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Revisiting Racialized Voice

African American Ethos in Language and Literature

David G. Holmes

Publication Year: 2007

Revisiting Racialized Voice: African American Ethos in Language and Literature argues that past misconceptions about black identity and voice, codified from the 1870s through the 1920s, inform contemporary assumptions about African American authorship and ethos. Tracing elements of racial consciousness in the works of Frederick Douglass, Charles Chesnutt, W. E. B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, and others, David G. Holmes urges a revisiting of narratives from this period to strengthen and advance notions about racialized writing and to shape contemporary composition pedagogies.

Pointing to the intersection of African American identity, literature, and rhetoric, Revisiting Racialized Voice begins to construct rhetorically workable yet ideologically flexible definitions of black voice. Holmes maintains that political pressure to embrace“ color blindness” endangers scholars’ ability to uncover links between racialized discourses of the past and those of the present, and he calls instead for a reassessment of the material realities and theoretical assumptions race represents and with which it has been associated.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

There has been much discussion about race and voice in composition studies, from the emergence of “The Students’ Right to Their Own Language” in 1974 until the present. The field of rhetoric and composition has also produced a number of significant works that explore the rich history of African American oratory and literacy, Shirley Wilson Logan’s...


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-7

By the mid-nineteenth century, literacy was becoming codified in terms of two highly charged concepts: “voice” and “race.” This evolution can be traced in part by discussing the dilemma that Frederick Douglass faces as he strives to mediate between the Romantic, or transcendental, voice Emerson posits and the public voice Caleb Bingham explicates...

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1. The Color of Literacy: Race, Self, and the Public Ethos

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pp. 8-24

Ralph Waldo Emerson employed a romantic, or what I have called an “inner public,” voice. Frederick Douglass was restricted by his efforts to appropriate a transracial public voice, despite his attempts to become an Emersonian “representative man.” By the end of this chapter, I will have introduced how gender further complicated this...

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2. From Reading Race to Race as a Way of Reading

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pp. 25-45

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...

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3. Chesnutt’s Reconstruction of Race and Dialect

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pp. 46-61

Chesnutt is a fascinating figure with whom to begin a reconsideration of racialized voice, to begin thinking through race as a way of reading American culture and constructing authorial ethos. In the first place, his literary career nearly spans the historical period surveyed in this book, although he was more active from the 1880s through the early...

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4. Of Color and Culture: Du Bois’s Evolving Perspectives on Race

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pp. 62-74

With regard to how racial identity should be defined, Charles Chesnutt’s certainty surpassed that of his younger, formally educated friend, W. E. B. Du Bois. I partly question Chesnutt’s certainty, while I remain struck by Du Bois’s evolving perspectives on race. Throughout his life, Du Bois affirms—through dozens of articles, essays, and several...

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5. “Reading My Words but Not My Mind”: Hurston’s Ironic Voice

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pp. 75-91

Zora Neale Hurston should be included in any critical discussion of black voice. Like Chesnutt and Du Bois, she affirmed the value of African American folk culture. Unlike either of them, she did so without implying any underlying inferiority of that culture. Like her older colleagues, she contested traditional ideas about race, but she did so as...

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6. The Rhetoric of Black Voice: Implications for Composition Pedagogy

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pp. 92-108

The metaphor "black voice," whether applied to a journalist, a novelist, or a student writer, is based on two elusive ideas: voice and race. Hence, any concrete conclusions about the nature and function of black voice are questionable at best. Without this metaphor, however, one can appropriate a distorted view of both the material import and...


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pp. 109-114

Works Cited and Consulted

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pp. 115-122


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pp. 123-131

About the Author

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p. 145-145

Back Cover

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p. 146-146

E-ISBN-13: 9780809387595
E-ISBN-10: 080938759X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809327676
Print-ISBN-10: 0809327678

Page Count: 144
Publication Year: 2007

Edition: 1st Edition