, revenge, ballin’.

Those who focus on scene tend to believe that the physical, social and psychological environment in which action occurs can be the cause of good or bad outcomes.

African American youths identified as an audience. They experienced many of the same things and Tupac would keep it real, facing death, but maintaining street credibility.

White youths identified with Tupac as an element of rebellion. They faced some of the same things but not to the same extent, and could vicariously explore that killing fiends experience through the music.


Tupac’s rhetoric contains the absence of a love ethic. Without love, there is a place for nihilism to grow.

Cornel West has stated: nihilism is not overcome by arguments and analysis; it is tamed by love and care. Any disease of the soul must be conquered by the turning of one’s soul. This turning is done through the self-affirmation of ones worth – an affirmation fueled by the concern of others.”

Tupac enacts this reality of the killing fields by accepting death and seeing it as the warrior’s only savior. It will save the baller from further destruction in the killing fields. The killing fields drive one crazy through paranoia, losing touch with reality, as friends become enemies.

Tupac’s narratives are persuasive and contain narrative coherence and fidelity. The action is consistent and predictable. You believe that he believes the story he is telling.

If the scene is the crucial element, it educates us that the scene, the killing fields, must be changed.


The body is a sign emitting text. Even while not speaking, our bodies are communicating.

The social meanings of our bodies can influence our sense of inner self and feelings of inner worth.

Black women often focus on skin tone and hair texture.

Good is light skin, good is straight hair. Kink factor.

Womanism is a perspective where women make their own decisions and establish their own standards, not rely on those of others or society.

Comprehensive interviews were done with black women to determine how the kink factor influences them.


1. Kinky hair is a black thing. Straighter is better, lighter skin is more beautiful. In order to fit in often the body must be redesigned to fit other standards.

2. Kinky hair is nappy by nature. It is coiled. A lot of emphasis on straight hair. Women have been conditioned to see straight hair as beautiful. If you take care of it it will not be nappy, so if it is nappy you do not take care of yourself. Men often reject African American women with nappy hair, further sending the message.

3. Kinky hair is a state of mind/mine. African American women experiment with different kinds of hairstyles trying to find what is best for them. It may or may not be political or fashionable. An Afro may be a political statement or a conviction that one looks good with that style, or a fashionable fad. It may be a matter of convenience or a connection with Africa. It may involve the idea of what is beautiful – naturalness or artifice.

4. The path between conformity and resistance is a difficult one. Mothers play an important role in helping their daughters do this, but the final result is usually an individual one.

CONCLUSION: p. 240, last paragraph.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

New Videos Now Available - Equiano & Cingue

Two new videos are now available for download at the class readings website in the folder labeled "videos."

Equiano, the African - 28 minutes
We saw this in class, but if you were not there you can catch up

Cinque, Freedom Fighter - 45 minutes
I was going to show this one but we did not have time. Very good look at the leader of the rebellion on the slave ship Amistad.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Legacy of Slavery - White Privilege


[This essay builds on the discussion of white privilege from Peggy McIntosh's essay "White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women's Studies."]

cropped from :Image:Races2.jpg 1820 drawing of...Image via Wikipedia

by Robert Jensen

Here's what white privilege sounds like:

I am sitting in my University of Texas office, talking to a very bright and very conservative white student about affirmative action in college admissions, which he opposes and I support.

The student says he wants a level playing field with no unearned advantages for anyone. I ask him whether he thinks that in the United States being white has advantages. Have either of us, I ask, ever benefited from being white in a world run mostly by white people? Yes, he concedes, there is something real and tangible we could call white privilege.

So, if we live in a world of white privilege--unearned white privilege--how does that affect your notion of a level playing field? I ask.

He paused for a moment and said, "That really doesn't matter."

That statement, I suggested to him, reveals the ultimate white privilege: the privilege to acknowledge you have unearned privilege but ignore what it means.

That exchange led me to rethink the way I talk about race and racism with students. It drove home to me the importance of confronting the dirty secret that we white people carry around with us everyday: In a world of white privilege, some of what we have is unearned. I think much of both the fear and anger that comes up around discussions of affirmative action has its roots in that secret. So these days, my goal is to talk openly and honestly about white supremacy and white privilege.

White privilege, like any social phenomenon, is complex. In a white supremacist culture, all white people have privilege, whether or not they are overtly racist themselves. There are general patterns, but such privilege plays out differently depending on context and other aspects of one's identity (in my case, being male gives me other kinds of privilege). Rather than try to tell others how white privilege has played out in their lives, I talk about how it has affected me.

I am as white as white gets in this country. I am of northern European heritage and I was raised in North Dakota, one of the whitest states in the country. I grew up in a virtually all-white world surrounded by racism, both personal and institutional. Because I didn't live near a reservation, I didn't even have exposure to the state's only numerically significant non-white population, American Indians.

I have struggled to resist that racist training and the ongoing racism of my culture. I like to think I have changed, even though I routinely trip over the lingering effects of that internalized racism and the institutional racism around me. But no matter how much I "fix" myself, one thing never changes--I walk through the world with white privilege.

What does that mean? Perhaps most importantly, when I seek admission to a university, apply for a job, or hunt for an apartment, I don't look threatening. Almost all of the people evaluating me for those things look like me--they are white. They see in me a reflection of themselves, and in a racist world that is an advantage. I smile. I am white. I am one of them. I am not dangerous. Even when I voice critical opinions, I am cut some slack. After all, I'm white.

My flaws also are more easily forgiven because I am white. Some complain that affirmative action has meant the university is saddled with mediocre minority professors. I have no doubt there are minority faculty who are mediocre, though I don't know very many. As Henry Louis Gates Jr. once pointed out, if affirmative action policies were in place for the next hundred years, it's possible that at the end of that time the university could have as many mediocre minority professors as it has mediocre white professors. That isn't meant as an insult to anyone, but is a simple observation that white privilege has meant that scores of second-rate white professors have slid through the system because their flaws were overlooked out of solidarity based on race, as well as on gender, class and ideology.

Some people resist the assertions that the United States is still a bitterly racist society and that the racism has real effects on real people. But white folks have long cut other white folks a break. I know, because I am one of them.

I am not a genius--as I like to say, I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I have been teaching full-time for six years, and I've published a reasonable amount of scholarship. Some of it is the unexceptional stuff one churns out to get tenure, and some of it, I would argue, actually is worth reading. I work hard, and I like to think that I'm a fairly decent teacher. Every once in awhile, I leave my office at the end of the day feeling like I really accomplished something. When I cash my paycheck, I don't feel guilty.

But, all that said, I know I did not get where I am by merit alone. I benefited from, among other things, white privilege. That doesn't mean that I don't deserve my job, or that if I weren't white I would never have gotten the job. It means simply that all through my life, I have soaked up benefits for being white. I grew up in fertile farm country taken by force from non-white indigenous people. I was educated in a well-funded, virtually all-white public school system in which I learned that white people like me made this country great. There I also was taught a variety of skills, including how to take standardized tests written by and for white people.

All my life I have been hired for jobs by white people. I was accepted for graduate school by white people. And I was hired for a teaching position at the predominantly white University of Texas, which had a white president, in a college headed by a white dean and in a department with a white chairman that at the time had one non-white tenured professor.

There certainly is individual variation in experience. Some white people have had it easier than me, probably because they came from wealthy families that gave them even more privilege. Some white people have had it tougher than me because they came from poorer families. White women face discrimination I will never know. But, in the end, white people all have drawn on white privilege somewhere in their lives.

Like anyone, I have overcome certain hardships in my life. I have worked hard to get where I am, and I work hard to stay there. But to feel good about myself and my work, I do not have to believe that "merit," as defined by white people in a white country, alone got me here. I can acknowledge that in addition to all that hard work, I got a significant boost from white privilege, which continues to protect me every day of my life from certain hardships.

At one time in my life, I would not have been able to say that, because I needed to believe that my success in life was due solely to my individual talent and effort. I saw myself as the heroic American, the rugged individualist. I was so deeply seduced by the culture's mythology that I couldn't see the fear that was binding me to those myths. Like all white Americans, I was living with the fear that maybe I didn't really deserve my success, that maybe luck and privilege had more to do with it than brains and hard work. I was afraid I wasn't heroic or rugged, that I wasn't special.

I let go of some of that fear when I realized that, indeed, I wasn't special, but that I was still me. What I do well, I still can take pride in, even when I know that the rules under which I work in are stacked in my benefit. I believe that until we let go of the fiction that people have complete control over their fate--that we can will ourselves to be anything we choose--then we will live with that fear. Yes, we should all dream big and pursue our dreams and not let anyone or anything stop us. But we all are the product both of what we will ourselves to be and what the society in which we live lets us be.

White privilege is not something I get to decide whether or not I want to keep. Every time I walk into a store at the same time as a black man and the security guard follows him and leaves me alone to shop, I am benefiting from white privilege. There is not space here to list all the ways in which white privilege plays out in our daily lives, but it is clear that I will carry this privilege with me until the day white supremacy is erased from this society.

Frankly, I don't think I will live to see that day; I am realistic about the scope of the task. However, I continue to have hope, to believe in the creative power of human beings to engage the world honestly and act morally. A first step for white people, I think, is to not be afraid to admit that we have benefited from white privilege. It doesn't mean we are frauds who have no claim to our success. It means we face a choice about what we do with our success.

Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism in the University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at

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Olaudah Equiano

Here is some information accompany the video we watched on 17 February 2010.


Olaudah Equiano, aka Gustavus VassaImage via Wikipedia

According to his famous autobiography, written in 1789, Olaudah Equiano (c.1745-1797) was born in what is now Nigeria. Kidnapped and sold into slavery in childhood, he was taken as a slave to the New World. As a slave to a captain in the Royal Navy, and later to a Quaker merchant, he eventually earned the price of his own freedom by careful trading and saving. As a seaman, he travelled the world, including the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Atlantic and the Arctic, the latter in an abortive attempt to reach the North Pole. Coming to London, he became involved in the movement to abolish the slave trade, an involvement which led to him writing and publishing The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African (1789) a strongly abolitionist autobiography. The book became a bestseller and, as well as furthering the anti-slavery cause, made Equiano a wealthy man.
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Slavery and the Social Rupture

PelourinhoImage via Wikipedia

Here are my lecture notes from 17 February 2010.


For African American Rhetoric

Thanks to Nathan Huggins for his research and thoughts.


Mainly from West Africa and southwest Africa.

The village – a collection of family compounds.

Nature is at the heart of village life.

It is necessary to hold together to guarantee existence.

Isolation was unthinkable. “Outlaw”

Alone a person is nobody, because it was your place in reference to others.

A cowardly brother was shame to you

A glorious uncle was glory for you

What one was was the village, what pone would be was the village.

Elders were respected because they had knowledge. They could be called on to unravel knots of dispute.

When the family could not, manage or when it was one family against another the elders would be consulted.

The village can be thought of as the family writ large.

But some decisions were too big for the family: when to plant and harvest, when to cut and burn the fields, what crops to plant.

But most of that was kept within the family.

Family was an anchor to those set adrift by death. No orphans, no homeless, no abandoned old people.

There was little between families in terms of material possessions or standards of living. There were no extremes in wealth and want.

Your world is centered in your mother’s house with her other children.

There would be their wives and their children. There would be a senior wife.

Each wife had things that were hers – land, chickens, and goats. She received these when she agreed to become a wife to a husband. Any surplus belonged to the wife, and she could trade it for what she wanted.

She would go to market in the village to try and trade what she had for what she wanted. Clever wives could benefit the entire family in this way, as well as herself.

At the core of the universe is your father, wealth determined by children and land.

You are tied to those in the compound, beyond to the village and perhaps beyond to other villages.

Family compounds had other people as well. People may have been given to the family or taken refuge there. While called slaves they were not so in our current construct.

They were given status based on talents and character. They would merge into the family my marriage. They could not be sold, but belonged to the family.

The family was the economic unit. No one was surplus. Each member of the family gave what they could to increase the well being of all.

If you went to another village you would also know there a relative and a family link.

There was no assumption of equality.

You had a position in your family and the community.

Age, experience and resourcefulness could give you status.

Your character reflected your membership in an age group, clan and family.

You learned to appreciate patterns that had existed for centuries, they worked.

There was a rigid etiquette learned through ritual, routine and religion.

Little thought was given to innovation, as age-old problems of farming, health and warfare were solved by traditional means or remained unsolved.

The real meaning of the individual was that you existed and where you fit into relationships.

As a child you rose through the structures being cared for by others and caring for those younger than you.

Boys would go through rituals marking a transition into manhood, gaining knowledge of mysteries through special experiences.

As girls grew they became more involved with children and pregnancy of others and such until her own time came.

No important decision was really personal.

Marriage was too important to be left to you. Mating must serve the old and the young and those who would depend on the family.

Young man has collected bridal dues given to the family of the woman who was to be his wife.

The couple would establish their house near the bride or groom’s family to maintain contact.

If there was a disaster it was the village and the family that reacted.

One could never deny helplessness before the great surges and ebbs in life and history.

Te European would see evil as a part of moral corruption and sin. The African would see it as a natural part of the hand that was dealt. Evil comes to one as it comes to all in turn. The best defense was to respect and fulfill traditional obligations and remain strong in character.

The life force itself remained an unfathomable mystery.

Death was but punctuation in the story. It began before you and would last long after you.

It was held together by the oral history of the family and the village. All could find their place in it. One could share in the greatness of ones people because one really was a part of them.

There was a spiritual quality to all things. To you, to those around you, to all animals and plants and to the land itself.

The wood had a spirit as it came into the artisan’s hands and through cooperation was revealed in the carving.

Music, dance and celebration were united in all parts of the life cycle – birth, marriage, and death – lifting them to cosmic significance. None of us are irrelevant.

All worked together to link each and all to the world and the universe.

The drums pounded, dancers turned and twisted, libations and offerings invoked the ancestors, bells and beads tang together with flutes.

Some special person would be infused with a spirit, possessed, given some special knowledge, twirling and writhing, and then left spent and empty.

Yet, it was no paradise.

There were extremes of suffering and joy, perhaps greater because they were shared.

Droughts, floods and other events could spell total devastation, with resulting starvation and death for nearly everyone.

A community might make the wrong choice together and suffer collectively.

Any illness could be the threshold of death.

Senses were sharp and felt everything in a way that might be hard for us to understand.


Community, identification, mutual support.

Then, all of a sudden, alone, isolated, lacking in any support.

The transatlantic slave trade was far outside of their experience of “slave” family members.

One went from being a person to a thing.

This was the true rupture, much greater than the simple cruelty and mistreatment that we often focus on.

First capture, suddenly and without warning.

You might hear of something like this happening in the region. You might prepare, but the goal was to steal people, not conquer or rule. Spears and knives were little use against guns and surprise.

Some decided to attack first when there were signs of slave traders in the area.

Others waited and were the victims for it.

p. 29

Some were simply disgorged by their communities as offerings to the Europeans. Non-conformists, element of evil forces, etc.

Captives might be held in a village to be gathered into larger groups. They might even work within a family group. But then, a march along a trail to nowhere might begin.

Tales of terrible fates at the hands of monsters, of the end of the world.

His name was meaningless, his connections useless. The young and strong were honored, not the elder and wise. The weak were not assisted but dropped and died, as they had less value.

They reached a market they could recognize but they were the goods to be bargained for and exchanged. It was not for the use of those who acquired them, but for their profit. The captive lost his intrinsic value. One was bound with others that spoke unknown tongues but all with the same fate.

Earlier pain experiences, such as circumcision and scarification had brought manhood, this pain meant the end of being a human being.

Many attempted or achieved suicide. But, the disorganization and disorientation made organized resistance difficult.

The Europeans called their handling and sorting points factories.

Questions of profits overruled all issues of ethics and morality. A $10 African man could yield $600 in the New World.

Packed into ships they were sent to a land to built an empire and create profit for others.

The ships were poorly designed and risky at best. The crews were the dregs of European society. They brought syphilis to the Africans, who brought yellow fever and malaria to the Europeans.

The ship[s were incubators of infection and parasites.

Rations were short and made things worse.

More tightly packed ships meant more losses but perhaps more results, while less packed ships would involve lower losses but perhaps lower rewards. In the end, it was seen as better to fill every possible space with human flesh.

There was dysentery and disease, poor hygiene, and many lie for months in their own filth.

The sea was an unknown element to most Africans. Shortage of air and light. Harsh seas and storms. Doldrums and calms. Rations could get shorter.

Those who died were gathered and thrown overboard in the morning. If one were too weak to be expected to survive, they would be thrown overboard to save on rations. Many simply died of shock, or gave up trying to live. Others might engage in resistance, by biting the legs of jailers as they walked by.

Trails of sharks would follow the ships.

The action against the slave trade in 1807 only increased suffering. The trips were longer and less healthy but more profitable.

Each station in the journey had been passed and never seen again. All knew it was a one-way journey.

There were slave mutinies. The rage and revenge was specific and targeted. But then what?

1. Who would sale the ship? White crews would try and fool the new captains and sale the ships back into captivity.

2. Where to go? If they reached land they faced almost immediate recapture. All Europeans were in solidarity with these sailors. They had a racial consciousness of working together against Africans that the Africans lacked.

3. A woman might seek escape through a sexual liaison. These were rarely successful, as they met only temporary needs.

4. A man might gain service to the slavers based on language skills or organizational abilities. They were often used once and then sold at a higher price.

As the journey neared its end things livened up. Rations increased, exercise was more common and an attempt was made to freshen up the freight. Weaknesses were covered up, bodies were rubbed with oil. Those who could not be made presentable for sale might be cast into the sea or left on the wharf to die.

Just before sale an African man would be sent amongst the captives to talk. It may have been the first encouraging voice in quite some time. The messages included:

The white man will not eat you

There are no evil spirits at work

You will be asked to work as you have always done

There will be many of you working there.

Hope you arte purchased by a rich man, not by a poor man. Look and act your best so that you might gain such a position.

Do not run away as there is no place to run.

If you look mean only mean men will want you.

If you act properly things might yet go well.

Then, the sale. Women were to become breeding stock along with men.


Everything continued to work towards the destruction of the community they had been raised ion and hoped for.

Slaves were now the pawns of those who owned them, and they were fragile and not rooted to place and kin.

It was hard to create a community among themselves:

No meetings

No drums or dancing

No religious services or libations or offerings.

Families might be left together, but could be broken at any moment.

Times when men and women could be together were often strictly regulated.

Special ability might mean privilege, but would only increase the value as a slave. A craftsman would avoid field labor, but also the company of his fellows.

Managerial blacks had to serve the master, and were tolerated but never trusted by their fellows.

House slaves vs. field slaves. Malcolm X was right. Many were good people who were co-opted by the system. They often avoided personal and family tragedy by working against their fellow Africans. Negation and nihilism were multiplied.

Slaves could gain freedom by earning it from a master or by escape. Both were rare and very risky. Yet, in any slave state you were a slave as long as you were black. Slavery was a condition of race.

Some Africans gained authority of a spiritual kind. They held a rank unknown to the masters but clear among the slaves. Often this was used to soothe and comfort, but could also be used to victimize and tyrannize. Spells of protection were important. Slaves could not deal with anti-social elements in their midst, as all were simply property.

The family continued to be of high importance. Even in difficulty, there was an urge to belong and to regenerate. Yet, their work could not benefit the family. The family could not be extended. The family could not be a transmitter of history and values.

Slave masters assumed that without their supervision it would descend into anarchy. They believed that African families existed because of their support and tutelage. Even abolitionists believed this.

Slave families maintained many customs and beliefs, such as that cousins should not marry, whereas southern whites did this often. The bonds of families were still strong, because these intimate bonds were hard to see and hard to repress. Slave families were broken up like white families, but for different reasons. While families did not become extended because the young struck out on their own for new opportunities. In slave families they were sold off without consent.

The idea of family became more important to blacks than whites. The idea of marrying by choice, raising children, and watching them grow and develop was the central feature of freedom they dreamed of, while family for whites continued to degrade. When weddings did take place, sanctioned by the masters, they were a central element ion life. While whites got god’s blessing, the slaves only got the masters’ blessings. Many masters saw allowing slave families as a way to strengthen their slave worker population. When a man was married to a woman who did not conceive, he might be paired with another, hopefully more fertile. Whites, masters and their sons, might become sexual interlopers on a slave family.

Sexual relations among slaves were more open than among whites. Virginity was not a value and enjoying sex as not a sin. While white women were protected, black women were treated lie and worked like the men. Women often did more work than men, such as caring for cabins and preparing meals. But the slave cabins were not male dominated.

An African man felt great pride at being a father, but slave men were often denied this right. They were more easily separated from children than women. But, children were even more valuable because of high mortality, and men protected them and guided them when they could.

Children were guided by other children, with the older ones teaching, often through games. Small children had lighter tasks. By 12 and 134 it was heavier work for them. By 15 full work in the fields. White and black children played, but all too soon began playing their appointed roles. White children would be separated to learn reading and writing, and black children associated magical powers with the book and the script. In general it was forbidden to tech slaves to read and write, although some did learn. All black children were taught to stay in line or suffer.

At night families would gather around fires and stories would entertain. Stories about Africa. Stories that would not die. They also heard stories of free black men who lived wild and stole what they needed.

Slaves were often not Christianized because of the inherent contradictions in accepting slaves as fellow believers. Would Jesus have had slaves?

Slave Christianity became a tool of Black people to preserve their dignity and create their own fellowship. Often it had to be kept secret from masters.

The Bible stories of slaves of Babylon and Egypt being set free held a special fascination. God could deliver the faithful from almost anything. Christ was a special being, unknown to the powerful, who was the Son of God. And the oppressors killed him.

Black Christian spiritual leader adapted to the needs of their new flocks. The Black church became the most important institution for African Americans. It allowed them to transcend the role of victim and take their souls into their own hands.

Slaves faced character disintegration based on fear, deception and hatred, all easy to foment in a climate of slavery. But, the African spiritual experience operated against these threats. Not to fear, for their will be deliverance. Not to deceive, but to recognize the truth for what it is and celebrate it. Not to hate, for that violates the law of love. Oddly enough, it was in Black Christianity that many of the virtues of Africa were preserved.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Applying Afrocentric Rhetorical Theory to Specific Discourse

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868 – 1963), co-founder of ...Image via Wikipedia


Lecture - African American Rhetoric - Apply Afrocentric Rhetorical Theory from Alfred Snider on Vimeo.

The lecture above is the video of the notes that are contained below. The notes certainly are not complete, but might be appropriate for browsing.


We examine five works of rhetorical criticism here. These are all designed to examine and understand bits of human discourse that emerge from the African Diaspora on this continent.

The purpose of rhetorical criticism is to investigate a piece of discourse and understand it better as well as to understand its importance to us.

My contention is that the use of Afrocentric rhetorical theory should help us in understanding and appreciating African American rhetoric.

To do this, I have examined four pieces that have Afrocentricity as their core, as well as one that does not.


Whites wanted blacks to be seen as docile, but they were not, they were demanding.

Constant themes are: resistance, redemptive violence, and achievement of manhood.

Manhood = courage, self-determination, expression of civil rights, defense of self-esteem.

Difference between redemptive self-defense violence and the violence of whites, which was oppressive, not self-defense, offensive.

Organizations were founded to promote these values and to represent two points of view.

Garrison – moral suasion, not violence.

Garnet – resistance and redemptive violence.

Frederick Douglass was divided, but then switched to a more pro-resistance approach.

Examples of rhetoric are in the reading.

Pp. 168-169: Why whites prefer quiet resistance and fear redemptive violence.


As an African American speaking to a largely African American jury, it is quite appropriate to use an Afrocentric method to examine this.

Factors at work:

1. Rhythm

2. Stylin’, way in which verbal and non-verbal cues are demonstrated to achieve a desired effect.

3. Narrative style.

4. Call and response.

5. Rappin’, an engaging lyrical presentation enwrapped in a natural conversation, it involves a distinctive personal flair.

6. Signifyin’, in which a speaker humorously puts down, talks about, needles some part of the listening audience.


See article

Justification: p. 261


Double consciousness, in the words of W. E. B. Dubois:

“One ever feels his twines, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreonciled strivings.”

This is specifically true for African Americans in public life, where they have to speak to two audiences, black and white, on different occasions and often at the same time. How does one do that? And when one speaks to just one of those audiences, how does one adapt a change, to avoid the problem of speaking untruthfulness, and violating the tenets of Kemetic rhetoric?

Emanuel Cleaver had been a successful pastor, and then ran for office and became Mayor of KC. He was recognized for his gifted speaking ability. He served two four-year terms and was prevented by term limits from running again. He left office with a 71% approval rating.

Afrocentric theory:

Is culturally specific

BUT does not neglect the entire human family. All are important.

Liberation of all is important to the Afrocentric rhetorician.

It is also rhetoric of reconciliation, to reach out to those of all origins, it must transcend barriers.

The study contends that Cleaver’s rhetoric fulfilled these functions of AFROCENTRIC DISCOURSE while at the same time transcending barriers.

Three points in this study:

1. Afrocentric rhetoric can transcend cultural barriers

2. African American speakers can maintain their cultural integrity while appeal to those outside of his or her culture

3. Emanuel Cleaver is true to his African rhetoric roots no mater who his audience is.

25 texts of Cleaver speeches were used. 12 sermons and 13 political speeches. Transcriptions were created. There was minimal editing and the precise words that Cleaver spoke are in the transcript.

Three themes of interest to Afrocentric rhetorical scholars were clear:

1. Liberation: social justice and the exercise of agency and responsibility. Care and concern for everyone, Jewish audiences, Hispanics, etc.

2. Principle of community. We must not separate the I and the WE. Collective achievement is more important than individual achievement. Pride, selfishness and ingratitude are characteristics he opposes. People may be failures because they succeed, forgetting how they got there. Reconciling opposing views about Bill Clinton’s welfare policies and about Hilary Clinton’s book It Takes a Village. He calls on his personal experience to tell his story and prove what he is saying.

3. Relational ethics. This is a standard of conduct one should use to govern relationships with others. These include compassion, humility, gratitude and respect for the community. Many of these interrelate with #2. He indicts people who are cold, cold hearted, insensitive and self-absorbed. He has similar messages in a sermon in his church and in trying to defuse a police brutality situation against black citizens.

Cleaver succeeds in being legitimately African in his roots, while at the same time relating successfully to others, using Afrocentric themes.


Black nationalism is a historical theme in African American rhetoric. The notion is that there needs to be a black nation, an African nation for those taken from the homeland, or a new black nation here in North America.

It is a theme that comes back again and again, from the middle of the 19th century to Marcus Garvey and now into the ‘90’s and beyond.

Rap music is one example of this. “Conscious” rap uses Black Nationalism, Pan-Africanism, and Islamic doctrine.

Black nationalism has always been posed as a rhetoric to teach and inspire other African Americans to do the right things. It has consistently been an outreach and a teaching, a consciousness raising effort.

The 5% Nation rap movement hopes to educate African Americans into spiritual self-knowledge and awareness.

Content features:

Pan Africans – the fates of all African descended people are linked together.

Race pride and race solidarity. We stick together or we are going nowhere. There is a religious bent to this as well.

Afrocentric worldview that places African descendants at the center of history.

Many miss these teachings:

Many miss them totally.

Many hear them but cannot decode them.

Many decode them for their own purposes.

But the rap lyrics of today are based in African American traditions of the past. You understand them better when you know that.


This comes from a 1972 reader produced by Arthur L. Smith, who later changed his name to Molefi Keti Asante. It was selected and edited by him in his pre-Afrocentricity days. So, it does control for some variables there.

Larson takes the concept of trust from the work of interpersonal scholar Kim Giffin, someone I studied with and was one of my references. Trust is seen as being able to predict how people will act and what will happen. You can trust Malcolm X to resist oppression, for example. You can also trust Black Power advocates to do the same. By being able to predict what they will do, it helps whites understand what is going on and to take the rhetoric seriously but in a responsible way.

That is it. Whiles can now understand it better.

There are a number of problems with this approach:

1. This rhetoric was probably not constructed with that in mind. Stokely Carmichael did not conceive of his discourse because he wanted whites to understand. It may have had this effect, but I doubt the intention. I can’t be sure, but it is my belief.

2. There is no indication that this is how African descendants think of trust, but an imported notion from broader white society.

3. So what? What does it mean? It means that they want justice and will act to get it. What kind of keen insight is that? Anyone could have told you that. Chinese readers could have told you that. Why is it necessary to dress it up in white interpersonal communications theory so that we can understand it?

4. Perhaps because Eurocentric rhetorical scholars could not understand it on a scholarly level, or not tolerate it on a scholarly level, unless it was couched in their terms, brought to them on a plate of white scholarship.

When we look at Afrocentric investigations of Black Power we will see a lot more than can be discovered.

So, in conclusion:

1. We see how afrocentrict rhetorical theory can be applied to works of discourse.

2. We see history, language characteristics, and values and approaches used, just like the lists of rhetorical markers we have been examining.

3. We see how the rhetoric has been opened up for a fuller understanding.

4. We see how a purely Eurocentric focus does not.

Hopefully this will give you some guidelines for your papers.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Afrocentric Rhetorical Theory, Part 2

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Afrrocentric Rhetorical Theory Part 2



What it is to be a human, our theory of what human beings are. Organisms, spiritual, animals, computers, etc.


The theory of knowledge – data, problem solving, practical, spiritual, genetic, instinct, intuition.


Metatheory is culturalized epistemology.


Mary John Smith:

The term metatheory refers to the beliefs about the nature of theory. Thus, metatheoretical assumptions address the types of theoretical explanations that are appropriate to human communication. Consistent with the hierarchically interrelated nature of paradigms, a researcher’s ontological and epistemological views will largely determine the sorts of theoretical explanations he or she deems suitable.


Every culture has its own unique perspective on rhetoric, the warrior in the struggle for human liberation is powerless without the armor of cultural consciousness.

Afrocentricity is a direct counter narrative to the most obvious and hegemonic grand narrative presupposing that all that is not of Europe is not of worth. “Classical” rhetoric is reserved for Greek and Roman rhetorical theories.

Chinese, Native American and African are examples.

Afrocentricity is one step in the demythologization of “classical” rhetoric.

It is a lot more than just classical speech acts.


Assumptions underlying it:

1. Consciousness determines being

2. Ontology is communal

3. Epistemology validates reality by combining historical knowledge with intuitions

Afrocentric worldview:

1. Interconnectedness of all things – circularity, rejects the bi-polar of Marcuse: something is because of what it is not.

2. Collective identity. Reject the I-other distinction, because responsible to the same community, pairs that travel together.

3. Consequential morality. Speakers are judged by how they moved the audience, responsible for the impact of the communication, not so much the intent.

4. Oneness of body, mind, spirit. Western medicine is a contrast. Rhetoric can effect all three.

5. Spirituality. Spiritual focus to rhetoric, whether in a church spiritual, a civil rights speech, a ceremony for t=ancestors, or prayer for future generations.

6. Time. Timing and rhythm is important. Context is important. History is important.

Magara Principle:

Comes from the Bantu tradition. Magara is a system of operations where spirit force and material force are united in the production of life and meaning. It can be life strengthening or life weakening.

It helps us understand persuasion from an African perspective that is completely in tune with modern European understanding of persuasive processes. We do not “change” opinions, we “move” them through persuasion and its depiction of spirit and reality.

Ntu is the universal life force that represents itself in patterns and rhythms. It is fundamental to living. Let us illustrate in civil rights rhetoric.

1. Nomo operates within the context of ntu to engender magara within and across rhetorical communities. The generative power of speeches from the civil rights movement had a rhythm that catches people’s attention and strengthens their acceptance of full participation.

2. Nommodic rhetorical behaviors are evident in strategies and behaviors of particular communicators and other participants in rhetorical communities. Civil rights leaders actively used words to change the world. “Language is the last weapon left to the powerless.” Zora Neale Hurston.

3. Magara effects are observable in a rhetorical community’s responsiveness to rhetorical strategies and behaviors over time. People are strengthened or weakened towards ideas over time. Begin to accept full African American participation.

4. Rhetoric, as proscribed by ntu, is the evidence of rhythmic patterns urging shared meanings within and across rhetorical communities. “I have a dream.”


1. Rhythm as a frame of mentality. Language and the flow of speech. Pauses, modulation of pitch, rate, loudness and other paralinguistic attributes reflect the important of rhythm. Much more of a focus in African American rhetoric.

2. Stylin’ out as a quality of oration. Mannerisms are used to influence the audience: gestures, posture, bodily movement, facial expressiveness, and other extra verbal behaviors. They communicate visual messages.

3. Soundin’ as verbal artifact. Vocal mannerisms that focus similarly to stylin’ out. The way you say certain words. Johnnie Cochran.

4. Lyrical approach to language. Used poetic language, insert poetic elements, rhyming is an example. Up with hope, down the dope.

5. Preference for improvisational delivery. Roll with the crowd. No totally set text. Take advantage of the situation as it evolves. Like jazz.

6. Call and response participation. Give the audience space to participate, to express themselves. Speaker gives a call, and the audience responds. Much more likely to be influenced by something they participate in.

7. Reliance on mythoforms. There are standard stories we use to understand our lives and our reality, as well as the past and the future. They should be shared and accepted forms.

8. Use of indirection. Circuitous approach to an issue. In a European style we state a claim and then follow it with logic and reasoning that demands acceptance of that claim. In African tradition, you view a thing from various angles before landing at a point to be made. This is the “stalking” of an issue. Malcolm X.

9. Repetition for intensification. Repeat essential ideas until saturation is reached. I have a dream. I am somebody. The clarity of a point is enhanced each time.


Worldview vs. view of the world. Many European thinkers seem to embrace a worldview that would be consistent, such as Carl Jung. Chief Fela Sowande. As well, European theorists like Mikhail Bakhtin, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida have produced important work on the relationship of language to thinking, knowledge, power, discipline and the reproduction of systems of domination. Ivan Illich has spoken about the power of formal language to restrict modes of thought to ways preferred by those in power.

While theorizing about African rhetorical approaches should not be privileged to Europeans using European tools, thus we should not necessarily privilege Africans analyzing rhetoric using African tools. Sowande suggests that we need a global worldview that embraces and empowers all, and that integration of an Afrocentric approach will be essential to this, just as European approaches must not be universally rejected. Work by McPhail and Greeson on these issues has been largely invisible in the conflict of Afro vs. Euro.

The power of the Afrocentric perspective might be that it is integrative and inclusive as opposed to hegemonic. McPhail argues that we need to seek “dialogic coherence” as a capacity to integrate diverse conceptions of reality, culture and identity.


1. Objectivist ontology. Reality consists of objects or entities with fixed properties and relations, which re amenable to observation and description. NOT: We impose on what we observe what we know. Anthropologists impose their social order on those observed, we see what we know. Snow.

2. Essentialism. All entities have essential properties which make the thing what it is, and without which it would not be the thing that it is. Other properties are purely accidental. NOT: This creates a bi-polar structure, male or female, white or black. Things may lack essential characteristics of a category and still be within that category. Our identification of essential categories is in many ways arbitrary. Bamboozled Wayans character.

3. Objectivist categorization. All the entities that share a given property form a necessary category. The set of essential properties constitute the conditions that define the category. NOT: Same. Our needs determine which categories we deem essential.

4. Objectivist knowledge. Knowledge consists in correctly conceptualizing, categorizing and articulating the identified objects and relations that constitute the real world. NOT: Knowledge is different for all. What are the standards for “correctly” categorizing? Again, we impose our own ideas on what we observe.

5. Language isomorphism. Language is an adequate instrument for the formulation and communication of knowledge. Properly used, language is isomorphic in expression with the world that exists external to language (it shares the same characteristics). Language reflects reality. NOT: Loosely true, but only in intention. Many important things have no acceptable language equivalent. Many important things cannot be expressed in words.

Touchstones to understanding different perspectives:

Who are you?

* Eurocentric: I think, therefore I am.

* Afrocentric: I am relating and related to, therefore I am.

What do you want?

* Eurocentric: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

* Afrocentric: Do what is right so that others may also do.

What does rhetoric do?

* Eurocentric: It represents thoughts and ideas

* Afrocentric: It generates and creates reality


Criticisms of afrocentric rhetorical theory:

* Anti-white

* Hostile takeover

* Debased through its use – KFC, etc.

* All good things come from Africa

* Ignores cultural hybridization

* Does not discover issues of class

* Retrograde views of women and homosexuals

* Mystical essence of blackness

* Essentialist criticism. Singular perspective



1. Historically grounded and conditional

2. Culturally particular, contextual

3. Demarginalizes African descendants and recenters them as agents in human interaction


1. Does not deal with the element of economics as a liberation metatheory

2. It is not a full theory: understand, predict and control

3. Can be misunderstood as being essentialist and hegemonic due to over enthusiastic proponents.

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